The Blunt and Brutal Honest Truth About SEO


There is no other marketing effort more complex or changing at a faster rate than search engine optimization (SEO). It takes a great deal of time to just keep up with the trends. Something you learned six months ago can be outdated today. And it’s unique in that you no longer really perform SEO on its own – it’s grown to live in unison with all other digital marketing practices. I’ve only been [directly] involved in SEO for a few years, but boy has there been a lot of changes in that time related to best practices and effective tactis. So I wanted to clear up a few things and also highlight what my biggest takeaways have been since my first encounter with SEO.

SEO Is Not Dead

Young digital marketers are usually passionate advocates for SEO. But old-school thinkers are the first to wave the white flag.

How many times have you been to Google today? It’s 8 am at the time of this writing and I’ve already logged about 10 searches. Guaranteed, by the end of the day, I’ll be looking at close to 100 between desktop and mobile. Not to mention all the other ways I’ve navigated around the internet today.

We rely so heavily on search engines, and the results they feature, that I don’t know what we would do without them. The top results [usually] serve our needs. And that’s because the algorithms have been refined to feature the best and most accurate answers. So becoming one of those top answers is naturally an important goal for any business, since it will lead to high levels of high quality traffic.

Plus, SEO today is much more than just organic visitors. Consider searches from retail sites like Amazon, referral traffic, direct traffic, conversions outside of your website like on local listing pages, Twitter links, news feed links, site links and more. I’ve been around the world and back again before I even finished my morning coffee – because it’s just so easy to get around online. How can SEO be dead? SEO is helping affect everything I just mentioned.

As long as the search engines continue to serve a purpose and as long as there are things we, as marketers, can do to bring qualified visitors into our site, SEO will prevail as an important piece in the digital marketing puzzle. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t changing.

SEO Is A Long-Term Strategy

It didn’t used to be this way. Couple tweaks here, some link purchases over here, throw up some meta data. Voila! We got that number one spot, like Ludacris.

Okay, now let’s stop thinking about how easy it was to do SEO in 2004. (And let’s stop referencing songs from that year too).

It’s 2015 and Google has smartened up. Can you blame them? There was a lot of shady stuff going on for a long time and it greatly affected who was appearing on page 1. From the user’s perspective, you expect to find the best and most accurate results. So that’s what Google has been/is always trying to do. Think about Google Updates/Penalties as a way of helping us all, not hurting SEOs.

Poor links? Bad. Thin content? Bad. Comment spam? Bad. So what are you gonna do about it?

As a result of the many updates over the years, we’ve now arrived at a point where SEO is not easy. Actually, it’s pretty friggin’ hard and time consuming. And with that, it takes time to see results. Do the right thing on your site and make your site worthwhile to the audience. Focus on better/longer/more relevant content, site speed, mobile friendliness, social activity, rich snippets, security, etc. There a thousand factors in Google’s algorithms and many things you can do to help improve your online properties.

I did a tremendous amount of SEO work for a client two years ago and I’m just now seeing the fruits of all that labor. The timeline will range depending on the type of SEO work, the competition, the industry, and the company, but keep in mind that the days of quick fixes and short term results are gone. Do good work and you’ll eventually see results. Just be patient.

Conversions > Traffic

Let’s say your company sells t-shirts to young girls. What value is there in bringing 1,000 visitors to your site made up of 55+ men? The answer is: no value. They aren’t buying anything, and they probably aren’t there for the right reasons (yikes!). Your efforts are unsuccessful and the visitors arriving aren’t helping drive sales.

Thankfully, many of us are [finally] getting past the idea of traffic being the main metric we use to measure online success. And we’re opting to instead look at conversions. But the first step is to identify the conversions that mean most to your business.

Set-up goals and events in Google Analytics (and Tag Manager), or your preferred measurement software, and monitor them constantly. Goals can be sales through an e-commerce store, form completions, downloads, video views, pricing pageviews, and more. Anything that you deem as a value metric (just because you don’t have an online store, doesn’t mean you can’t measure ROI). Then monitor. These converters are the people who are qualified on your website.

Traffic means nothing. Stop leading your reports with it! Conversions will always be more valuable to you than any other metric. Plus, it allows SEO professionals to more accurately justify their work, by basing their progress around conversion-type metrics. Assign dollar values to your conversions and that’s where true ROI becomes evident. We, as marketers, need to do a better job at fighting the good fight against crappy metrics. Start today. Set up those goals and events.

SEO Is Only One Ingredient

I’ve worked with clients that give SEO too much attention (resulting in too little attention elsewhere) and also ones that don’t believe it in altogether. The happy medium is to first understand that SEO is one piece in the marketing mix, and a component of other marketing work. Content writing and content marketing, social media, website development – all of these tasks/projects are seamlessly integrated with SEO. And keeping SEO in mind with all of these can help you perform better.

You can’t make a cake with just flour. Similarly, you can’t expect to see online success with just SEO. If you don’t have the time and the resources to add all the other ingredients – content, social, video, photos, improved development, etc – then don’t even bother. It won’t taste any good.

The best approach to marketing is having an integrated strategy and having many different touchpoints to reach your target audience. SEO should not be your only activity. There must be many more items on your plate. Managing them well, and in unison, will have the greatest affect. No matter the audience, however, SEO should play an integral role. SEO is an ongoing activity. It’s not a one-and-done project, or a tactic that you can start and stop at any time. It’s a constant effort. It takes a ton of time. It doesn’t end. So budget accordingly.

Linking Totally Sucks

Quality links still pose as a factor in search engine algorithms to help dictate rankings and drive traffic. Problem is: Google and the search engines have struck down linking practices pretty heavily over the years because of how bad they were being abused (i.e. Google Penguin). Link farms, paid links, comment links, etc. So we also have to wise up.

Making an effort to specifically go out and get links is very hard. It can be done, but it must be very specific and strategic, getting only quality links placed on sites that you trust. My opinion today is to not focus on linking at all. Let the links come naturally. And there are a number of ways to do that.

  • Blog. A lot. Make them high quality posts and share them on social and through email campaigns.
  • Conduct PR work to garner earned media pieces that feature links back to your site.
  • Host internships and scholarships at your company where descriptions and write-ups will be posted by your local colleges, allowing you to get .edu links.
  • Participate in tradeshows or sponsor different events and submit company bios to the event websites.
  • Conduct cause marketing, like volunteering or donations, and let links come naturally from those non-profit .org sites.
  • Finally, work with your vendors and partners to be featured on their sites or blogs.

If you do ethical work, create unique quality content, and have ongoing outreach, your backlink profile will grow. It’s just the natural effect. Take that Google!

You Can Do It Yourself!

I’ve yet to see a master’s degree available in search engine optimization. That’s because it doesn’t exist. That means that all of us – from the most experienced professional down to the recent college grad – is at a [somewhat] even playing field. We are learning as we go. On the fly. From research, reading blogs, testing, trial and error. There isn’t any piece of paper that proves we know this stuff. It’s just based on our own learnings. And that means that you can get caught up to speed. For free.

Read blogs like Steamfeed (sorry, had to), Moz, SearchEngineWatch, SearchEngineJournal and SearchEngineLand to get the daily scoop on the latest trends. Test out software like SEMRush, Raven Tools, BrightLocal and others to learn more about the art of SEO/website analysis and how to access and utilize data. Then, go to work.

It takes time to get familiar with the lingo and the technical aspects of SEO, but it’s certainly learnable over time. No one has formal education in this stuff. We’re all self-proclaimed experts. So put in the time and the work and you can get the job done yourself. And if you do not have the skills or time to pull it off, that’s where agencies and freelancers come in.

SEO still has a lot of life left in it. Though rapidly changing every day, it’s important to exercise SEO efforts in all of our digital marketing activities to help drive the right people to our sites and lead them down the sales funnels. As long as the web serves a purpose, SEO will prevail. Take these tips into consideration and prep your site properly for long-term success!

This post was originally written for and published on Steamfeed.com. To view the original article, please click here.


About Thomas J. Armitage

Digital marketing dude. Content creator. Movie buff wannabe. Catholic, family man. Likes sports. Loves dessert. Obsessed with punk rock and 90s rap.