This is going to date me a little but that’s ok. I’ve been working on internet based projects for 20 years. In particular web projects, since the web was invented. I’m not really that old, you don’t have to make that assertion. In that time I’ve seen massive change. From terrible looking websites to beautiful designs that are possible with the tools we have in 2016.
Not everything has changed though.
As soon as there were search engines, there was search engine optimisation or SEO as we know it. It’s a lot more sophisticated now but the basic idea is the same: learn / guess what your preferred search engine likes and try to make your website appealing for said search engine.
What has not changed in a large way is the way that SEO services are delivered. I believe it’s time to change, it’s time for SEO companies to look at a bigger picture. It’s time for website owners to understand what they really need and how they can get it.
The SEO service model
Let’s look at how things often unfold.
A website owner, let’s call him Tom, sets out on a path to improve the performance of his site. He sells picture frames online and ships them internationally. Tom understands that in order to sell more picture frames he needs to attract more visitors to his site. So, he looks around for an SEO professional and finds Mandy – she works for an SEO company that Tom found online.
Mandy begins the project by doing a round of keyword research. Checking the content of the site, the competitors of the site and then analyzing search volumes and competition she arrives at a final list. Her keyword strategy.
Mandy’s next step is to conduct an SEO audit. She identifies all the problems with the site that need to be fixed. She creates a list of these issues and sends them to Tom: “Can you have your web developer fix these things?” And hands over a fourteen page document. Tom browses through it and stops at page two, he’s got no idea what all of these things are. Really? “A canonical URL?” Tom’s a smart guy but he’s got no idea about all of this.
Mandy is very keen to see the list of issues completed, she works on other projects while she waits for the problems to be solved.
Tom’s web developer takes on the list and over the next two weeks does most of what’s on the list. Mandy then returns to the project, has a couple of calls with the web developer, and is happy with the progress that’s been made.
She then sets out to optimise the content of the site. Working through the various pages she selects keywords that are both relevant to the content and are in the keyword strategy. When she is done, the HTML title tags are set, the pages all have unique meta descriptions, URLs with keywords, noindex and nofollow tags set correct – it’s a slick job all round.
The SEO presentation
Mandy and Tom get together for a meeting. She takes Tom through all the changes and, although he doesn’t understand it all, he’s satisfied that a good job has been done. Mandy finishes by telling him that she’ll now be working on the site each month and they agree on a retainer.
The SEO ongoing retainer
Over the next six months, Tom receives some traffic reports from Mandy. He doesn’t really understand what he’s reading but he’s been told, “Things take time, you’ve got to give it a few months to start to seeing real change”.
Tom’s not really sure what is happening on the site each month but he’s keeping the faith.
He’s busy with the core business. There’s a new range of picture frames that are launching so he’s loaded up the new products in the website. There’s not really much time for blogging. Tom’s read a bit and knows that he really should be writing new content for his site. Over the next few months he gets out just 3 blog posts – trying to do his best.
Time to get an SEO expert
After 12 months, sales are not really improving so Tom decides that he’s going to engage with another SEO company. He explains to Mandy he really needs to get this website performing and they part company.
A month into the new relationship Tom is utterly frustrated. He has a new keyword strategy. Another list of problems with the website that he’s told, need to be fixed. And a report that says all of the recent content is not optimised, there are no HTML titles, no meta descriptions, there’s a round of work that the SEO company has to do to bring it up to standard.
Didn’t Mandy do all of that?
Well yes. She did it for all the content that was there to begin with. Tom’s been adding products and blog posts when he’s had time but he’s not been doing any on page SEO. He’s just adding the content.
This model of SEO service is broken
It’s not hard to see why many are frustrated with SEO services like this. You move from one to another doing and re-doing seemingly the same work. It’s often hard to see or understand what’s actually being done on a monthly basis. And more difficult to see if it’s having any impact.
There’s the frustration of Tom being told that he has to have someone come along behind him and optimise his blog posts. The new products that he’s added, yes they need looking at too!
Is there a better SEO solution?
There has to be.
I certainly don’t want to point the finger at SEO companies. There are definitely providers out there that are beginning to look at the bigger picture. Rather than working with SEO in isolation, they’re looking at it as just one tool in a digital marketing landscape.
Or there’s another approach all together.
Content marketing focuses on the creation and distribution of original and unique content. By some it’s viewed as a strategy that sits at the other end of the table to SEO. I don’t think it should necessarily be seen like this. I don’t think that content marketing is something that you do without considering SEO. It is however a bigger picture view.
How would Tom fare with a content marketing solution?
Let’s look at an alternative solution. Tom’s done a bit of time travel. He’s got his Tom Baker scarf on. Instead of engaging with an SEO company he instead hires a copywriter. One that’s highly skilled as a content marketer.
Stacey sets up a session to work with Tom to get to know his business. They talk about the picture framing industry. Where the materials come from? How long Tom’s taken to arrive at the master craftsman that he is today. All the while Stacey is taking notes, and writing down topic ideas. Lots of them. Many are great ideas for blog posts but some she’s thinking would be better as a video or perhaps even visual format like infographics.
Stacey plans to write and publish these ideas on Tom’s blog. Each week there will be two new posts, search engines love fresh new content. She’s well trained in the art of on page optimisation for search engines so each piece of content published is already set up for SEO.
The SEO benefits of this strategy are obvious. However there’s more upsides here. Tom’s blog is alive, it’s engaging. His customers are reading about his picture frames, their quality, how they are built and more.
When Stacey publishes new content she also shares it on Twitter and on Tom’s Facebook page. These social networks also light up with new content, and people asking questions.
Content marketing is a more compete solution
At the end of the day, providers in the digital space need to focus on results. Often we focus on our awesome SEO skills or our web development chops. Our customers really don’t care about any of these.
They want results.
I love this quote from Theodore Levitt – former professor Harvard Business School:
“People don’t buy quarter inch drills; they buy quarter inch holes”
And so it should be in the digital marketing space. Tom wants to improve the sales of his picture frames. That’s it. Anyone providing a service to Tom should be singularly focussed on this. Likewise, a business owner or marketer should know their goal, and when engaging with providers, select one based on their ability to deliver on the goal.