Are SEOs focusing on the wrong target?

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I’ve spent a considerable amount of my life in the SEO world. But I’m here to say that our discipline is led by a false premise. We’re all chasing the wrong rabbit (or hog/unicorn/insert your favorite elusive animal here).

Take the term ‘SEO’, for instance. Search engine optimization is defined by Wikipedia as “the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results, often referred to as ‘natural’, ‘organic’, or ‘earned’ results”. But I propose that the ultimate objective for SEO is not to get engines to recognize our relevance to a searcher’s query but to actually get our audience to value what we’re publishing and become loyal brand advocates.

To do this, search marketers must continue maturing into integrated digital marketing strategists who understand, and can act on, the key business objectives of your company.

We spend countless hours examining keywords, traffic volumes, recommended bids, but really what it comes down to is value to the user. And this practically means content – while content components (links, meta tags, length, readability, Open Graph markup, etc.) are important for relevance, they aren’t measured for value to the searcher. What value, you say? The value that our content provides to our audience – and, yes, I realize that value is difficult to measure quantitatively.

One small way SEO value can be represented is by social sharing metrics. It’s like the old word-of-mouth advertising – if someone likes our brand, they’ll tell someone else. Over the past few years, social factors have become an important correlation for ranking. But to be truly effective at building social presence, hence effectively execute SEO, it’s our content that must do the work.

It’s about content

I realize you’ve heard the mantra for years: content is king! But why is it king? Good content doesn’t rule because Google thinks it’s relevant. Content is king because it’s how we appeal to consumers.

I’m reminded of an SEO joke:

  • Q: Why do SEO professionals date people based on personality instead of looks?
  • A: They know better than anyone that search engines are blind and that content matters most.

Our content represents our personality; our page rankings represent our looks. This is the true reason content is king. SEO is always changing, but what doesn’t change is our need to deliver helpful, delightful, and rewarding content.

Data paralysis

Of course, SEO starts with data. Although we need data analysis to sharpen our focus, sometimes we just have to go for it. We can’t expect to hit it right on every keyword, so why are we spending so much timed deliberating over keywords?

Today, far beyond being a mere distraction, data and information overload are cited as being negatively impactful on humans and businesses. Reuters conducted a study titled Dying for information, in which 43% of respondents thought that decisions were delayed and otherwise adversely affected by “analysis paralysis” or the existence of too much information, 66% of respondents associated information overload with tension among colleagues and loss of job satisfaction and 42% attributed ill-health to this stress.

We are immersed in ‘big data’ all the time. So when is the right time to make a decision about our SEO campaigns? Maybe never, if we continue with over-analysis.

Adobe’s Digital Roadblock survey found that more than half of marketing leaders trust their gut when it comes to directing budgets, including SEO team budgets. Instead of following the data, they choose to move on gut instinct. What? After all that analysis? Well, actually that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes you’ve just got to take some risks.

adobe roadblock graph

Taking risks

One of the key takeaways was that digital marketers believe they should take more risks. Well, I think this applies to SEO teams.

Even if we can calculate a winning formula (boy, I wish I could have done that in the recent Powerball lottery!) we can’t know for certain what our markets will respond to. So take a risk and move forward. When all the analysis is done, we’re still left with the risk that our campaigns will not prove successful. We’ve got to get past the data paralysis and chart a direction for our campaigns.

Charting a direction

So, we’ve spent exhaustive hours poring over spreadsheets filled with keywords, data, URLs, and projections and yet we find ourselves at a loss to explain to our brand leaders why our SEO campaigns aren’t scoring well, despite the SEO team’s commendable optimization efforts.

Poor results are likely not due to selecting the most appropriate keywords, they’re due to the fact that we aren’t clearly focused on the individuals interested in what we have to offer. Remember, we all act in more than one capacity. We are workers, lovers, friends, coaches, volunteers. Our multi-faceted existence represents us as a whole. It’s that whole person who represents our target, not Google.

Therefore, SEO leaders should spend more time focusing on the overall campaign strategy, getting alignment with business objectives, and thinking about what improving the customer’s experience really means to their organization.

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