Thursday, April 12, 2012

SEO--It's a Growing Thing

(First published on MENGBlend)

I try to avoid posting about SEO for MENG Blend because my agency is all about SEO, SE-ocial, Mo-cial, PPC and analytics.  I think and talk about SEO practically 24/7, so understandably I look forward to posting on MENG Blend about topics outside the broad-reaching scope of SEO.

Today, however, I just can’t resist the temptation to evangelize a bit about how much SEO has changed and how those changes have gone unnoticed by the majority of mainstream marketers.  An informal polling of senior marketers shows that 90% of them don’t really understand SEO and what it brings to the marketing mix.  Most tend to think of it as “a technology thing,” “a somewhat sketchy thing,” “a going away thing” or all three rolled into one. 

In all my years in the digital marketing arena, from the days of online services being the “new new thing” to now, I have never come across a marketing channel so mistrusted and misunderstood. 

Yet when you look at the history of SEO, it’s not hard to see why it is perceived as a problem child by many marketers. 

First, it actually did start out to be “A Technology Thing.” 

Savvy technologists who set up websites quickly learned that emerging search engines needed to understand what a site was “about” and that they did that by reading metatags, pieces of code in the source code of a site.  So by making sure their keyword tags contained the words the site was about, they could attract the search engines to it.  It didn’t take long for people to figure out that by putting all kinds of keywords into the keyword metatag, they could attract the search engines for just about anything.  This brought the search engines and lots of people to sites that were often irrelevant to what the searcher was seeking, creating confusion and aggravation on the part of users and making the search engines inaccurate. 

And so began the long and continuing war between black hat optimizers (optimizers who operate on the principal that allSherpa Chart 1.JPG is fair in getting a search engine to your website) and the search engines, with legitimate marketers and consumers caught up as innocent bystanders.

The search engines continually make improvements to their algorithms for identifying and ranking the websites that appear to be the best “answer” to what the searcher is seeking, and, in the process, throwing off optimizers who seek to trick them into ranking sites that don’t provide the optimal user experience.

What constitutes the optimal user experience has continued to evolve over time.  Some of the factors that help one site rank higher in the natural search listings than “competitive” sites vying for search engine rankings are multimedia content, frequently refreshed content, and fast loading content.

Over time, real SEO has evolved to meet the morphing demands of the search engines.  And because the search engines have always been about the “relevant” experience the user has with them and content is what those users are seeking, SEO has turned into much more of a content marketing discipline than a technology one, though of course understanding and adjusting to search engines’ various technical expectations continues to play into SEO, too.

Which brings us to persistent problem #2:  It’s a Sketchy Thing

No argument – there are so many charlatans in the SEO space, it’s mind boggling.  The ones that offer to “optimize your site and register you with 1000 search engines for $500” are easy enough to spot.  More challenging are the ones who actually believe what they’re telling website owners.

Sherpa Chart 2.JPG
These pseudo optimizers are usually of the quick fix persuasion:  “We’ll just add keywords to your site copy and fix your title tags…”  It’s the we’ll just part that is the giveaway.  Real SEO takes real effort, real time, and real commitment.  It isn’t for the faint of heart, especially now when the search engines are factoring not only the right balance of keyword and domain level authority, inbound links from other authority sites to the home page and interior pages, and social signals (earned and owned social content pointing back to specific pages of your website).  Developing, distribution, and building relationships and engagement around all of that unique content takes time and expertise.  And one way or the other, that costs money.

So if anyone offers to optimize your website and doesn’t talk about a content marketing program to bring links from other sites and social conversations, they aren’t doing real SEO, and you are paying for something that may result in a short-term uptick in traffic, but nothing lasting, nothing significant.

…Do you see why I try to write about other topics for the MENG Blend?  But wait, there’s more...

Misperception #3:  It’s a Going Way Thing

If only I could have developed an app that got me paid $1.00 for every time over the last fifteen years there was a news story about how SEO is dead or dying, I would be on a tropical island somewhere — an island that I owned — posting this from the beach.

Chart 3.JPG

SEO is NOT going away. It’s not dead, it’s not even sick. It is, in fact, thriving.  SEO is the “geeky” kid in high school who becomes a multimillionaire at twenty-six.  

Every time Google or the other search engines make an algorithm shift, or concentrate on personal search, local search, or mobile search, some idiot screams, “SEO is dead!”  It may be, to that idiot, who wants an easy and unchanging path to #1 natural rankings (see Misperceptions #1 and #2 again), who sees the cookie cutter process he or she has put in place to simplify SEO going down the drain when Google flicks the picnic blanket to shake off the ants. But to the white hat optimizers (those who “play by the rules” posted by Google and others for best practice SEO) who collaborate with each other, sharing information and perspectives about what Google is doing in the US, in France, in Japan, around the world, at any given time, adding up the information, checking in with Matt Cutts, Google’s Answer Guru to the world of optimizers, the changes are anticipated.  They’re not “the end of SEO” but the beginning of the next phase of evolution.

As inbound marketing becomes more prevalent, as social media and search engine marketing continue to integrate to give the people fast access to what they want, SEO only grows stronger.

The rise of content marketing is being driven by the need to make that content found, whether it’s on your brand’s website, social sites, or elsewhere on the Web .  And that’s what real SEO (which includes social these days:  SEO-cial) does best—it makes unique, relevant content easy to find and identify with your brand. 

Well, I’m glad I got that out of my system! 


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