I keep seeing posts that are titled SEO is Dead. This is however, not the case. SEO is evolving from something heavily based on links to being more content centric in terms of quality.
Bruce Clay offers a great explanation at a conference that brought up the mortality of SEO:
SEO definition is different today than 2000. Google often says they like SEOs because they aim to improve website quality. SEO is a way of measuring do you stack up against the competition. There’s a lot of research and feedback that needs to be done. The SEO of 2000 is probably dead. 10 years from now today’s SEO might be dead. It’s always evolving. How many people here think SEO is dead? (No one raises their hand.)
This is exactly how I think of SEO. It’s not simply a checklist of having links, meta data, and a carefully formatted page with headings that include keywords.
It must consist of those things at the most basic SEO level but without content, the chances of ranking well for any length of time is very low.
Google takes measures to ensure search quality, it’s much more about what is offered in the content than how that content is presented. SEO has evolved, and will continue to evolve, but it will always need one thing and that’s content.
SEO vs. Advertising
What SEO is all about is simply creating the [best and most informative content] that directly targets a specific question, search query, and offers multiple inbound and outbound references to help educate the person searching.
Advertising is good at informing, reminding, and associating. But we still need to know what other people think about a product or service, by reading reviews, both good and bad. That’s really the point where we’ve gathered enough information to make an informed decision.
Advertising without an equal investment in content that results in conversions is money down the drain.
Relationships and Circles
I really dislike companies that run ads, or in any way try to promote becoming a friend, fan or follower. It’s like having to buy friends. Well, that’s exactly what it is.
What’s better is to actually create the content, and or the connections with the people that like you and want to have a connection as opposed to being manipulated into clicking a button.
Social Networks Offers Accountability
We have reached a point online where our identities have become trusted and no longer anonymous. This makes us accountable because our reputation can be summed up in a matter of minutes by doing a search by our name. People that I call influencers are ones who write and have built a reputation and a presence based on what they do for work and for fun. Hopefully, what they do for work is also what they consider fun.
Let people do their own research, but be sure you’re showing up in search while they research.
Car dealers that send people to sites like Edmunds, Motor Trend, or the like are completely missing a tremendous opportunity in my opinion. They need to be the experts, and they need to demonstrate that expertise by producing information that helps buyers feel comfortable making decisions based on someone knowing their product and how it stands up to competitors products.
Being In The Right Place At the Right Time
The more information people can find on their own about us, the more effective we are in leveraging the internet to introduce us to those who may be looking for services we offer or information we’ve collected and studied.
There isn’t any room for advertising because I make decisions largely based on the experiences of others, and the others I am referring to must be actual people and not spammers who write false reviews. This will become much better in the years to come, as profiles with little identity authenticity will become obsolete in terms of their review contributions.
We would rather base our decisions on actual experiences of a particular product, by those who are competent to speak about it based on their backgrounds, and we prefer to reward those we know and are impressed by.
Trust And Value Based Relationships
Trust is inherently embedded in exceptional content. Having written the content yourself, you’re embedding trust as well as identifying yourself as an expert.
Here’s what not to do:
The easiest way to illustrate this one is to use an example of a site riddled with ads. We all know these sites because when we land on them, we find the content to be very thin and perhaps even duplicated or spun. Immediately we sense the interests of the site and it’s owner to be focused primarily on the amount of money they can get with as little content as possible.
Aaron Wall sums it up well::
(G)arbitrage never really goes away, it just becomes more corporate.
One thing you’ll notice that’s blatantly obvious on these sites is that you don’t see any legitimate accountability. Nobody wants their name associated with such sites, they are marginal and soon to be crushed by Google with updates like the latest Panda 3.4 which has been announced via Twitter and effects 1.6% of queries.
We need to be focused on creating value in what we do, leveraging our network of influencers we have built and helped as well, and becoming known for our ability to create as well as identify great content when we see it so the search engines can index and rank it accordingly.
This has been the primary reason behind Google’s shift towards a social platform, because it was clear that great content must have support from real people who are sharing it because of it’s quality and who are willing to put their reputation on the line.
It’s very important to share great content that you know people will gain something from.
Transparency and Behavioral Targeting
This is a difficult one to attempt to explain, primarily the behavioral part. I would definitely focus on transparency before attempting to target people based on behavior.
This is because transparency precedes the attraction component that eventually could lead to trust and building relationships, which then lead to sales.
Transparency can be accomplished through SEO, followed up by behavioral targeting in SEM.
SEO is simply harder to do, but the benefits are longer lasting if done by a reputable SEO firm.
But herein lies the challenge for selling SEO.
SEM is just easier for larger companies to wrap their heads around. It isn’t as abstract, or mythical in nature. It’s very structured in pricing, you pay x amount for each click.
Here’s a great quote from Rand Fishkin’s blog that sort of captures the inherent problems with selling SEO services or products. This may have been the pivotal reason why the VC backed out at the last minute:
The only big concern he brought up from that research was that higher-up marketing executives still lack belief in SEO. One quote that I noted above was a VP who said “I know it’s irrational, but nobody can prove to me that we should spend more.” This lack of investment in SEO and inbound marketing compared to paid channels, despite the higher ROI and lower acquisition cost, is something every inbound professional fights against.
Read the entire post on his Misadventures in VC Funding.
Although Rand’s post is on the topic of fund raising, the amount of transparency Rand offers is staggering, and I truly believe it is very central to the success of SEOmoz.
What’s ironic is that in that post he talks about how effect behavioral targeting is for SEOmoz. But I believe it wouldn’t be nearly as effective without a ton of transparency. I know this to be true because I see the ads, and not offended by them because I know the company and I trust them. The same would NOT be true for every organization.
Reach Your Audience At The Right Time
If you haven’t had a customer ask you online in a public domain such as on your Facebook page, via Twitter, a comment on your blog….. then you’re doing it wrong.
I believe it’s still a bit early for most companies to dedicate a ton of resources to this, but the intention of this post wasn’t to go turn off all your advertising as much as it was to educate you on why it is very wise to start testing ideas on an inbound marketing approach.
That is a decision each company should make after gathering the information, reflecting on the available data online vs. lack thereof from traditional media, and making decisions based on substantial findings.
What Is It Like Selling To People Online
First off, the easiest people to sell to are the ones that have already bought from you in the past. So find them, and determine ways to get in their path online.
For example, in the real world, wouldn’t you think that the people who drive by your business every day on the way to work might be more likely to do business with you than the ones that aren’t in the area?
So think of what you can do that would make their lives easier, perhaps opening the car wash at your dealership a couple hours early to see if that results in people getting their car washed on the drive in? Think about it, because perhaps they get to work and someone compliments them on their clean car. Guess what they might say.
Now Just Translate That To Your Online Efforts
The way you interact with your current, previous or potential customers online in a public facing manner will determine how comfortable people are in their approach to engage in that way themselves.
If you regularly answer questions on your Facebook page, Google+ page, Twitter, or blog then you’ve opened the doors and made others feel welcomed to this type of interaction. But you can’t just “turn it on” today and expect results.
The way to go about it is to carefully outline your ideas and put some operational procedures into practice to respond to people should they decide to engage. Obviously, the more people engage, the better your chances are for increasing this type of engagement so don’t take shortcuts because it will just tarnish your brand and give people the impression that when you do things you do it the fast, cheap and easiest way possible. Not good if you are a luxury brand, or any brand that’s trying to create a good experience in a very public way.
The value in this is you’ll be offering a very open and approachable process that people will utilize when they are ready as opposed to opposite that just gets you ignored and/or blocked.
You’ll also learn more about the indications of those who are in this stage, and you can “attract” them in very indirect, yet effective ways.
Context And Finding The Right Angles To Work
When you look at an advertisement, what type of conversation do you think people could have about it? If the answer is nothing, through it away and never do it again.
People are looking for content that gives them inspiration for thoughts and ideas that they can then express in their own way and share with others.
If you have hosted events at your business, and took photos which were posted on Facebook, you’ll notice that people are very engaged whenever they are tagged in a photo. This represents a memory that they can directly recall and identify with, forming trust in a way that is social and fun.
Another thing I love about the way SEOmoz runs their business is how they connect with their customers and help them become successful. You can guest post and potentially have it pushed to the SEOmoz blog which has hundreds of thousands of readers.
Think about ways you can help your customers improve their business as a priority over how you can help your own and it will really uncover some ideas that will push your brand higher in the public eye.
Great companies just have a way of appearing so naturally successful, but if you dig in a bit you’ll often notice that it’s largely connected to the way they make their own customers successful first.
Social Graph – I Know A Guy
To conclude this post I thought the best way to express the fact that advertising is dead is to draw on a phrase that has existed forever offline, but is about to become very big online as people rely more on their networks for referrals.
“I know a guy who can….. “
Usually you might hear that phrase and think someone is looking for a service where they need someone skilled, reliable and does great work. People who run into problems at their home might seek the advice from a friend before picking up a phone book and dialing blindly in hopes of finding someone available that isn’t going to screw them.
People turn to online reviews, and read them diligently to see recent experiences and find out who’s fair priced, does quality work, and is technologically savvy enough to create an online profile.
Generally, these people will be more organized, won’t waste your time, will do the work they were hired to do, and here’s the kicker…… Won’t rip you off!
This is why people look online, and actually search themselves to find a service provider as opposed to just select and go with one that is advertising. They are doing their due diligence. They know that doing business with anyone who can’t be found online is taking a risk.
This is why advertising is shifting into an entirely different realm where the customers are the ones seeking you out, and for that reason it’s all about being found instead of sending out things to those who aren’t looking.