SEO: A Changed and Changing Discipline

SEO should play an important role in the marketing department; however, the death of SEO is frequently decried and its obituary written. This is because its role and fit in the overall marketing mix has changed and evolved. Once viewed as a technology play, organic search is often still considered the province of technicians, and is separated from the strategic marketing effort. Given that search often provides the tip of the spear for getting new business, this separation is a huge mistake. Today, SEO must be aligned with and guided by the overall marketing goals. This alignment can be best achieved when the SEO expert is part of the strategic marketing team.

SEO should play an important role in the marketing department; however, the death of SEO is frequently decried and its obituary written. This is because its role and fit in the overall marketing mix has changed and evolved. Once viewed as a technology play, organic search is often still considered the province of technicians, and is separated from the strategic marketing effort. Given that search often provides the tip of the spear for getting new business, this separation is a huge mistake. Today, SEO must be aligned with and guided by the overall marketing goals. This alignment can be best achieved when the SEO expert is part of the strategic marketing team.

SEO itself has changed. Once upon a time, SEO experts were characterized as techies focused on how to beat each new search engine algorithm change. As they say, that game is over. Google claims to have more than 200 ranking elements in play. No matter how good the SEO expert is, accurately determining all 200 elements and interpreting the valence given to each is in the realm of fantasy. Gone are the cat-and-mouse games. Today, SEO is real roll-up-the-sleeves marketing.

Technical SEO still exists, for a site must be found in the search indexes for it to drive traffic from search. Today, technical SEO experts are expected to identify what is preventing a site from being indexed. It may be as simple as a situation that I encountered where a site had been pushed live from the development environment with a robots.txt file still in place that directed search engines not to index the site. Once this block was removed, the site performed just fine. Most situations are far more complex. These are puzzles that require the SEO expert to review the site’s code and understand the total technical environment in which it runs. Given the complexity and technical depth required to do this, it is tempting to consider the SEO expert a technician, but this is just one area of SEO expertise. Today, some SEO experts do nothing but audit sites and troubleshoot what is creating problems.

Organic SEO experts are often characterized as keyword manipulation specialists. Once upon a time, this was a big part of the SEO toolkit. Today, as Google’s processing technology has shifted from keyword matching to a more sophisticated interpretation of the query and how it relates to the user’s intent, the SEO expert has had to look beyond keyword matching. Because Google no longer provides keyword data in the analytics, the SEO expert has to take a different approach. Searchers still use words in their queries, so keywords are far from gone as part of the discipline. Interpreting page and content relevancy are replacing the more simplistic keyword approaches. The SEO expert has evolved into an expert on online user intent: “What did the user really want to find with that query, and is the site relevant?”

With the explosive growth of social media and the realization that users value the opinions of peers more than marketers, the search engines have added elements to their algorithms that allow them to determine whether one site is more trusted and trustworthy than another. This is a potential game-changer, because bad reputation and negative customer ratings are not just an SEO problem. The SEO expert is expected to understand how to enhance the positive and deemphasize the negative. Poor reputation is a marketing problem.

Gone are the days of the SEO expert as just a technician and a traffic driver. Today’s SEO practitioner should be a valuable part of the total marketing team and a key player in the development of the marketing strategies and tactics that will lead the business to success. Is your SEO expert still waiting for an invitation?