What is the future for SEO?
Danyl Bosomworth suggested, a little light-heartedly, in his recent Smart Insights article ‘SEO is dead’, that one of the ideas for resetting your SEO agenda is to ‘Forget SEO and forget Google’ and in this he is absolutely correct.
SEO really only has itself to blame for the predicament in which it finds itself. Daily emails bombarding your inbox promising untold wealth from a number one position on Google, ‘guaranteed’ link building schemes that ‘Google won’t penalize’ and many other ridiculous claims have made SEO a very bad name for itself.
Of course it wasn’t always like this. There are many SEO professionals out there who have always had the best interests of clients at heart, have striven to produce good quality content and links and have generally behaved with propriety in a landscape dominated by excess and greed.
Even today you can buy over 100,000 links for just £5 and have them linking to your website within 24 hours. The industry is overwhelmed by poor practice and automation making life incredibly difficult for ethical practitioners.
The problem stems from the ease with which Google and the other Search Engines allowed spammers to manipulate their rankings. For years these people have got away with awful link building practices and profited from it, and only over the last eighteen months have we seen the heat turned up on their tactics with Panda and Penguin updates.
But these updates are not perfect. Not only are they catching and penalising perfectly legitimate small businesses within their filters, who have never even employed an SEO company, but they have forced those who are still searching for the ‘easy buck’ into other areas.
Press Releases, Guest Posting and Social Media bookmarking are all areas which are set to become the ‘new spam’ areas in 2014.
How long before Google updates Webmaster guidelines to include excessive use of any or all of these as examples of bad practice?
SEO isn’t dead, it’s alive and kicking but it is now carrying round a dreadful stigma with it, so much so that where once it signified a professional approach to online marketing, for many it now signifies the worst of ‘black hat’ marketing.
The question therefore is ‘where does SEO go from here’? The answer I would suggest is ‘back where it belongs’.
SEO gained prominence as it was simple to do, you needed little or no industry knowledge or training to do it, it could be done from your bedroom in a couple of hours a day and it was relatively cheap with the promise of untold riches. It encouraged a ‘get rich quick’ attitude and that brought with it a wave of opportunists determined to make their money on the back of it. It became a discipline in its own right and elevated itself above Marketing and Digital Marketing as after all, if SEO on its own could get you to number one what was the point in bothering with a Marketing plan?
SEO basically got too big for its boots and now needs putting back in its place. Where it should be is as part of a coherent Digital Marketing strategy which is itself part of an integrated Marketing plan. SEO was at best a tactic and needs to be firmly relegated to that position once again.
As far as I know Google doesn’t actually buy your products or services, customers do. And if we cast our minds back to the beginning of our Marketing studies I’m sure that most of us can even remember being taught the 4 P’s of Marketing. Google, despite dominating the digital landscape for the past ten years is still just a channel to market. Granted it’s an important one (currently) but a channel nonetheless.
So where do Marketers go from here for SEO?
Well, I commented recently on this site that the first question I ask new customers these days is 'Imagine the internet didn't exist; now tell me how you would market your business'? Most clients have no idea where to start, so here’s what we suggest:
- 1. Create an outline Marketing plan for the business. There are plenty of frameworks to help you to do this yourself or failing that I’m sure that any competent Marketer will be happy help.
- 2. Create a Digital Marketing strategy that sits within the overall Marketing plan. This way you can ensure that where it’s appropriate you are using digital channels to promote your business but the core message and overall strategy are fully integrated so offline and online are working together.
- 3. Approach SEO as a three step process;
- 1. On site technical set up
- 2. On page content set up
- 3. Off page linking, liking and sharing.
We generally describe this last three step process as ‘releasing the handbrake’ as many websites look attractive but just like driving a sports car with the handbrake on, the car looks great but doesn’t go very fast.
If you can properly configure the website first and then ensure that you have great compelling content that customers will love, the last part of this comes more naturally as visitors will like and share your content.
Given that your Digital Marketing strategy, and by default your Marketing strategy will have sharing and linking across digital channels then in this way SEO becomes part of an integrated Marketing approach rather than a replacement for it.
This sounds quite simple, and in essence it is. The problems arise in actually undertaking this work for clients and the sheer number of hours you need to put in to create the right result. Most clients don’t have the time or patience (or resources) to do this properly and this is the point where lazy SEO has gained a foothold with people trying to shortcut the process.
So perhaps now is the time to re-educate clients that SEO is a tactic within a Digital Marketing plan, not a replacement for it. It’s huge battle but unless we can do this then no amount of PR will be able to save SEO.