It’s become incredibly in vogue to classify different marketing channels as “dead.” Sounding the death knell for traditional media was first, whether that was 30 years ago with the rise of cable TV, or more recently with content streamed online, to multiple devices, on demand. The press release has been metaphorically buried over and over again, only to rise from the grave. More recently, digital channels, such as email marketing, have been called dead (despite data to the contrary), and the latest earnings reports have people putting Facebook (and social media altogether) on life support.
The most recent target seems to be Search Engine Optimization (SEO), as an article on Forbes.com last week stirred the pot with the attention-grabbing headline,The Death Of SEO: The Rise of Social, PR, And Real Content. Journalists/soothsayers seem to be particularly enthusiastic about pounding nails in coffins, and it was only a matter of time before SEO got the treatment.
In my eyes, much of the talk of the “death” of any of these channels – whether it’s the press release, PR, or broadcast, revolves around misunderstanding the way they work, and what each vehicle’s goals are. Take broadcast TV for a moment. NBC has taken considerable flak this week for tape delaying most of the Olympics, including the opening ceremonies. And yet, the Olympics are off to a record start from a ratings standpoint. So, while there have been issues around revealing results on the same station that hasn’t even shown that event yet, the fact is that NBC’s goal is to maximize viewer audience and sell profitable advertising time to those viewers. And, on that they are delivering. Of course there are kinks to work out, and live streaming of events, mobile and tablet viewing, and social media/broadcast integration are still in their very early innings, but NBC’s primary job is to maximize the return on their investment of broadcast rights to the Olympics, and for them it looks like a success thus far.
The reported “death” of SEO follows much the same pattern, in that there is a lack of full understanding of SEO and how it works. Let’s turn again to the Forbes article for a couple statements, starting with this excerpt, with which I mostly agree:
But what does Google want? They want relevant, real content on the internet that people want to read and tell other people about. If Google doesn’t bring you the most relevant content when you search they aren’t doing their job.
Pretty straightforward, right? Google’s (and the other search engines’) job is to provide you relevant results for your search, either through their organic listings, or by serving you relevant ads that match what you are looking for. The key part is relevant results, because if search engines didn’t give you this, you will eventually stop using them. So far so good, right? The bottom line is to create relevant and good content that people want to share. This is exactly what we preach to our clients, and do for ourselves. However, it’s the next part where I differ from the author:
So by definition even the word Search Engine Optimization (SEO) means to “game” the Google search engines (and others) to get your valuable content ranked higher than it would be if left alone to the forces of the Web.
Here’s where I disagree: there is still enormous value to SEO, despite efforts like overall inbound links being given somewhat less weight (but not dropped as a factor) by Google. SEO isn’t just rote link-building where the most links win, it’s far more complex than that. SEO includes researching the keywords that will go into your content, developing your site or blog with search engine readability in mind, as well as building qualified (non-spammy) links to your site so that your content can be found by visitors and weighted by Google. This is a big distinction from saying all SEO efforts are “gaming the system.” Keep in mind that over 90% of Google’s profits are driven by pay-per-click ads, which if you want to talk about “gaming the system,” is predicated on the fact that this ad may be more relevant, or better placed on the page, than the organic content.
Let’s take it into the offline world for a moment and imagine that you are selling your house. With the goal to have as many potential qualified buyers as possible come through and enjoy your home, you replace the old carpet, paint a wall, plant a new tree and do some other things to present your house in the best way possible to potential buyers. You clean up the house, make sure everything is set up right, and then host your open house or have buyers take individual tours. Is this gaming the real estate system? I don’t think so, it’s making sure you present your home in the way the market has told you potential buyers expect to see a home. Google is the same way, they are pretty clear about what you should and should not do, and sticking within these parameters is a primary guideline for SEO. If you aren’t optimizing your online properties for search engines and for buyers then you are missing out – in the same way that if your for-sale home doesn’t look great, good luck making that sale.
Lastly, from the Forbes article:
The bottom line is that all external SEO efforts are counterfeit other than one:
Writing, designing, recording, or videoing real and relevant content that benefits those who search.
As I wrote about previously, Mediocre Content is Costing You Business. So, I agree with the core takeaway that creating real and relevant content is critical for anyone because without it, none of your other SEO efforts work. But just as Content Marketing is Not the New SEO because it impacts so much more than SEO, the strategy to just create content, and anything done to market that content it is viewed as “counterfeit” is misguided. “If you build it he will come” is far more appropriate for fictitious cornfields in Iowa than it is as a marketing strategy. Marketing the content isn’t “counterfeit”—it’s critical.
I’d amend the author’s statement to something more akin to:
Writing, designing, recording, videoing, and SHARING with your audiences real and relevant content that benefits those who search.
Like email, broadcast, the press release, and other channels that have been given a premature death, SEO isn’t dead, it’s just changing. Content is indeed at the core, but marketing that content is just as important.
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