SEO: What Is It and Why Does Your Brand Need It In South Africa?

So what is SEO or search engine optimisation digital marketing service? What does SEO mean for brands in South Africa?  Is SEO really a mysterious digital marketing discipline or service? SEO is the art of creating an outstanding website that consumers love to browse, as well as providing users with what they are looking for, while simultaneously reaching the brand’s goals. I believe that SEO is an evolving digital art; a means of developing a website, improving its usability, optimising its content and spreading the word on the Internet. When I refer to optimising, it means to create content that offers clarity to the user in a South African and global context.

An easy way to understand how Google and SEO work is via a simile: Google is like an extremely vast library, where the books are replaced with websites; when a South African user searches for something on their search engine, Google’s librarian or algorithm will select a range of websites for which it thinks you would find applicable. SEO revolves around getting your website not only selected by Google’s algorithm via the appropriate words or phrases, but also to feature very prominently in this selection or search results page.

SEO from a South African point of view requires research and testing, not to mention a lot of patience to achieve the desired goals of the brand. When kick-starting an SEO strategy, we ask ourselves: “Does the brand want to drive sales or raise its online awareness? Are the brand’s products or services associated with relevant search words or phrases? Do the brand’s values shine through their website content?”

When it comes to SEO, you will often read or hear about ‘keywords’ or ‘key phrases’. Keywords and key phrases are the words or phrases for which you want consumers to find your brand’s website via search engines – your brand would like to be synonymous with these words or phrases.  SEO is often misunderstood; good SEO is not about jamming the copy or text on your website full of keywords. Rather, a well-executed SEO strategy revolves around clear website architecture, a well-researched keyword and content strategy and tweaking the website copy, making sure it’s relevant, original and of high quality.


What Can SEO Do For Your South African Brand?

A high visibility in Google’s search results equates to an increase in brand recognition to a large degree. A high ranking website is most likely seen as a sign of authority and credibility in your brand’s South African marketplace.

Google searches are driven by a goal; South African users use a search engine to find information about a product or service they either want or need. Well-executed SEO will drive relevant traffic to your website, which should significantly increase your website’s conversion rate (the rate at which South African users take a desired action). Such a desired action could be completing a Contact Us form, making a purchase or requesting a quote.

Google provides brands with access to each stage of the consumer’s buying cycle. In brief, consumers will search out information at each stage of the buying cycle. So, by targeting different keywords associated with each stage of the buying cycle, you can effectively access these consumers.


The Mechanics of a Search Engine in South Africa is Google South Africa‘s local search engine which most South African’s use. Google selects the best possible websites to appear in their result pages for their South African users’ queries. To quote Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google: “We believed we could build a better search. We had a simple idea, that not all pages are created equal. Some are more important.”

Your content must match what your target market wants or needs; in other words, your content strategy should be centred on relevance to the South African user and the brand. When your audience is searching via Google for the service or product your brand offers, don’t let a competing brand take that potential lead; effectively executed SEO will significantly reduce the chances of this happening.

Google has taken this to an advanced level with their latest algorithm called Hummingbird. According to Google:  “The Hummingbird algorithm is more focused on ranking sites better for relevance. The algorithm can better understand concepts vs. words as well as relationships between concepts. It’s essentially to better answer the much more complex queries people are making.”

SEO’s Credibility in South Africa

“Natural (organic) search results have higher click (through) rates – 70% of people choose organic listings first. Also, consumers judge the value of paid (search) listings based on the natural ones they see below it. Natural listings lend credibility to paid ones.” This quote, from the book ‘Watch This, Listen Up, Click Here’ by Verklin and Kanner, sums up well the credibility of SEO. Such a large portion of people choose organic search listings over paid search listings because of their ‘organic nature’ – they have been selected on merit only.

Marketers should realise how important organic search traffic is for a website. Organic search traffic can, in many cases, be the largest provider of visits to a website.

Brands spend a great deal of money on above-the-line or traditional advertising that often displays the brand’s website address/URL, or just promotes the website, this could be a TV ad, billboard or print ad, which displays a link to the brand’s website. In today’s digital world, I feel brands should be spending more on digital advertising, especially SEO. While the above-the-line advertising can and does help drive organic traffic, the website must be streamlined for the highest potential ROI.

Google allows consumers to ‘pull’ marketing messages, which are usually ‘pushed’ onto consumers via traditional advertising. The marketing message that consumers ‘pull’ from Google should be the same as and effectively synchronised with the above-the-line advertising campaign. Your brand’s content strategy should provide relevant, timely content, which would be indexed by Google and appear in its organic search results.

One of the most salient quotes, which describes the importance of SEO, is from a whitepaper: ‘SEO Keyword Strategy’ by SEOmap: “The prime real estate is in the middle of the (search result) page, as search engines display the websites they deem to be the most trusted and most relevant to the user for that query. Consequently, being perceived as the most trusted and most relevant website for a particular search can be a lucrative source of traffic.”

This illustrates the power of a high ranking organic search result page listing. In reality, this means that the South African user is more likely to click on the organic search link to your website. In most cases, paid traffic usually accounts for only a fraction of the number of organic search visits to a website.

SEO is Cost-Effective way to Promote your South African Brand Online

SEO can do amazing things for your South African brand. Organic listings are provided at no cost to the brand’s website that is listed on search result pages.

For one of our clients, SEO assisted in supplying an additional 90,000+ additional potential leads to their website, in just over two weeks. Because these visits came from organic search, our client was not billed for each of these visits to their website, as would have been the case with paid search.

Another point you have to remember is that with SEO, you do not have to pay for each South African user who visits your website, as is the case with a paid search ad. When it comes to SEO, you only have to pay for your website to be maintained to the highest levels of content quality. The latter could provide South African users with the best possible experience, which you should be doing anyway. SEO is a very efficacious way in improving your brand’s long-term online performance.

Don’t get me wrong, paid search has an important role to play, as an indispensable component of search engine marketing. There is a definite synergy between organic and paid search. I have seen a substantial overall boost in CTRs or click-through rates, when an AdWords advert and an organic search listing both rank high simultaneously. I am referring to the increase in the number of South African users who click on the organic and paid search result listings on the same search result page.


Track A Tangible ROI

Like any other form of marketing, calculating your brand’s return on investment is crucial. Digital marketing, SEO included, requires a different approach to traditional marketing. Brian Sheehan, the author of ‘Basic Marketing: Online Marketing’, had this to say about digital marketing: “While the traditional purchase funnel is about delivering the right message at the right time, the online purchase funnel is focused on measuring the right data and continually improving numerical results. The online funnel is all about measurement.”

Your digital agency should provide you with in-depth reports on a monthly or ad hoc basis. These track the progress of your brand reaching its relevant goals. An example of a goal could be simply to drive more organic traffic to your website through high organic search ranks.

An SEO strategist monitors various important website statistics on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. This is done through studying your website’s visitors via Google Analytics, Omniture or other analytics programmes. Tracking trends and understanding the brand’s complete marketing mix is important. This would include being aware of all the relevant brand’s active advertising campaigns. A TV ad, print or social media campaign should have some impact your website’s statistics.


SEO And Social Media’s Synergy

In today’s world we use Google as a means to find out more about people. We are also very active on various social media platforms. Social media is an exceptionally powerful digital ‘word-of-mouth’ generator, as individuals freely share content and comment on content they like. If South African users like particular content on the Internet, they will share or comment on it multiple times via social media platforms. It is therefore easy to see how social media can be seen as a digital popularity gauge. Social media marketing is important for SEO, because positive ‘social signals’ associated with your website will mean that your website is popular with South African users. Google may interpret this as a website which South African users find popular. These ‘social signals’ are positive social media activities/sharing that is linked to your website’s content.

Marketers should remember that social media is not a ‘stand-alone’ digital marketing platform. Instead, social media marketing provides an ideal channel that can drive traffic to the website.

SEO requires a comprehensive integration of social media into your brand’s website. This benefits your brand’s social media marketing and SEO, because more people will engage more often with your brand’s relevant social media platforms. I’m referring to the ‘share-ability’ of the high quality and original content of a Facebook post, which, in turn, may have a call-to-action that would direct the South African user to the website.

The optimisation of social media platforms is referred to as social media optimisation or SMO and should form part of the overall SEO strategy. In short, SMO involves optimising the pages ‘about’ description, headings of posts, copy of posts, image descriptions and links in posts that includes sharing. Simply put, when you combine SEO with SMO, the visibility of your brand in the social and organic search spheres of the Internet are magnified significantly.


Is your South African Brand’s Website User-Friendly?

Sometimes, it is not enough to simply optimise an existing website – if it is out-dated and not user-friendly, it may be time to start over. Remember that if South African users don’t like your website, then Google may not think favourably about it either. In most cases, the best approach to website design or web development is to create a responsive website. A responsive website is a desktop website which adjusts its appearance for smaller mobile device screens.  A responsive website is best because Google recommends it and because it may offer users the best possible user-experience. In addition, an organisation would also not have to maintain both a desktop and mobile site.

I have noticed in recent months an exceptional growth in mobile visits to our clients’ websites, when compared to desktop traffic during the same month. There has been a 136% year-on-year increase in visits to websites via mobile devices in South Africa.*

The high-income part of the mobile browsing spectrum is using increasingly sophisticated mobile devices with larger screens. There are currently over 10 million active smartphones in South Africa.** Forty one percent of people who own a mobile device use it to browse the Internet as well.*** Therefore, viewing a basic mobile website is hardly a great viewing experience on a tablet for example. Yes, you can usually scroll down to the bottom of the page to be re-directed to the desktop website, but that is hardly an enjoyable experience for the South African user. This is where a single, responsive website may be the perfect solution.

Websites and Premium Brands – How Premium Is Your South African Website Really?

SEO is all about the user experience. Brands seem to have their low-LSM users comprehensively covered with basic mobi sites. However, the high LSM part of the mobile browsing spectrum is using increasingly sophisticated mobile devices with larger screens. High-income users who have a monthly household income of up to R39,999 per month make up 20% of the South African Internet browsing public; while 11.5% of Internet users have a monthly household income of R40,000 to R69,000 and 7.3% of Internet users have a monthly household income of R70,000 or more.*

Over 9% of online shoppers in South Africa have a monthly household income of R70,000 or more.* These wealthy individuals need to be catered for by brands that target them. Therefore, viewing a basic mobile website is hardly a great viewing experience on a tablet for example. Yes, you can usually scroll down to the bottom of the page to be re-directed to the desktop website, but that is hardly an enjoyable experience for the user. This is where a single, well-designed responsive website may be the perfect solution. So, in my opinion, premium brands must wake up quickly and cater for their target audience’s every whim or continue to lose out to their savvy competitors.


The Digital Climate of South Africa

In South Africa, Internet access usage is growing at a most rapid rate. There are a growing number of low-income consumers accessing the Internet not only via their mobile phones but also at Internet cafés. Google is very much a South African phenomenon as a global one. Therefore, the importance of the SEO service is growing in South Africa. Even though SEO has been around for years, many South African brands have only recently started investing in SEO services.

As an employee of the Johannesburg office of a leading global digital agency, I have the privilege of working with the leading brands of South Africa. This allows me to see these South African and global brands reap the rewards of our SEO service.

About Neo@Ogilvy South Africa 

Neo@Ogilvy is South Africa’s leading digital media buying agency; offering turnkey digital media buying, search engine marketing (SEO & PPC), social media marketing and mobile marketing. Neo@Ogilvy is a global market leader; with 800 professionals in 40 offices across 32 countries.

SEO South Africa | SEO service in SA / South Africa.

Neo@Ogilvy offers a leading SEO service in SA / South Africa. We provide our SEO service for South African and International clients.

Stephen Sandmann – SEO Strategist, Neo@Ogilvy South Africa
December 18th, 2013



*DMMA/Effective Measure


*** World Wide Worx

SEO Keyword Strategy (2012). Retrieved from <> 14 December 2013.

Sheehan, B. (2010). Basic Marketing: Online Marketing. AVA Publishing SA.

Verklin, D. and Kanner, B. (2007). Watch This, Listen Up, Click Here. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.