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Lee Odden

War of Words: Myth-Busting Search Engine Optimization

By Lee Odden     Marketing PR Conferences, Online Marketing, SEO

Mythbusting Search Engine Optimization SEOIn last week’s post about myth-busting social media, I asked what other marketing tactic or channel has attracted as much conjecture, blind advocacy and malarkey.  Only SEO can compare to social media when it comes to the volume of misperceptions and out-dated information posing as “best practices” online.

They say that the only things you can count on in life are death and taxes. Also, that search engines will change.

Google runs over 20,000 experiments per year and at any given time, 50-200 different versions of Google’s core algorithm are helping billions of searchers find what they’re looking for.   Add to that, personalization by location, past search history and the influences of the social graph and you have one of the most complex and fast changing systems ever created.

As the final post in my Mythbusting at NMX series (along with Content Marketing & Social Media), I’ll address just 3 of the many, many myths about SEO that are polluting and distracting marketers from fully leveraging natural search as part of their online marketing mix.

Myth 1:  SEO is Dead

There are many who say that Google has made so many improvements to it’s search quality that SEO no longer has any effect on websites in the search results (SERPs). It’s impossible to create cause and effect relationships between perceived “ranking factors” and positions in the SERPs because each person’s search experience could potentially be different.

SEO is Dead

More than a few pundits say that personalization, social media integration and improvements in combating webspam or manipulation of algorithmic loopholes have rendered the effectiveness of SEO tactics as useless.

Myth Busted:  Claiming SEO is dead is a near national past time for the attention starved. Many journalists and bloggers make the statement just to stir up the SEO bee’s nest and create online buzz.

For perspective, let’s consider the data: Over 100 billion people search Google every month and marketers spent $23 billion on search marketing in 2012 to attract, engage and convert those searchers into customers. While most of that amount was spent on paid search, billions were spent on SEO. Anything characterized with the word “billions” doesn’t sound dead to me.

Search is inseparable from the experience of using the internet. Search connects you to reputable and trustworthy information, where and when you need it. As long as people are searching and content can be ranked, there will be a demand to optimize.

The practice of SEO is bigger than keywords and links. Essentially, SEO is Marketing. Modern, sustainable optimization isn’t about exploiting algorithmic loopholes, it’s a way of thinking that centers around hypothesis, implementation and continuous refinement of performance based on data.  I’ve written an entire book about a holistic view of optimization that guides marketers from planning to implementation to scale.

Here’s one of the most common examples of this approach: Through a combination of creative keyword research, social topic tracking and insight from web analytics, our team recommended that a company add new content, optimized for new target phrases. Those new pages and digital assets were promoted to attract links and social shares resulting in a new market of customers easily being able to find the client’s services. Optimizing keywords used to discover the content along with testing of offers to provide the most attractive call to action resulted in continued increases in traffic and conversions. Along with the creative and content aspects of SEO, technical optimization best practices are applied at the same time, ranging from increasing page load speed to connecting optimized content with social channels like Google+.

Make no mistake, search engines are far from perfect and they benefit from great SEO work. Modern SEO is art and science, building upon creative and technical skills that make it easy for search engines to find, copy and sort your content in the search results. Modern SEO is also about creating an experience that helps search engines provide people what they’re looking for at the time they need it. Modern SEO consultants provide companies with insight to optimize the performance of their customers’ search experience whether the intent is to buy a product or find answers to questions about a product already purchased, so that in the end, everybody wins.

Myth 2:  SEO Can Only Be Done by SEOs

SEO has it’s roots in the IT and web development field because before there were easy to use content management systems, it took a web developer to make any SEO edits to the company website. There’s a bit of a protectionist culture within IT that has carried on to the SEO community and for good reason.  Numerous websites have suffered self inflicted disasters from half-informed marketers deciding to make changes to a website without any consideration of the impact with search engines.

A common example is a new web design with less text, fewer pages and a different content management system using say, php instead of asp. For good measure, maybe a new domain name and webhost too.  Another example is when content is updated on a website and the careful on-page optimization is overwritten by inspired wordsmiths having their way with brand messaging and a healthy dose of metaphors, irony, puns and all around snark. Or what about the decision to copy a competitors tactic of hosting multiple versions of a website on different keyword-hyphenated domains and buying links from other sites to boost PageRank? The competition is doing it, so why can’t we?

Myth Busted:  SEO involves a range of audits including keyword research, technical SEO, content and copywriting, linking and social media. Consulting an experienced SEO practitioner before making major changes to a website is smart. But of the 5 types of audits I mentioned above, many include tasks that can and should be implemented by others in an organization.

This is particularly true with content creation and social community work. With the right training of staff plus ongoing feedback via KPIs and marketing performance, companies can scale optimized content and social media efforts significantly with staff that are not trained SEOs.

The practice of SEO has been around over 15 years and while it’s been perceived as a “dark art” in the past, this is not the case for many SEO best practices. There are abundant sources of smart information about the various disciplines within SEO available on blogs like this one or on Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Land, at industry conferences like SES, SMX, and Pubcon as well as at related events like NMX, Content Marketing World and the new Social Media Marketing World. There’s also the search engines themselves, including Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools.

Definitely bring a smart SEO in for strategy, for technical issues and for oversight of implementation at regular intervals. Train content creation staff on keyword research, copywriting and content promotion. Arm social media teams with keyword glossaries and knowledge about link building. Help Public Relations staff understand the value of keyword use, social media optimization and links from 3rd party media sources. A team effort is what wins in SEO, not siloed, mystical black box over-promises made by a few individuals.

Myth 3:  If You Don’t Optimize Your Website, You’ll Never Succeed Online

Billions of people search the web every month looking for exactly what your company offers. Ignoring SEO is akin to making it easier for your customers to do business with the competition. Companies that ignore the sheer volume of interest expressed by prospective customers that are actively looking (through search engines) are doomed to fail.

Myth Busted:   About 5 years ago I gave a presentation called, “How to UnGoogle Your Online Marketing” based on this post in 2006 because so much SEO advice was conflicting and or loopholes inevitably to be closed by Google’s webspam team. The idea was, by implementing tactics as if search engines didn’t exist, marketers could create additional marketing channels and realize the added benefit of better search visibility at the same time.

New companies often consider SEO as a leading strategy, thinking that if they apply SEO best practices they will be able to launch their new company website from scratch and appear at the top of search results. The truth is, new websites should probably focus on advertising and publicity to attract attention since those are methods that can be implemented within a short timeframe and deliver immediate results. It takes time to develop content that can compete in search and attract both links from other websites and the social interactions that will help the content become “the best answer” for a competitive query.

A retailer I talked to about the pros and cons of social networking and SEO said something profound: “I value a new network connection more than a high ranking. Relationships are more important to me than clicks on search results.”  On one hand, she has a point, but the relationship isn’t worth as much to her business unless they become a customer.

A really simple example of how not explicitly optimizing actually reaps optimized results is the website for my book, Optimize.  Topics and content were created with the audience in mind with only basic SEO. The site uses the word “Optimize” in logical places because that’s the name of the book. Promotion of the site was focused on publicity and social channels resulting in mentions on sites like Forbes and Entrepreneur Magazine but also showing up in the top 5 for the word “optimize” out of 122,000,000 search results. The moral of this story is that there is a time and a place for SEO and that it’s possible earn prominent search visibility without going overboard on SEO tactics

Is it possible to attract, engage and convert customers successfully without employing a SEO program?  Yes.  Is it easier? No.  Would it be better to implement SEO best practices from day one and leverage other “UnGoogle” channels to attract traffic? Absolutely.

Update – SEO Myth: Press Releases, Links and SEO

The SEO community is at it again and has taken a piece of information from Google’s Matt Cutts and turned an old SEO fact into a new myth.

Matt responded to a forum question about press releases and links with:

I wouldn’t expect links from press release web sites to benefit your rankings – Matt Cutts

Then Barry from Search Engine Roundtable turned that comment into this headline:

Google Cutts: Links From Press Releases Won’t Help – Search Engine Roundtable

These are NOT the same thing.  Those who are not familiar with the many ways press releases can be used might think there is now no SEO value as a result of publishing a press release online.  This is simply not true. The irony of this is that Matt Cutts published the same info 7 years ago!  Links included in press releases hosted on the press release distribution service are what Matt is referring to.  Additionally, Alan Bleiweiss clarifies things with an update from Matt Cutts on the SEJ site that links from sites prone to publishing unfiltered press releases via feed or syndication are probably not going to offer much SEO value either.

Press Releases offer value for SEO when they inspire editorial coverage of the topic and the resulting article on a blog or news website links back to your company site. Press releases hosted on a wire service that rank for your keywords may not pass PageRank but they can certainly send visitors to your site. Same goes for any syndicated pickups of the press release. What’s the point of a release anyway? Rankings or to attract attention and traffic?

This series is a preview to my presentation at the NMX conference (BlogWorld) on January 8th (Tuesday) at the Rio in Las Vegas. Here’s the official session description:

War of Words: Myth-Busting Social, SEO & Content

This just in: “SEO is Dead”, “There is no ROI in Social Media” and many other proclamations are made in industry press and on blogs just about every week. And yet investment in social, search and content are all on the rise. Why the disconnect? From pageview journalism to egomaniacal SEO superstar wannabe’s, sweeping generalizations and out of context observations have created a number of myths about these highly effective online marketing channels.

This presentation will identify and bust the most common myths about SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing plus provide attendees with examples of how an integrated approach will win the battle and the war for more customers, better engagement and online marketing success.

Takeaways:

  • Distinguish fact from fiction about social, SEO and Content Marketing
  • Discover a model for integration that gets results
  • See examples of modern social, SEO & content in action

A free copy of Optimize will be given to the top 2 people who livetweet the presentation.  I hope to see you there! (Registration info)

What are some of the biggest “myths” you’ve heard about social media marketing? Any suggestions for myth-busting about content marketing or SEO?


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