Posted by randfish
There’s a movement happening in our industry, and many folks are changing their practices and titles from “SEO” to “online marketing, inbound marketing, and/or earned media marketing.” Where did this shift originate from, and where is it taking our industry as a whole? Is it enough to just be an SEO in today’s game, or are we missing the bigger picture?
In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand shares his take on the shift from “SEO” to “inbound marketing” and what the future holds for our industry at large.
Have something to add? Leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
For your viewing pleasure, here’s a still image of the whiteboard used in this week’s video:
“Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to a special edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to address an elephant in the room. It’s a topic that I’ve talked about quite a bit on my personal blog, a bit on the primary blog, and I know it’s a topic that gets discussed all over the marketing world, from Inbound.org to lots of blogs and news sites. It’s: Why is it that there’s this movement from some folks in the field to change their titles, their names, their practices, from saying, “We do SEO,” to saying, “We do inbound marketing,” or, “We do online marketing, we do web marketing, we do earned media marketing”?
I want to try to try and take on that elephant right now. There are some really good reasons that I think we’re seeing this shift happen, and I’m actually one of the proponents of this shift. I used to be very against it. I used to be very passionate about building only the brand of SEO. Now, I’ve revised my stance. I think that, as new data and as the world has changed and I’ve become less of an obstinate son of a gun, I’m seeing this bigger picture, and I want to try to share that picture that I’m seeing with you.
The first one is I can’t argue that SEO is bigger than the way people define or have defined SEO for the last decade. That’s not really true of the 2010 to 2013 period, but it is very true of the decade before that, from the late ’90s into the late 2000, the “aughts.” What I mean is there are these old-school tactics. “Oh, you’re going to do SEO? Well, that means you do links, you make my content relevant, you put the good keywords in there, you do work on your markup, your snippets, and your site architecture, your structure. You are done. You have done SEO. That is SEO. Don’t try to tell me that it’s more than that.”
This becomes very, very challenging when, as an SEO or as a marketer who’s trying to achieve good results with SEO, you say, “But wait a minute. This only works when the ranking factors were things like link graph data, keyword data, domain data, and topic analysis.” Now, we have a lot more ranking factors, right? Engines are looking at user and usage data. They’re definitely looking at brand signals. They’re looking at offline data potential. Potentially there are patent applications, thinking about offline data. They’re looking at social graph signals.
What’s an SEO to do? If I want to influence these, I’ve got to be able to work on everything that’s marketing. That’s everything from social media to community building, positioning, branding, emails, CRO, product, the unique value of the content. What am I going to do if I’m tasked with SEO, but I’m only given responsibility over these things? It’s just not going to work. In order to influence just the very part of SEO that we touch on, which is moving up rankings in major search engines like Google and Bing, just to do that, we have to be able to control and influence a lot more than we ever had to in the past. It’s an untenable kind of situation.
Thus, what we’d really like to do and what we’ve been working hard at as an industry is to try to change and broaden the definition of SEO. I can tell you one of the things that I feel very passionately about is changing that branding and working really hard to not have the word “SEO” be associated with scumminess and bad companies and irresponsible behavior. But that perception of SEO is so hard to change. It’s been established for such a long time now, and the small efforts of quite a few of us in the field to try and change that perception have not been successful, at least not outside of the online marketing world. Inside that world and with a small portion of the developers and designers who get SEO and get marketing, it’s true.
I love those of you who are watching Whiteboard Friday and who are in that world, who understand that SEO is this bigger thing. But I know that you’ve felt the same pain that I’m talking about. People say, “Oh, SEO. So you’re a spammer. You manipulate things. You’re unethical. You’re breaking the search engine’s rules. What does Google think of you?”
These are questions we have to answer every single time, and it’s pretty clear to me why this happens. I think the reason is actually very obvious. The primary and first association that most people have with SEO is what? It’s comment spam on their blogs. It’s a spammy, scummy email that’s trying to get them to sign up for something. It’s someone wanting to trade a PageRank 6 link with them. It’s a forum, or a bulletin board, or an online community saying, “Oh, are you wondering why this malware happened? That’s the SEOs doing that.” That’s why all these bad things happen on the Internet. They blame SEOs.
To be fair, early on in the days of SEO, there were plenty of us, myself included, who would do some of these spammy and manipulative things. I’m not innocent, by any means. But that perception, that fight is one that I don’t think we’re winning. That’s another reason why I think it’s really hard to do SEO well and just call yourself an SEO. I think when you change the title, you change the perception. You change the frame of reference, and you say, “I do web marketing. I help people grow their companies. I help attract visitors, and that leads to more conversions on their site.” They’re like, “Oh, okay. I get it. Web marketing. Understood.” SEO is one of the channels, one of the main channels, but one of the channels they focus on.
The third one, we are selling ourselves short. When you say, “I’m an SEO,” your boss, your client, your management says, “Why are you meddling with our design, UX, social, and ad campaigns? Why are you trying to get into this?” You are supposed to focus on SEO. Yet, the answer is well, we can’t do great even at just SEO without influencing all these other fields that we talked about above.
By the way, we’re selling ourselves short even more than just this, because when we do work on all these channels, when we improve all of these channels, that obviously helps our search rankings too, we are also driving a lot of traffic from them. Social is sending us good traffic. The blogosphere and PR efforts are sending us good links that are driving visits, good customer service practices, community building practices, culture practices. All of these things that influence SEO that we’re trying to move the needle on to get better results, they also drive traffic of their own. That traffic converts, and that traffic is valuable. That traffic is measurable, and we are often the ones who are measuring it and quantifying it and trying to gauge the impact it has on search. Yet, we’re not getting rewarded for it or treated as though we were responsible for it. Again, we’re selling ourselves short.
But I want to end on a positive note. This stuff is okay. It is okay. This is something that we are used to. We are used to change. If there’s anything that SEOs can be assured of, it’s that things will change tomorrow, that things will change next week. No one is better prepared to handle change than we are. This kind of change is actually positive. Every field matures. My checkmark practices don’t mature. I’m clearly getting worse at them. But every field matures. You can see the early seeds of programming, of video, of accounting, any type of field, right? Journalism, for sure. Any time there’s massive shift or a new industry, we have these years of immaturity, and then we get to a better stage.
I think the stage for us is deciding: Do we want to keep committing to a brand that frankly has been put through the wringer? One that I still use and will always use. As long as I am doing SEO work, I will use that brand. But do we want to also take hold of and recognize that, as marketers, we want to do good branding and good marketing? That means potentially calling ourselves something different, taking on these other titles, expressing ourselves in other ways in order to get more influence, and by the way, bigger paychecks too.
An SEO consultant, there are people who charge between $50 and a few hundred dollars an hour. Then you look at business strategy consultants from Accenture, or something like that, and you’re talking about a thousand plus dollars an hour. The more influence you have, the greater your billing is and, by the way, the more you can effect change and have a positive influence.
I hope this Whiteboard Friday is valuable to you. I’m sure there will be good comments and good discussion about this naming convention. I look forward to reading them and participating too. Take care, everyone. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.”
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