Search engine optimisation was once the most talked about tool in internet marketing, but in recent years it has become something of a dirty word in the industry. The proliferation of ‘black hat’ or ‘grey hat’ techniques combined with poor quality has served to sully SEO to the point where the word itself now has connotations of bad internet behaviour. Because of this, many of those who previously would have call themselves SEO experts or SEO companies are going broad and referring to themselves instead as internet marketing experts or inbound marketing companies. Even the biggest name in the business, SEOmoz, is now simply just Moz.com.
The big question relating to SEO now is simply can the label SEO be rehabilitated? Since many marketers are practicing SEO without calling it SEO, does this hesitancy to use the phrase simply make everyone’s job more difficult and crucially what does that confusion mean for consumers? Here are just some of the reasons why internet marketers are publicly disavowing SEO while privately practicing it—and what that means for the realm of internet marketing as a whole.
SEO By Any Other Name
The truth of the matter is that search is still an incredibly useful tool for marketers in terms of return on investment and therefore many are continuing to practice SEO without calling it SEO. This can be confusing for consumers not up-to-date on the most recent fads within the industry when they are seeking a marketing consultant or marketing company to help them optimise their search potential. Good SEO works, and any marketer worth their salt will be ensuring that on-page optimisation is utilised, the mechanics of search are exploited and that links are being built—whether they call it SEO or not.
Going Broad: The Popularity of Social Media and Content Marketing
Perhaps part of SEO’s image problem is not that SEO is becoming less attractive but that alternative practices are becoming more attractive. SEO is a well-known term in the marketing world, but newer (if similar) practices are simply more exciting and sexy—and can therefore be marketed more easily to customers as ‘the next big thing’ that will gain them more visitors.
Depending on who you ask, there are massive gulfs between content marketing, social media marketing, inbound marketing and SEO—or absolutely no difference at all. I take a middle ground: while definitionally there are differences in what all these different practices intend to do, they tend to use many of the same tools and therefore are often two sides of the same coin. This all derives from one simple fact: to help your search rankings, you need to do more than just think about search. Things that are outside the traditional parameters of SEO like social media marketing do have an effect on search, so should we be looking at them from a search angle or a social media angle? If you are working in a hard niche like b2b marketing, the truth is the matter is that you should be looking at these things from every angle. Rand Fishkin was right in saying that the term SEO can be too restricting. But does that mean we should abandon the label or simply give it a rebrand?
Can SEO Be Rehabilitated? And How?
Even if we can all agree that SEO has built up a bad reputation in the past few years, there is definitely less agreement on where SEO can go from here. Is ‘SEO’ as we knew it dead? Will it come back as a faintly disguised zombie called content marketing? Can it be rehabilitated? These are all good questions, but the answer to all of them is pretty unsatisfying: it is up to the SEO experts themselves.
SEO experts have poisoned their own wells in that a minority of their industry partook (and to a degree still partakes) in bad, spammy practices that gave SEO its current bad name. But crucially the blame does not just like with those who took part in obviously black-hat schemes: white-hat SEO ‘experts’ are often guilty of poor quality content, lazy outsourcing and unintentionally bad link-building. Yet this can change. The recent industry interest in the concept of content marketing hopefully will mark a sea-change in how SEO experts treat content: it should be seen as having value in and of itself as opposed to just existing to hold links.
Only when SEO marketers start respecting content (and to some extent, Google) more will we see any change in the quality and longevity of optimisation provided. While many SEO companies and experts have been been undeservingly tarred with the same brush, it is up to everyone in the industry to get their act together and to drive out low-quality from the sector. Just as black-hat SEO practitioners are now pariahs, so too should be SEO companies who are filling up the web with useless content. SEO companies also need to learn from the inbound marketing tend and start incorporating other things into the services and their definition of SEO. Better quality search engine optimisation is a win-win for both the providers and the clients: once we accept that SEO should involve no shortcuts, SEO can (and will) be rehabilitated.