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The inconvenient truth revisited

Andreas Voniatis | December 21, 2012

There has been a topic that has roused the SEO community of late as Paul Boag (@boagworld) has outlined the limitations of SEO consultants and companies - thus maybe the budgets could be reinvested elsewhere and that they could sack the SEO firm.

The main thread of the article is that hiring SEO companies to be number 1 on Google is not always the answer as the site owner or operator simply needs to hire decent web designers and developers to produce user friendly websites and content professionals to fill the site with shareworthy and value adding content.  So why the fuss?  My take is that the SEO community doesn’t like Paul’s comments because they see this article as an attack on their livelihoods and their skills.

Heated response

The best replies on the Smashing blog post came from respectable authorities such as Bill Slawski outlining that and other design coding conventions help make the web content more searchable and semantically relevant.  Sure, SEO’s run audits that usually cover off webmaster issues such as 404s, duplicate content, page speeds, HTML tagging.  It’s like they couldn’t be covered by a first rate web design professionals that keep up with the semantic times - is it?

So why do SEO’s get hired?

In defence of SEO (I can’t believe I’m defending the consultants but here goes), I will say the reason they are in business is because good SEOs:

  1. Have a good strategic overview of the web search traffic picture
  2. Keep up to date with all the different tactics required to succeed in getting web traffic
  3. Are available and prepared to project manage the team comprising of different skillsets (writers, coders, creative etc)

I’m sure there are additional reasons.  Remember, companies regardless of size, often don’t have the resource in house and don’t want to incur the overhead and be patient enough to invest in an in-house team to produce the results.  The best SEO outfits have teams that work like machines.

The need to embrace SEO?

Patrick Atloft (@patrickaltoft) of Branded 3, replied in his article saying the web design development community need to embrace SEO on the basis of:

They shouldn’t be judged on the past bad and current behaviours of  bad SEO’s engaging in:

  • Optimising content purely to add loads of keywords
  • Writing blog posts with dry content
  • Directory submissions
  • Article syndication
  • Link exchanges
  • Buying links in sidebars or footers
  • Buying paid posts on blogs that only exist to sell paid posts

The point is missing

At large, I think the point has missed by the SEO Community.  The point being that there is an inconvenient truth and SEO by itself is not the answer. Given that Google is a reputation based engine, it will take more links from good sites filled with socially validated content and a user experience optimised website. The answer, public relations which covers what Paul mentioned in the article which helps BUILD reputations.

Patrick says SEOs should be engaging in:

  • Making users really love the site by focussing on great design, content & usability
  • Using the clients real life brand equity and expertise to create a scalable and natural link-building strategy for example by releasing data, running events, building relationships with real life bloggers and journalists
  • Targeting long tail keywords with user generated content such as Q&A, reviews etc
  • Cleaning up any bad links that previous agencies might have placed – bad links hold you back these days as Google no longer ignores them
  • Analysing data such as conversion rates etc to find new opportunities for improving sales
  • Creating engaging viral and social campaigns designed to be shared by passionate users around social networks
  • Creating a content marketing strategy that will attract links and social attention
  • Troubleshooting and fixing issues and penalties (more common than you think)

At least Patrick admits the above could be done by an in house team, a combination of PR people and web design/development people.

The above is usually led by a PR Comms specialist which can be done in house which Paul recommends indirectly.  To my mind SEOs have no business getting involved in content as Paul did reply to one angry commenter:

Why call yourself an SEO company? Sounds to me that you are a content company.

Love it and he completely hit on the head.  Let’s stop pretending that just because SEO is now a very complex task that an SEO is an expert on each of the skill sets required - they are not.  Of course, the other point got missed which was reflected in the reply from Smashing Magazine to Branded 3 saying:

Many issues that you list are actually tasks that content managers and content strategists do, I am not quite sure why you call these agencies “SEO agencies”? It would be great to find out what exactly core SEO experts do (like SEOmoz) and how website owners actually benefit from their insights. A couple of strategies and ideas related to SEO would be very useful to explain what it is exactly that SEO experts do.

This is another problem with the SEO Community, they still are not able to answer directly what the key value add in their domain is outside of PR, Web Design/Development and Marketing Communications.

So what exactly do core SEOs do?

I have my answer to Smashing Magazine’s question to Patrick which is:

SEO in addition to PR, Web Design/Development and Marketing Communications is required because:

  • SEO’s can identify using statistical data to highlight areas of web design and development that are fragile to static search engine algorithm updates, something that sit’s outside the realm of the above roles, Conversion Rate specialists and Analytics.  We do this via machine learning.
  • SEOs manage crawl via link placement  on external websites helping to diversify the access points for people and search engines alike - this has nothing to do with link baiting.
  • SEOs increase semantic relevance via link placement on external websites.
  • SEOs helps increase the ROI of PR coverage earned by the client by networking the various citations on the web, by making them more searchable via link placement although this is more relevant to search reputation management.

The above is a unique value add that only SEOs can and will offer because it belongs in no other domain than SEO.

Andreas qualified as a management accountant (ACMA) after graduating in Economics with honours from Leeds University. In 2003, pursued a career in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and has since held various Head of Search roles for award winning agencies including Infectious Media and prestigious startups. In 2010, Andreas became an independent consultant to international agencies and brands worldwide providing SEO consultancy services and online PR, including Exxon Mobil, Tesco, HSBC, Zurich, Quorn as well as startups including Discount Vouchers. His work has been featured in the Telegraph and Search Engine Watch particularly for reverse engineering the Google Penguin algorithm to a 98% statistical confidence level in 2013.