Ian Lurie // Mar 22 2013
Ever had a massive, life-changing epiphany?
However, I’ve slowly reached the conclusion that we’re doing SEO all wrong. Not in the do-real-marketing sense, or the we-need-to-change-the-name sense. More in the wow-did-we-ever-screw-the-pooch-this-time sense.
After 17+ years of beating my head against walls like IT departments, branding teams and disbelieving CFOs, I’ve figured out why: SEO isn’t an activity, or a tactic, or a strategy. Good SEO is the outcome of a disciplined, coherent marketing & technology strategy.
In marketing, a tactic is a single, atomic thing you do to reach a goal: Direct mail isn’t a tactic, it’s a channel. Link building isn’t a tactic, it’s a result. Using Followerwonk to find influencers is a tactic.
SEO is not a marketing tactic. I had that wrong. SEO is a collection of tactics: Writing. Server performance tuning. Site performance tuning. Code cleanup. Canonicalization. Online PR/social media/whatever current trendy term.
Most SEO tactics influence other parts of marketing: A faster site means better conversion rates. Better writing does, too. A better UX means happier visitors, which is always good. A mention on a well-known blog is a great business boost.
It’s not a strategy, either. You can’t have an SEO strategy, any more than you can have a dental hygiene strategy. You execute on details, one detail at a time: You brush. You floss. You don’t gargle maple syrup.
For SEO, you target. You streamline. You make sure stuff is visible. You use the words your audience uses. You don’t build slow, lousy web sites.
Getting those details right isn’t “a strategy,” unless you want to call “Don’t be a dolt” a strategy. It’s just the stuff you gotta do right.
Strategy is an approach that includes all roles in an organization. All of the components of SEO should be part of an organization’s growth strategy.
Remember the meta keywords tag? Why did search engines stop using it? Probably because we stuffed keywords tags with all manner of ridiculousness. We ruined it.
Remember link building? Yep. We ruined that, too.
We tried to turn SEO into a discipline, with specific, unique tactics for manipulating rankings. That includes all of us smug white-hat SEOs, by the way.
By doing that, we pulled SEO off into its own distinct job description. For a long time, that was good. We got offices with windows. The Wall Street Journal called to talk to us. We were pioneers, dammit!
We also made SEO something that had to be justified as an end in itself. We unwittingly pitted it against other corporate goals, like branding, architecture and infrastructure development. And, we gave ourselves zero room for error. If you twist the leadership team’s collective arm until they decree changes designed ‘to get higher rankings,’ and then they don’t see higher rankings, you’ve lost all credibility.
On the other hand, if you get the leadership team to make some little shifts that help all aspects of marketing, including search traffic, you’ll be a hero.
That’s how we fix all of this: Don’t treat SEO as a department, or even a goal. Treat it as one benefit of a truly smart marketing strategy.
My brief, sputtering flash of insight shouldn’t lead to some huge shakeup in our industry. If you write an “SEO is Dead” article because of this post, I’m going to slap you. SEO is just fine.
I’m not ‘killing’ SEO. Most companies don’t have “Conversion Rate” departments. But they hire conversion rate optimization experts. They don’t generally have oh-crap-our-yoga-pants-are-transparent departments, either. They hire PR agencies.
Companies shouldn’t have “SEO” departments, either. They should have experts that help all departments accomplish the best practices that add up to SEO.
SEO is what it always was: The result of doing a lot of little things right. A fantastic driver of revenue and value. A way to make oodles of money. None of that’s changed.
I know: As long as there are rankings, companies will want to rank, and they’ll ask us how to do it. Great! Tell them! Get paid for it! Get paid lots!
Just prioritize a little differently:
Five things we have to change:
If we can make this happen, we’ll become a lot more valuable. We’ll have more credibility. We’ll have a little more room for error, where right now we have none. We’ll also become less of a headache and more of an all-around benefit to any organization. And our industry (which will always be marketing, right?) will continue to thrive.
Ian Lurie is founder and CEO of Portent Inc., an internet marketing agency that has provided internet marketing, including PPC, SEO, social and analytics services, since 1995. Read More