Friday Commentary: The Current State of SEO by Business Function
Welcome to the Friday Commentary. In this series every Friday experts will shine a light on the digital industry. Where are we heading, what is going on and how should we approach this as decision makers? This Friday it is time for Chris Boggs, who is a veteran in the industry and who is former president and chairman of SEMPO.
I’d like to start this post by formally thanking Bas for inviting me to be a part of this Friday Commentary series. I am honored and excited to share my thoughts and experiences. For the majority of you that don’t know me, you can find some background at my blog bio . Now let’s get into it! If only I had some maatjes to get me going…
Search Engine Optimization continues to rise in prominence in the marketing ecosystem. Over the years we have grown from a “nerdy but needed” function to a core business consideration across industries and verticals. I have had the opportunity discuss SEO with many companies ranging from SMBs to large Fortune 100 organizations. I think our current state as a sub-industry of Digital Marketing is laudable, but feel we can continue to function in a more integrated manner – keeping up with changes in Paid and Earned Media while sticking to “tried and true” SEO Best Practices. I have decided to break it down to a few key relevant organizational functions. Pending the comments and feedback, I will likely dig deeper into some areas in my next Commentary later this year.
From a personal perspective, I feel that the quality of Executive sponsorship of SEO initiatives within medium-to-large organizations has grown tremendously in just the past few years. As our industry matures and more agency and in-house SEO experts get better jobs through proven performance, we have matured from “SEO 101” themes and “bring out the crayons” directives previously required to hold successful SEO-focused meetings . Some will complain that this has made SEO more difficult – the act of framing it within broader marketing terminology as well as satisfying a greater demand for projected performance and even performance-based pay. I relish this as it means SEOs are formally at the table and are now required to meet the dress code.
Conversely, for many mid-sized to large SEO firms we all struggle with being able to deliver the kind of hand holding that is required of many (but not all) Small Businesses, where the owner can only be an expert in so many things. In these cases, the “laissez-faire” type of attitude entrusting the SEO agency/consultant to deliver what is required to achieve goals is invaluable, and often leads to longer relationships than the micro-managerial attitude. Since I am a SEO it may sound like I am trying to lay all the blame on the client-side for relationships that don’t flourish and prosper, but frankly it is often easier to drop the problem than to pour additional time and resources to explaining the same thing 20 times like we have done for years. We have to start to value our time as much as executives at our clients value their time, and be strong in this conviction.
Once we have earned our way into the executive consideration set, SEOs have to work well together with organization to influence strategy without stepping on feet. Again, there is a clear differentiation here between process and delivery to SMBs versus larger organizations. SMBs often fall intone of two broad categories: eCommerce or Local. The term “strategy” often needs to be qualified by the adjective “realistic,” in my experience working across all sizes of organizations. However, it seems that I often am met with unrealistic strategic planning initiatives when discussing desired performance goals. The education side comes to play here as well, but we as SEOs must also be weary not to overpromise.
Expectations should be set and then reconfirmed multiple times during strategic development on through to execution and delivery. When chatting with new clients that were dissatisfied with past efforts, I often find myself wondering how the goals they failed to reach were so high to start with. SEOs have to continue to train and enable client to first crawl, then walk, then run. Consistent and full integration of SEO with User Experience and target segment understand is of utmost importance, but this is a whole other article topic.
For larger organizations, Strategic discussions sometimes are wasted because not all of the proper stakeholders are in the room (or sometimes they are in the room but not paying attention). This is the number one problem I have observed over the years – rarely are all the right people in the room at the right time to discuss the right collection of subjects. Thusly, the strategy gets prodded and changed almost as soon as the high level is set, dooming the SEO to take longer to implement, and thereby delaying proof of value through implemented recommendations. This in a nutshell is the “Groundhog Day” for many SEOs these days working with larger organizations.
One of the biggest opportunities in 2014 is for Brands to take charge of their Brand SERP. Both Google and Bing have made it very easy to dominate the first page of your results for a search of your brand. Yet much like the knowledge graph and Google +, it appears that a very large percentage of businesses as well as SEOs are not focused enough yet on this. In my recent presentation at Pubcon ron the subject of SEO Beyond the Filter Bubble, I focused partially on the huge opportunity Google has given brands with the “Brand 7 pack” as I (and maybe others?) call it:
I feel that as SEOs we have a great opportunity to further evangelize the importance of owning the Brand SERP, and to dominate each of the 7 listings (of course more if local comes into play) with other properties including Twitter, YouTube, Facebook channels etc. This means we need to get money from Brand marketing when dealing with large complex marketing organizations. Enough said.
Most pay-per-performance models were likely thrown a bit awry last year when Google ramped up “not provided.” For years SEOs have had to rely on data that was far lower fidelity than our PPC Paid Media cousins, but this was truly a damaging blow. Hopefully Google realizes the hypocrisy of providing this information to advertisers while keeping it from analysts monitoring organic performance based on the reason of “privacy.”
As SEOs however, we continue to be resilient. Having been a US Marine I can remember the value of being told to do it again or that the route had changed, because we were always nimble and sometimes able to plow right through the change. The changing rules of engagement for SEO dictate the importance of ongoing education, as well as personal research. For us to continue to deliver on the primary goal of more online sales or leads, we have to work hard and fast to change tactics and direction when needed. However, keep in mind that the basic tenets of SEO are still the same: build relevant content and drive awareness/buzz/authority, and you will rank.
For direct marketers, they have to understand that it is important to save for a rainy day. My personal philosophy on the idea of suddenly losing your business or home because of a change in an algorithm which takes you from thousands a day to nothing is as follows: save up for rainy days and substitute organic loss periods with Paid Media. Some will argue that is exactly what the “evil” side of Google and Bing want you to do…but I don’t buy into that.
The key “state” to report for this function is that yes, SEO constantly changes and evolves. Thus the only constant is change, as Heraclitus and many others have said. Successful SEOs will be able to benefit again from greater knowledge and experience from the Executive Leadership at larger organizations that have been through algorithm updates in the past.
Equally forgotten to Brand search importance for many SEOs is the below-the-funnel crowd. What happens when someone searches for your brand because they are an existing client/customer? Many organizations really need to start thinking more about this. I find that the bigger brands often have accordingly bigger problems for this. Search [contact] + [insert large bank name here] and see how easy it is to find the wrong information from a choice of seemingly 5 “right” answers. On top of it, many brands are not addressing these people from a PPC perspective either, simply feeding the standard brand ad creative to people that are already would-be advocates!
The number one current opportunity for SEOs exists with fundamental brand management. The value of this prioritization ranges down the funnel from people looking for your Brand for the first time to people that may Tweet positively or negatively about being able to contact you. SEO programs can live or die based on the collective buy in and understanding of all stakeholders. I look forward to thoughts, questions, and disagreements in the comments, and will see you in a few months again!