It was easy for a while. There were thousands of us providing SEO services and making good money for what was, in all honesty, a simple process. For the most part, it was banana chairs and margaritas here at Blak Ink headquarters. We didn’t even need a website.
As long as we consumed blogs and had the right tools, it was difficult to fail. I imagine it was similar during the 80s: deck shoes, Yacht Rock, and doing deals. (Sigh) Then Google decided we had to work for a living. The algorithm changed and suddenly terrible things started happening: it became fair, logical, and helpful to users.
All jokes aside, what it did to the SEO industry was make it about 10,000 times more interesting (only a slight exaggeration). The profile of your typical SEO has completely changed. We’ve become much more diverse and been forced to add a long list of additional skills in order to offer a full suite of SEO services. Most digital marketing activities have become symbiotically linked, but SEO is the binding factor.
Here’s what I mean:
Online content really is king (this time we mean it)
Having come from a web content background, I was elated when I heard content was king. And then? Tumbleweeds and crickets, blank stares in meeting rooms, the word ‘why’ used excessively in conjunction with ‘budget’. The ROI just didn’t seem immediate enough to convince execs. We had ways to work around the lack of quality content so we didn’t panic, but it was frustrating.
Now standalone content hubs are appearing, as illustrated incredibly well in this article on The Dubs site about the head-to-head battle between Credit Suisse and UBS, written by a particularly handsome man who bears an uncanny resemblance to me.
Content has increasingly become our domain because it’s often an intrinsic part of SEO strategy. For instance, we’ll see keyword trends that can define content topics and the structure of site sections. Then there’s good old-fashioned on-page optimization. It’s getting to the point where you can’t step through a basic digital marketing strategy without tripping over SEO every few seconds.
Backlinks – when the world loves you, Google loves you
It makes complete sense. If a thousand websites are linking to your page, you must be worth visiting. You can see why Google feels pretty safe in placing so much importance on backlinks. But not all links are created equal. We all know some sites are trashy, spammy and self-serving; possibly even created for the sole purpose of producing outbound links.
These days, it’s simply safer and more effective to do the right thing. Why spend thousands of dollars pretending to be a quality destination when you can spend the money on a positive goal: a brand that’s important and likable.
Outreach – give it away, give it away, give it away now
For many SEO companies, the lazy option is the only one they’ll consider: buying referrals. It’s far more rewarding to build a community of influencers as you build your audience.
A lot of people skip Twitter which I think is crazy considering it’s so easy to find people who are willing to help—usually non-competitive businesses in the same industry. But you can’t just feed on the community like a vampire. You need to build a digital culture that truly believes in forming real relationships, assisting allies, referring users to brands you believe in, and feeling comfortable enough to ask for the odd favor.
It’s hard to be a modern SEO without considering outreach and the task is becoming more interesting as we start to build authority for clients by using diverse mediums and forums.
Being number one is great, but conversion is better
The aim of your business isn’t a number one spot on Google search engine results pages (SERPs). The aim is to make more money, get more leads, gain subscribers, build an audience, or establish your brand as a leading authority. If you aimlessly focus on that top position without considering your ultimate goal, it’s an expensive exercise in vanity.
Any SEO can probably get you to the top, for the right price. Good SEOs aren’t interested in this KPI alone. Firstly, some keywords are too broad to guarantee good conversion. Secondly, many conversion-friendly long-tail keywords will usually provide more benefits. Let your competitor have the number one spot and obsess over an ambiguous search term while you dwarf their organic search figures by doing it the smart way.
Usability – picking fights with designers and coders
Having led web development teams for large companies, I’m used to the term ‘mobile-first. We began prioritizing mobile use several years ago. The problem has always been obvious, and this blog is a good illustration: I’m writing on a laptop but most readers will be viewing it on a mobile.
Looking at Google’s activity during 2016—its updates and acquisitions—we can now safely say that the migration from desktop to mobile is about to become urgent. Desktops and laptops will be with us until holographic screens, augmented reality, and voice recognition are perfected (don’t get me started on that!) but we can now safely say that our target audiences will usually be accessing sites via mobile. The exception may be B2B, and according to Moz, four key industries: Computer & Electronics, Internet & Telecom, Science and Travel.
So SEOs have no choice. We’ll need to be obsessive about design. Again, there was a time when this was none of our business (literally) but poor usability equals bounce, and that affects our results. Some upcoming debates will include Accelerated Mobile Pages (top of the list of trends according to Forbes) or Progressive Web Apps, or a combination of both (just shoot me).
Conclusion – the never-ending story
Being an SEO means committing to change. As long as Google remains a dynamic entity, we’ll be spending at least 20% of our time on research and development. And at this rate, we’ll rapidly be gobbling up digital marketing roles.
But on the bright side, we think organic search has never been more fair, effective, and exciting for businesses. The only problem is the quite real possibility that our brains will explode.
Jeefunk Mitchell is a former Digital Production Manager at News Corp and founder of Blak Ink Media – a digital marketing agency based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Blak Ink currently provides copywriting, content marketing, social media and SEO services to clients in Cambodia, Australia and the UK.