SEO has fundamentally changed. Granted, SEO has been changing since the advent of Universal Search in 2009. However, nothing has shifted the way we think about SEO as drastically as the Panda and Penguin updates. The most recent Hummingbird update has moved our thinking even more. The mantra of “SEO is dead” could be said with more gusto from our most ardent detractors than ever before.
SEO is not dead. It is alive and well. The ability to distribute a marketing message within a search engine is fundamental in the digital space. It is the tactics, and even strategies, those practicing in SEO have employed in the past have to change. Google has been explicit in they must change and as the driver of 65% of the search traffic in the U.S., SEO practitioners must heed the advice.
SEO has traditionally been divided into two components: onsite and offsite. Others will call these components a little differently but what they comprise of are relatively the same. Onsite handles any of the technical details comprising of the website: URL, copy, meta content, title tag, alt tags, headers, and so forth. Offsite, as the name implies, handles all of the activities outside of the website. In many cases, this means linkbuilding.
Strategies range in SEO but they mostly surround a percent between onsite and offsite. Ranges exist between 20%/80%, 40%/60%, even 0%/100% splits between onsite and offsite. All designed to maximize the opportunity in the search space for clients.
It is not bad thinking. For those practicing SEO, this way of thinking has work, and continues to work to drive results. However, the game has changed. No longer can one just rely on acquiring (or buying) links. A site cannot just have meta content data to survive. The skills of those practicing SEO have advanced so much that it may be time to split off our traditional thinking of onsite and offsite into two distinct core competencies: technical SEO and integrated marketing communications SEO.
A lot of the traditional onsite SEO falls within this category. What changes is the level of sophistication the technical SEO will have to face moving forward. SEO’s will need to be able to isolate pieces of data, in the vein of Schema.org, and code those properly so they give Google the most accurate picture available of the elements on the web page. Each element – navigation, product types, articles, categories – existing on a page should be labeled. It is much easier to make these adjustments as one is coding a website.
The development of websites – from site structure, hosting, to server redirects – is increasingly becoming more complicated. Site owners want visually appealing, highly functioning sites. This could take an enormous amount of effort to code correctly for SEO. It is much easier to code it in the beginning for SEO instead of reengineering it down the road. As legacy systems have to be incorporated with newer technologies, how sites are transitioned and re-appropriated are critical to website performance.
SEO across mobile remains complicated. As devices move from desktops, tablets to smartphones to TV’s, cars and refrigerators, it will take a whole new of development in delivering exactly what a user wants as they search.
Thus, the need exists for someone to have a constant and consistent eye for SEO at a very highly technical level.
Expectations: Incremental gains, short time frame.
Integrated Marketing Communications SEO
Link building is dead – or what we know of link building is dead. What exists today is the need to build a digital communication strategy, largely focused around content. Content, whether that be text, video, images, graphics or anything else, shapes how the Internet consumes a brand’s message online. Content must now meet four criteria: relevant, engaging, discoverable, and sharable.
Relevant and engaging are not new concepts when it comes to content. Google has stressed digital content must embody these tenets for years. However, the bar has been raised. Google will now penalize a site for low-quality content. Content creation takes ideation, planning, and skilled execution. It is not for the faint of heart.
Discoverable content contains two elements. The first is in the traditional SEO sense. The piece must be optimized to capture those keywords appropriate for the brand and for the content piece. The second element is in allowing the content to be discovered via a distribution plan. The effectiveness of a piece of content to drive traffic to a website is dependent upon how a user finds an article. The most likely place will not be on a brand’s domain but on a related site. Thus the ability to spread the word by placing content on as many places as possible will improve the effectiveness of the piece.
Finally, if the content is placed on hundreds of websites, but only a handful of people click on it, the strategy is not successful. The content must be passed along, shared, with others. Using digital ‘word of mouth’ will enhance traffic and drive SEO results.
Thus, one must have writing, PR and social media skills to fully drive traffic increases which can impact search rankings.
Expectations: Large gains, long time frame.
Technical SEO and integrated marketing communication SEO come from very different perspectives. The technical SEO is a developer, data driven and analytical. Whereas the integrated marketing communications SEO is communicative and engaging. What brings the two together, and makes it hard for them to split up, are the keywords. At the end of the day, both have the same goal – search ranking. Since search ranking remains the goal, it seems fitting these two areas would remain together.
However, Google has shown it is pushing the goal much more towards traffic driving, especially since the removal of keyword level data in Google Analytics. If the goal moves from search ranking to traffic driving, then the two become distinct disciplines much like email marketing or display advertising.
Instead of one person handling SEO, you have two people handling SEO. Two people, two different mindsets, two distinct skillsets, both with the ability to increase awareness of a brand and drive traffic to a website. The split between these two will continue to grow and one does not supersede the other. Time and effort into both sides is crucial for success – the best way coming from a complete, but amicable, split.