May 17, 2017

Old is the new NewFirst, failing SEO agencies began to rebrand themselves as “inbound marketing” after they played a big part in giving SEO a bad reputation. Some of the big players in the SEO industry did the same, professing to be experts in all things digital including social media, copywriting, content marketing, public relations, community building, business development, and various other somewhat related disciplines.

Lately, many of those rebranded companies have started repositioning themselves again. No matter what the new label is – inbound marketing, growth hacking, or something else – it still seems to be the same old stuff, repackaged.

SEO -> More Than Just SEO -> Not SEO -> Back to SEO

It’s not just those shady little SEO companies who are suffering an identity crisis.
This week, two of the biggest, most trusted names in the SEO tools industry, Moz and Raven, have announced that they are refocusing again. To their credit, they are going back to good old SEO. I think what happened is that they tried to reach a little too far from their core strengths. It isn’t that social media or content marketing is not important or effective, it is just that it isn’t as easy to automate content or social media, or even reduce it to pure numbers and data while keeping it all effective and useful. Moz in particular seems to have lost its edge in SEO over the past few years, so hopefully they will get that groove back now. I am not trying to bash Moz – there is plenty of that going on here:

Earlier this month, Winston Burton asked “Is ‘SEO’ The Right Term Anymore”. The column stirred up some thoughts I had been pondering for a while and, well, here are some of those thoughts. I hope this helps anyone considering hiring Ker Communications understand my approach to web presence management. Maybe this can help any legitimate SEOs who are struggling with an identity crisis, too.

“A few years back, we focused on optimizing existing landing page elements (title, meta description, headings, body content updates and so on), building links using link development tactics and conducting website audits to fix technical issues.
We still do these things today, of course — but we also do so much more…”

SEO or Not SEO

I have been a little conflicted about this topic since I first started Ker Communications. Back in 2010, the main goal of what I did for websites was essentially the same as SEO: improving visibility of websites in search engines, mostly Google.
But SEO was kind of a dirty word, and not a fun one. People calling themselves SEOs were completely disregarding Google’s terms of service and looking for loopholes to find ways to trick the search engine into thinking a page was more important or better quality than it really was. Not only is that deceptive to Google, it is also dishonest to your customers and put their online business at risk of being banned from Google completely.  Furthermore, that kind of SEO usually meant sacrificing site quality and user experience in favor of repetitive use of keywords and other ugly things, and that is definitely NOT what I wanted people to think I did.
The term SEO also didn’t fit how I worked since I did so much more than fix and optimize sites – social media was a big part of it, and even online video played a major part in increasing the exposure of an organization’s entire web presence (not just its main website). I wasn’t too thrilled with the term SEO, but there was not much I could do about it. I tried calling my approach something else: “Complete Web Presence Management”. That was awkward, it didn’t catch on, SEO was what people were looking for  – and I was not in a position to change that.

The Re-Branding/Denial Era

When Google really started cracking down on deceptive spammers with penalties and algorithmic filters like Penguin or Panda, it looked like most SEO providers, especially the spammers, tried to rebrand themselves as inbound marketers or content marketers.

Hey – at least now I had something else to call my way of doing SEO.

Many of the newly re-branded marketers were still doing the same old things, and some really did figure out how to actually use content and social media to influence search engine rankings like I was already doing. Suddenly a whole “new” industry had popped up that fit the description of what I was doing.
Here’s where it got a little weird. The vast majority of these new inbound marketers started to forget about actually optimizing sites – they were leaving out the O in SEO!
Sure, WordPress and other platforms make it a little less necessary to fix up sites that were not “search engine friendly”, but most new sites still have a lot of room for improvement in its code and content unless they were built by someone who really knows SEO.

People Still Wanted SEO

An effective inbound marketing strategy often costs much more than business owners who have no interest in becoming a publishing mogul are willing to spend. Content marketing works very well when it is done right, but it is not for everyone. It isn’t cheap. It isn’t fast. It isn’t easy. SEO isn’t any of those things either, but many people still believe it is easier, faster, and cheaper than inbound or content marketing.
So those SEO-turned-content-marketers did what they do and went for quantity not quality. And guess what – it didn’t work! In the meantime, they ignored all that “technical SEO” and created more work for those of us who actually know how to do it. Sadly, this crap-content marketing did almost as much damage to their clients’ visibility as those old shady “black hat” SEO tactics did.

By 2015, much of my work had shifted away from web presence management, and toward high-end technical SEO. I am the guy your old-school agency goes to when they just can’t make things happen with the simple things. Troubleshooting ranking, traffic, or conversion issues by going way beyond the usual stuff that anyone who can Google can figure out became a whole new area of expertise. Those gurus from 10 years ago never did know how to do that. They only knew how to stuff pages full of keywords and build spam links that would eventually get their clients’ sites penalized. I learned how to undo those messes they made, too.

Now, the dust has settled from the chaos of linkspam penalties and sites churning out tons of useless content. Now, many of the people who seek my services have already spent way too much on content that did not help. Maybe because it was not very good content, or maybe because the marketing was left out of their content marketing. Nobody ever saw it… and the site was not making it any easier.

OK, so maybe I AM an SEO…

Just when the rest of the SEO industry was abandoning ship, I actually became comfortable with the term, SEO. I optimize sites and I do it well. I still don’t do a lot of “link building” and never really did the shady stuff that was getting sites penalized. It turns out that over the past few years, links are far less important when you have truly optimized the site. Yes, “just” optimizing sites can help the business optimize its messaging, and sometimes its whole way of doing business. Even if you have followed all of the “Top SEO Tips” you could find, I can usually find a way to make it better. Not only that, but I know what works and what does not in regard to inbound marketing – keeping it efficient and without leaving you scratching your head wondering why you are supposed to be doing it.

SEO is a Science and an Art

SEO is Science and Art CombinedIs SEO now just a required skill for web developers, or is it a whole discipline of its own encompassing other forms of online marketing with the end goal of improving search visibility and what you get from it? I say both!
All good web developers should have a respectable amount of knowledge about the technical aspects of SEO. I still see site redesigns that undo years of hard work as soon as they are launched and recrawled by Google.  SEO as an all encompassing discipline is alive and well, too.
The trick is knowing which of the components of SEO are appropriate to use for a particular business and which are just nonsense.


Still Here, Still Doing SEO and Doing It Well

Through all that confusing turmoil, Ker Communications has kept true to what works with no need to rebrand, refocus, or rewrite history to pretend we did or did not do something. Real SEO, real digital marketing, and really tired of being surrounded by compulsive bullshitters in this industry who seem to think only in buzzwords.
So don’t ask me what I call it. Ask me what I can do for you.