How and Why SEOs Need to Change
Year after year we see blog posts saying SEO is dead. Usually this is shortly after some kind of Google update. It was said after personalised search was launched, when Google instant launched, after Google Places got bigger. The list could go on but I’m sure you get my point.
I don’t think SEO will ever die. The fact is that there will always be the need for three basic things –
- Good technical SEO and implementation (as people will always mess this up)
- High quality, unique content (copy, paste and laziness will always exist)
- Link building (you don’t really think that social shares will replace links do you?!)
Yes there are other things that help with your online strategy, but can anyone honestly tell me that these won’t be needed in five years time? No matter what Google does, even when they take away some valuable data, these three things are still needed.
SEO will never die, but it definitely will evolve and SEOs will have to adapt to change. I’m not sure that good SEO companies will be called SEO companies in five years time. The smart SEO companies around the world are already adapting and moving away from short-term SEO tactics and are moving more towards long-term business strategies. This isn’t even restricted to online, some especially advanced companies are trying to bridge the gap and make offline and online strategies compliment and help each other.
I want to discuss a few ways I think that SEOs can change their mindsets and how they work with clients. I know these will not agree with everyone, but I’d love to hear your feedback.
Changing the way marketing budget it allocated
SEO can’t remain the poor relation of PPC or offline marketing. When you look at how big companies distribute their marketing budget, SEO is pretty much always at the bottom of the list – why? Because many owners of companies still do not understand it or how it benefits their business. It is even harder for them to understand what SEOs actually do to get the results they claim to – how do we expect to be on a level playing field? Even the most transparent SEO companies find it hard to explain how their work directly impacts those little blue links on Google.
Notice how I said “owners of companies” and not marketing managers or in-house SEOs. These guys mostly understand search just fine. But their biggest problem is getting a sign off on their big ideas to really make a difference to their business. This is a vicious circle because without this sign off, big improvements won’t happen, without big improvements, revenue won’t be increased, without increased revenue the CEO doesn’t care about SEO.
If the owners of companies and the people who control budget truly understood SEO, do you think they’d hold back on budget to make important changes? Of course there are good reasons why SEO can’t be done sometimes, but on the whole, it feels more like a lack of understanding which is the biggest reason for people not signing off on budget for big changes.
Changing where SEOs are positioned within a client’s organisation
Part of the problem as suggested earlier is that the people who control the company and the budgets do not know enough about SEO to sign off on stuff easily. A solution to this is to try and build relationships with the true stakeholders in a company. It could be the owner, the CEO or the Head of Marketing, either way you need to be looking higher than your first point of contact. If you are not familiar with the way that Bain Consultants work, I’d highly advise you go and read this article about the work they did with Guinness in the 1980s.
This isn’t to say that you should cut out your first point of contact and go straight to their boss, in fact I’d heavily advise against this. It is quite common for your main point of contact to experience the same frustrations and problems you have. So you should be working together to try and win small battles which ultimately allow you to win the war.
It isn’t always easy to get the key stakeholders within a company in the same room, particularly if you are working with big companies. It is possible that the CEO may not even be in the same country as you. But this shouldn’t stop you trying to get as high as possible.
The meeting also doesn’t have to be a formal one, it can be a breakfast, a lunch or even a drink after work – the latter is my favourite! I’d actually say that an informal meeting works better, getting outside the boardroom and into a relaxed atmosphere definitely helps you get stuff done.
Once you are in direct contact with the key stakeholder, it is much easier to gauge their understanding of SEO, what it means and most importantly, how they feel their company should be investing in SEO.
There are other major advantages of this for your company. One of the main ones is that you become harder to get rid of and are more likely to keep clients for long periods of time which means you can truly influence change. If you can work directly with the CEO of a company and show them directly how you are improving the bottom line, they will be far less likely to get rid of you.
Changing the typical SEO mindset on planning
Part of the change that SEOs need to make is in the way we think about projects. Typically, SEO projects will work on a monthly basis and be some kind of retainer. Even short term projects will run on a monthly basis over the course of several months. The problem this causes with SEOs is that is makes us plan work on a monthly basis. Sure, at the start of a project you may make a plan for three months worth of work, but this can quickly be replaced when wanting to make the end of month report look good.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t work on short term wins if they are there, but we need to move away from the mindset that you need X number of links built by month end, or you need X number of pieces of content finished and live. I feel that SEO projects should be more fluid and should work towards a long term goal and vision for the company.
One of the major advantages of doing this within the context of this post, is that it allows you the opportunity to see what else is going on inside a company in the next few months and see where there may be opportunities for integration. I will talk a little more about integration later in this post.
When was the last time you asked a client what the vision or mission of the company was?
The company understand that when setting this vision, it isn’t going to happen by the end of the month. It may actually take them years to move towards the vision, the same should apply for SEO. The goal should be to come up with an online strategy which consists of various SEO tactics – these tactics can be changed and improved as time goes on. Notice the difference between SEO strategy and SEO tactics – this difference is a whole other post for another day but in the meantime, have a think about what the differences are.
Changing how SEO works with offline marketing
It is a bit too easy to say that offline marketing doesn’t affect SEO and not make any effort to bring the two together. A few years ago this may have been a bit true, but now we are seeing more and more evidence of companies making considerations for online when doing offline marketing. It is no coincidence that this has happened at a time where the market for mobile devices is exploding. Did you see Apple announce last week that in Q4 of 2011 they sold more iPads than PCs:
With many of us having smart phones, it is very easy to absorb offline marketing and quickly note or check something on our phone without going to the effort of opening a laptop or starting a PC – assuming one is even nearby.
But it doesn’t stop with mobile devices. TV advertising directly effects SEO.
Remember the Vince update back in 2009 where Google started to heavily favour brands in their search results? There was a lot of discussion at the time around what Google define a brand and how you could generate signals that indicate you are a brand. One of the key signals identified was search volume for your brand name and variations of it. TV advertising, as well as lots of other offline marketing can affect branded search volume and show Google you are a genuine brand with lots of activity going on other than content and links.
Many brands are going a step further and making the call to action “search brand name online” rather than saying their website URL.
I think that SEOs will need to try to work much more closely with these other forms of marketing so that they can compliment each other. I appreciate this is very hard to do, but the first step (see above) is to embed yourself higher up in an organisation where these type of discussions happen.
Changing the sales process – SEO isn’t always the answer
This probably sounds a bit weird given that I’m an SEO! What I mean is that SEO isn’t always the best way to make money for a client within the next 6-12 months. The answer may actually be a conversion rate optimisation project or a PPC project. If you are a company that offers more than just SEO, you are in the perfect position to take a look at the client’s data and advise them on what type of work will give them the best return.
The default answer should not be “sure lets do some SEO which consists of this and costs that”. The answer should be “great let us have a look at some data and figure out what type of project would be most effective”.
This can often be hard because access to data during a sales process is tricky, but it is something that should certainly be pushed for. Smart clients will understand why you are doing this and give you access to enough data to make a good decision.
I think that SEO companies will be around for a long, long time to come. But there is a need for change in order for our industry to grow and gain the respect I feel that it deserves. Change doesn’t have to happen overnight, it can be a slow process but I certainly feel that this is something that SEOs should be thinking about rather than sitting by waiting for the next Google change to see what happens to their clients.
The changes I suggest above are just a starting point, I’d love to hear your opinion on where SEO is going and how we can improve.