SEO Myths vs. Realities in 2016

Search engine optimization is a never-ending game with constantly changing rules — so much so, that eventually old rules become blurred or obsolete. But old habits are hard to break, and many SEO experts are guilty of pressing forward with less-effective strategies.

Link building? What are you, a blacksmith?Search engine optimization is a never-ending game with constantly changing rules — so much so, that eventually old rules become blurred or obsolete. But old habits are hard to break, and many SEO experts are guilty of pressing forward with less-effective strategies.

It’s understandable, given the monumental shifts taking place in the SEO world. Just a few years ago, few people imagined that mobile websites, social media and smartphone apps would make such a big impact on the SEO landscape. And yet here we are, and these emerging technologies have already changed the game.

Building a good SEO strategy in 2016 means dispelling myths and accepting new realities. The way people interact with the Internet has evolved, and SEO experts who don’t adjust accordingly will eventually be riding the bench.

Myth: Written content is still the most important kind of content.
Reality: Video content has pulled even with text.

If written content is still more important, then it’s hanging on by a fingernail. The truth is that video content may have already pulled even with text content in terms of overall importance to SEO efforts, and it won’t be long until engaging video content dethrones written content. The simple truth is that video content is far more engaging and is more likely to be shared on forums, on websites and in social media. As search engines shift to reflect the kinds of user experiences that people want — and as social media posts become part of Google’s organic search rankings — the importance of quality video content will be undebatable.

Myth: My desktop site is more important than my mobile site.
Reality: Mobile websites are more important than desktop sites in some industries.

Most people now use the Internet more via mobile devices than desktop PCs. In April 2015, Google unleashed an update known by SEO experts as “Mobilegeddon” that gave priority to websites with suitable mobile versions — so we already know this is one of Google’s top priorities. In the past, it was easy to view mobile sites as optional novelties that accompanied desktop sites. That’s no longer the case. The way people interact with websites changes significantly when viewing the Internet through smartphones and tablets. Google is already embracing this reality, and SEO experts must do the same.

Myth: Building inbound links to my website is no longer important.
Reality: Inbound links never went out of style.

It’s easy to think that, with the growing importance of mobile websites and social media, perhaps the tried-and-true practice of link-building is no longer a necessity. Turns out, that couldn’t be more false. While backlinks aren’t as critical now as they were a few years ago, they’re still highly important and will help your site’s SEO ranking. If anything, the popularity of sharable content on social media has allowed opportunistic SEO experts to expand their networks of backlinks even further.

Myth: Social media marketing isn’t relevant to my SEO efforts.
Reality: Social media marketing is not only important, but it’s becoming vital.

This can’t be said enough — social media is dramatically changing people’s relationships with the Internet. An increasing number of people use Facebook and Twitter as their jumping-off points to other types of content. If you impress people on social media with engaging articles, videos or infographics, the result could be scores of new links being pointed back at your website. More links and more traffic means a better SEO ranking.

Also, Google now has a contract with Twitter to display tweets in the search rankings. Google is also indexing Facebook pages — this started last year — and it’s not uncommon for Facebook pages to be returned as search results to people’s queries. Going forward, social media marketing is only going to become more entwined with winning SEO strategies.

Mythbusters: Digital, Mail and Green Marketing Payback

The “Mythbusters” of Discovery Channel’s hit show get to blow things up while putting myths to the tests of science. At the Direct Marketing Association’s annual marketing conference, I paid tribute to personal heroes Jamie and Adam (the real TV Mythbusters) by blowing up some green marketing myths that have infiltrated both consumer and agency attitudes toward sustainable marketing practice. If left unchecked, today’s common green myths can sacrifice campaign integrity, leave profitable sustainability solutions untapped, alienate consumers and contribute to environmental harm

In this week’s “Marketing Sustainability,” I’ve invited the newly named chair of the Direct Marketing Association Committee on the Environment and Social Responsibility—Adam Freedgood of New York-based Quadriga Art—to share with readers a “myths v. facts” discussion on sustainability and marketing, presented recently at the DMA2012 conference in Las Vegas, NV. —Chet Dalzell

The “Mythbusters” of Discovery Channel’s hit show get to blow things up while putting myths to the tests of science. At the Direct Marketing Association’s annual marketing conference, I paid tribute to personal heroes Jamie and Adam (the real TV Mythbusters) by blowing up some green marketing myths that have infiltrated both consumer and agency attitudes toward sustainable marketing practice. If left unchecked, today’s common green myths can sacrifice campaign integrity, leave profitable sustainability solutions untapped, alienate consumers and contribute to environmental harm. A 30-minute town square session called “Mythbusters: Green Marketing Edition” debunked and discussed a dozen print, digital and multichannel myths, resulting in new opportunities to drive profitability from sustainability of campaign execution.

The troubling truth about green marketing myths is that they appeal to our aspirations and can quickly become ingrained in business practice. For example, “going green costs more,” “digital is greener than print,” “you can save a tree by not printing this article,” and “storing your data in the cloud means fluffy white beams of clean energy will power your campaign data storage, forever.”

Marketing missteps can grant mythological status to simple misconceptions virtually overnight. Consider the classic “go green, go paperless.” This little beauty appeared out of nowhere and now graces billing statements everywhere. There is no quantifiable environmental benefit attached to the claim, which creates risk to brand integrity. Unsupported green claims violate the Federal Trade Commission’s “Green Guides” enacted earlier this year. The “go paperless” phrase subjugates marketing best practice, opting instead for a greedy grab at the small subset of consumers who attach singificant value to a brand’s environmental attributes. A direct response mechanism that acknowledges basic consumer preferences would do just fine.

The evolution of product stewardship regulation, rising resource costs and consumer preferences support the business case for infusing sustainability in all aspects of marketing best practice. The full myth busting presentation is a Jeopardy-style game board rendered interactively in PowerPoint, available to download here.

Here are a few green marketing myths we debunked that offer urgent, profitable insights for print, digital and multichannel marketers:

Myth 1: “Delivering products and services online, or in the cloud, represents a shift toward environmentally friendly communications, compared with print-based media.”

Reality: This myth is busted. Digital communications shift the tangible environmental impact of marketing campaigns away from the apparent resource requirements associated with paper, transport and end-of-life impacts of print campaigns. By way of fossil fuel-powered data centers that are largely out of sight and out of mind, digital carries a surprising set of environmental hazards. A September 2012 New York Times article highlights the growing connection between data centers and air pollution due to massive energy requirements and dirty fossil-based power inputs. The digital devices used to create and deliver online content to consumers contain toxic heavy metals and petroleum-based plastics. Electronic devices are too toxic for our landfills but are recycled at an abysmal rate. According to the Electronics Takeback Coalition, the U.S. generates more than 3 million tons of “e-waste” annually but recycles only 15 percent.

Myth 2: The United States Postal Service (USPS) has struggled to implement comprehensive sustainability strategies due to declining mail volume and the related shortage of revenue available to invest in green activities.

Reality: Myth busted. The USPS is a prime example of an organization that has embraced the business case for sustainability by making extensive investments in greening most aspects of the organization’s operations. USPS has applied a “triple bottom line” approach to sustainability—the perspective that investments in green business must perform on dimensions of profitability, environmental sustainability and stakeholder impacts. Through postal facility energy efficiency retrofits and attention to sustainability at all levels of operations, USPS has saved $400 million since 2007, according to its sustainability report. Through some 400 employee green teams, USPS employs a bottom-up approach to sustainability that produces substantial cost and energy savings.

Myth 3: Green initiatives have a long, three to five year payback period, placing them at odds with other organizational priorities, such as investments in fast-paced digital marketing infrastructure.

Reality: Myth busted. While some sustainability measures, such as building energy efficiency retrofits, carry a payback period of several years depending on finance and incentives, there are innovative approaches to sustainability for direct marketers that yield much faster financial gains. For example, performing a packaging design audit that identifies downsized product packages and renewable materials can produce immediate savings while dramatically reducing environmental impact. Consolidating IT infrastructure and applying best practices in data center efficiency and server virtualization produces fast financial returns for firms operating in-house data centers. Lastly, Innovative programs that engage customers and suppliers in sustainability also produce quick gains with minimal investment. Starbucks’s “beta cup” competition mobilized a global audience of packaging designers, students and inventors in search of more sustainable coffee cups. The design submissions confronted a key sustainability issue head-on, allowing the chain to engage stakeholders in the solution.

Adam Freedgood is a sustainable business strategy specialist and director of business development at global nonprofit direct marketing firm Quadriga Art in New York City. Reach him on Twitter @thegreenophobe or email adam@freedgood.com.