This is kind of a late response to the recent SEO debates, the main articles being published on Smashing Magazine by Paul Boag and a rebuttal by Bill Slawski in collaboration with Will Critchlow.
In all honesty I think both articles have their merits, however I think neither fully deal with the problem of why SEO keeps getting slammed.
Paul’s article focuses on:
- Manipulation not being a long term strategy
- Businesses developing in house teams to write content
- Designers being responsible for accessibility
- Discouraged reliance on SEO companies and using rankings as KPI’s
I pretty much agree with all of the above, however I am not in the ‘rankings don’t mean anything’ camp either. The article clearly showed a distaste for the SEO industry, and questioned the value SEO’s bring to overall success online.
It was also a little naive suggesting you simply create quality content that is sharable, forgetting even the best content needs promotion.
You’ve probably read the article already, but if not head over there, the comments are particularly interesting.
As you can imagine, 100’s of SEO’s came out in defence and the end result was a very comprehensive rebuttal put together by Bill.
His article covered some of the technical issues we deal with as SEO’s and thoughts from industry leaders, which included:
- SEO is the practice of helping site owners connect with their target audience
- SEO is making sure search engines can find, classify and value content
- SEO is doing anything that will increase traffic from the major search engines
- SEO is about succeeding in a world where users turn to search engines for discovery, research, validation and comparison (I like this description by Will Critchlow)
Despite a very thorough article there were still responses like this:
Ok, this will sound controversial but all the techniques mentioned above are just common sense. I still agree with Paul’s view from last week that SEO is unnecessary if you have a clever developer and great content.
You’ve had a big article to try and persuade me otherwise but all I’ve read is some advice on prev/next and canonical links meta tags. These are are just this year’s equivalent to keyword meta tags.
The rest of the article is just meaningless rhetorical business-speak, like: “SEO means focusing more on the customer and less on yourself. SEO means providing value. SEO means looking at the big picture and helping a company transform its business. SEO means identifying business objectives and determining the best way to go about realizing them.” Not very convincing.
I know I’ll be down voted by those working in SEO desperate to cling on to its assumed relevance in today’s web industry but my advice to clients is to forget about any approaches by SEO salespeople and consider spending the money on content, via copywriters or PR agencies for example. All they need SEO-wise is half a page of instructions about simple methods such as page title lengths, url structures, image alt tags etc. It seems to get them to the top of Google.
Apparently we’re trying to cling on to the relevance of SEO in today’s web? I think ‘clinging on’ is a ridiculous thing to say, the industry is booming, there are more jobs in SEO than ever before, more investment, and the forecast is further growth. Clinging on? Really? This shows it’s more of a ‘chip on the shoulder’ attitude rather than a well informed opinion.
The Real Problem
I personally don’t think it matters what the rebuttal stated, there is a clear attitude towards SEO, particularly in development, design and even journalism circles, for whatever reason they just hate the industry and no matter what value we as SEO’s add, this never seems to change, with certain groups only ever focussing on the negative, thinking they are somehow helping in the demise of SEO.
If SEO is really that much of a con, why is the industry growing so fast? Why are more businesses both big and small investing more money in it? Why is there growing demand in the job market?
Do you hate SEO? If so these are the questions you should be asking! Not ‘what do SEO’s actually do?’ but ‘Why do companies invest so heavily in it?’ and ‘Why is it growing?’.
The SEO market is worth over £500 million in the UK alone.
It is growing by nearly 20% each year.
Stop hating on SEO and ask yourself, “Why is this market so successful?”.
I appreciate snake oil salesman and spam emails don’t help the perception of the industry, however I continually get spam emails from developers, design agencies and cheap copy writing services, yet I don’t feel the need to question the industry.
OK, so what do I think SEO is?
I Might as well have my say in this debate. Let me start by saying what I think SEO was:
- Ensuring sites were accessible
- Pages were keyword optimised
- Anchor text was informative and descriptive
- Unique content was being produced regularly
- Directory submissions
- Article spinning
- Forum spamming
- Text link buying
Yes, 6 – 7 years ago, I would say 90% of SEO companies had a model very similar to this, and the reason it looked like this is because it worked. It drove traffic, revenue and helped to establish some major brands in the UK and US markets.
Some companies still adopt this low quality model; however they have a big shock coming to them if they don’t adapt.
As SEO’s our primary objective is to understand signals search engines use to rank websites, and have the ability to advise on and implement strategies that provide the right signals. In short an SEO should be able to go into a business, quickly highlight the opportunities available and put a plan together to capitalise on them, this may include:
- Accessibility audit
- Canonical issues
- Pagination mark-up
- Schema mark-up
- Duplicate content issues
- Content strategy
- Content Marketing
- Analytics audits
- Content promotion
- Digital PR
- Link auditing
- Penalty recovery and link clean up
- Google +
- Rich Snippets
These are just some of the tasks we do as an agency and all go through the SEO team. Maybe the name is wrong ‘Search Engine Optimisation’, maybe it should be ‘Search Engine Opportunity’, after all an SEO specialist is someone who can identify opportunities to drive traffic and revenue from search engines.
Most of the above tasks would require input and assistance from developers, designers and copywriters; however the SEO Specialist would usually be responsible for bringing all these elements together.
Would a developer, designer, PR specialist and copywriter be able to deal with all of the above? You need all the elements to be successful. This is why I think Paul’s original article, although had valid points, was a little naive.
The reason why companies invest in the above is simple, because it works! It delivers results.
A quick example….
I worked with a small business last year who really wanted to increase revenues through the website. The site was well designed, converted well and had great content. It was in a very niche market and traffic was never going to be massive, however there was still significant opportunity to grow revenues to this small business, so I put the following plan in place:
- Optimised title tags on all pages
- Created location based landing pages which incorporated the details of partner businesses
- Listed company on Google places
- Built local directory listings and citations
- Set up 10 guest blogging opportunities
- Offered promotional badges to partners
- Set up Facebook page
- Shared photos of recent work and encouraged clients to like the page
- Encouraged clients to review services, and added them to the site and applied schema mark-up
- Increased monthly traffic to the site via Google by 800%
- Increased traffic from Facebook by 2000%
- Gained top 3 rankings on over 30 core keywords
- Top rankings across 10 locations on Google Places
- 250% increase in monthly revenue from the website
This made a significant difference to this very small business, it was transformational. Would anyone else other than an SEO specialist put the above in place? Would the designer, Copy Writer?
Good SEO produces business changing results
SEO is growing so fast because of the results it can drive, if you can show your expertise or activity has an SEO benefit you will more likely get the budget you need. Does it really matter what it’s called?
Companies will invest in opportunities to drive more revenue, SEO justifies this investment, it doesn’t matter what the activity is.
A good developer is vital to the work I do as an SEO, as is a good designer, copy writer or PR specialist. Even though there is plenty of snake oil in all these industries I still recognise a need for the services and how they integrate with what I am trying to achieve.
It’s time to drop the pride, SEO is here to stay, the advice of a good SEO will help developers, designers, copy writers and PR specialist all get more from the work they do. It’s time to embrace it, there is no need to feel threatened, SEO isn’t here to replace any of the above industries, rather it is here to compliment them.
SEO’s understand search engines, and the signals used by search engines to understand how authoritative a website is. They then use this knowledge to bring together a pool of skills to help capitalise on opportunities and drive more traffic, conversions and ultimately revenue.
… Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays…