Before anyone starts shaking their head this is NOT another “SEO is dead” post. I don’t subscribe to that school of thought, though I do believe in the fact that a successful SEO by necessity must be willing to change and adapt with the times. With this in mind I have compiled a list of some of the dangers we will all face at one point or another in the new year. Many we have seen before and some others may be less expected.
What’s in a name?
I certainly won’t claim credit for this point as I wasn’t the first to bring it up but it seems like the name SEO presents a danger in and of itself. There will always be a need and a niche for marketers focused solely on improving traffics from the Search Engines but it is my personal view that this is a limiting title and in fact belittles a lot of the work we as online marketers do… and there is a reason (beyond the fact that many people outside of the industry don’t know what SEO means) that I generally refer to myself as an online marketer rather than an SEO.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m not a PPC Specialist and I’m not a Social Media “guru” but my view is that a good SEO should be judged on their ability to deliver new and relevant traffic and as a result of changes to the algorithms over the past couple of years there is a considerable knock-on effect from the need for a good online marketer to get involved in social media to impact rankings and drive new visitors. I think SEOs (where they have been responsible for these upticks in traffic) should be taking responsibility and claiming credit for these bursts and I think the very title of the profession makes this more difficult.
The Silo Effect
Particularly in larger agencies and big companies with in-house teams there is a considerable danger caused (in my view) by the naming convention – or at least a lack of understanding as to what an SEO actually does. We have moved well beyond a time when Social Media, PR, and Search should be treated as separate entities. And it goes well beyond this- there is every reason why SEO consultants (and Social Media specialists) should get involved when discussing a new launch of a site, television spots and other offline advertising. Not only can joining up these motions benefit the impact from an SEO perspective, but they allow entire departments to own the success of a campaign and work together.
I believe in the need for competition and benefit to market forces, but smart marketing minds should play as a team where possible and organisations should be well structured to reward these efforts rather than pit internal teams against one another to fight over budgets. If a team can genuinely work together in this manner the client gets the best outcome across the board.
A Little Bit of Knowledge…
We all know how dangerous it is when a client, manager, etc. has just a little bit of knowledge about SEO. These are often the most difficult situations to manage- you will be challenged on every point your raise but often based upon out of date or incomplete information. It would be great if everyone who works with SEOs (whether they’re the client, a manager, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company) could read Bas’ piece on “Rules… before you can become an SEO Client”.
There is no industry like ours that I have ever witnessed. Things are changing so rapidly there is a constant need to stay on top of the news, keep up on Twitter and always be stepping up your game. However, this can be a problem in one of two ways. Those who suffer from laziness will reach a certain plateau and let their guard down they won’t keep up with the latest news or bother to learn anything beyond spammy link building tactics and keyword stuffing. Their game will be defined by out of date tips. However, the shear volume of information (good information) out there can lead to another type of laziness that I think will become an increasingly difficult battle for SEOs in 2011 – that is that this constant need to learn can be overwhelming and take away from time needed for client work.
The most succinct and poignant piece I have read about this actually came out on New Years Eve and was written by a former colleague of mine (Paddy Moogan). The title says it all, but it is well worth a read if you get a chance: “Why knowing everything about SEO Doesn’t Mean Shit”.
The last type of laziness that is not directly related to this, but in my mind is even more dangerous to an SEO is the general acceptance of a new technique, discovery etc. as a panacea to all SEO problems. We are an open industry (sometimes surprisingly so), but there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First, there will always be people who keep their secrets to themselves, and some people will probably even try to mislead from time to time if they are ultra-competitive by nature. Second, there is rarely an excuse for not testing something yourself. There are a lot of big names in this industry and the vast majority of them know what they are talking about – but leaders in any industry are fallible and we as marketers should not wait around for someone else to discover what works and take their words as gospel. Get out there and test!
A Focus on Rankings
Of course SEOs need to be held to account and historically the easiest way to do this was to report on rankings, traffic driven through organic search, etc. However, as I already raised in the point about the name and the silo effect, there is so much more to it than that. Take for example linkbuilding efforts: not only are some of the techniques here going to lead to an increase in rankings, but if done intelligently could very well lead to a big spike in traffic. Of course a link from a PR 9 website is huge, but it’s even more valuable if it can drive a few thousand relevant visitors as well. And by the same token, some crossover with social media can impact rankings directly, it can have a knock-on effect for linkbuilding but it also may send 50,000 new visits.
Focusing on rankings and traffic generated only through organic search is again not giving an SEO the credit they deserve. The best way to avoid this danger is to be up-front with your client or your boss and let them know what you are hoping to accomplish through your online marketing efforts.
On a more basic level still, the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to track rankings (with personalised and universal search taking over to a much higher degree in 2010) is also a reason that this can be a danger. Most people have a vanity term but it’s a bit absurd when you’re getting calls from three different departments asking why you aren’t ranking first for “Widget Importer” anymore. Whilst it remains invaluable to maintain those rankings in the “natural” SERPs the fact of the matter is, they won’t be seen by that many people in their “natural” order and it is even less likely they’ll be seen that way more than once so you’d better make it count.
This is a bit of a stretch but I don’t really see the ongoing usefulness of this as a main metric for tracking SEO success.
A Few Bad Apples…
It really is surprising how badly misunderstood the SEO industry is (perhaps even another argument in favour of a re-brand), but there is no doubting that whilst Google has been resting on its laurels a bit in terms of spam prevention over the past few months (check out our WebMaster Radio chat on this) the backlash is spreading well beyond the SEO community and even into Universities and Techcrunch. I have no doubt that Google will bring it back under control this year, but there is actually a negative impact on the SEO community and the online marketing community when the SERPs get out of control. Not only is it a signal to some that this sort of behaviour is acceptable (and even rewarded) but it is also a signal to somewhat-savvy outsiders that a bunch of Spammers are getting things ranking first in the search engines and this must be the work of the evil SEOs!
There is an inherent risk in employing these tactics but this is one of the few dangers that – if the major search engines can’t get it under control – could pose a threat to the legitimacy of the industry as a whole.
The Powers that Be
This is perhaps the danger that most often leads people to go a bit crazy and pronounce the death of SEO, but it has not been the case thus far and I cannot imagine any change that could happen in 2011 to kill it off. However, it is hard to deny that with the number of changes we saw not only to the algorithm, but more importantly to the actual user interface and search experience that we marketers are still (to a certain extent) at the will of the major search engines and cannot afford to get lazy.
Thanks very much for reading and let us know what you view as SEO Dangers for 2011 – whether they be laying dormant or just waiting to pounce. The industry is alive and well – let’s just make sure we keep it that way and take risks and keep on learning whilst avoiding these dangers.