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What Does It Mean to ‘Do SEO’?

If your definition of SEO is a to-do checklist, you're unlikely to find much success. Here's why we should start focusing on the end result instead.

What Does It Mean to 'Do SEO'

Several years ago, it became apparent that what we were doing wasn’t working.

We were trying to create easy to understand SEO programs for potential clients, outlining what would be done each month on the prospect’s behalf should they sign on the dotted line.

A typical monthly plan might look something like this:

  • Optimization of meta titles for 10 pages.
  • Site speed optimization for 10 pages.
  • Schema mark-up optimization for 10 pages.
  • Optimization of content on 10 pages.

Anyway, you get the picture.

We were trying to create a simple laundry list of items that would be done each month in the hope that our efforts would result in SEO success.

Guess what – that to-do list never resulted in success.

In fact, usually by month 2, the to-do list was forgotten.

I’m not trying to brag, but merely state a fact: We have a great team that knows what it takes to make clients money online.

And we aren’t the only agency or in-house team that possesses this skill.

There are many competent digital marketers who can show their constituents – whether that be in-house or agency clients – great success.

It doesn’t matter how good you are though. No one can build a skyscraper if their toolbox is limited to just a hammer and nails.

And in modern SEO, many clients and even practitioners are frequently tossing necessary tools out of their kits.

What Is SEO?

The definition of what constitutes SEO is different depending upon who you ask.

I know, because I asked.

I asked a bunch of well-known, well-respected SEOs what they do that many don’t consider to be SEO.

The answers covered a myriad of tasks that touch the entire advertising and interactive landscape.

Some of the answers included:

  • Security Issues
  • Content Creation
  • Branding Exercises
  • Analytics and Data Analysis
  • ADA Compliance
  • Conversion Rate Optimization and User Experience testing
  • Audience Research
  • Sales consulting (teaching sales teams how to sell better)
  • Marketing Automation
  • Basic Copyediting
  • Coordination of efforts between disparate teams

The list goes on and on.

Some of the items people spoke about, I considered core SEO duties.

Some of the items I thought well beyond what a traditional SEO is expected to perform.

But the one thing that was clear – there is no cohesive list of items considered to be SEO.

What you consider to be SEO duties and what I consider to be SEO duties are most likely very different.

And this can create a problem for clients and consultants alike.

Are You Doing Your Job?

Remember at the beginning of this column when I talked about how the laundry list of monthly deliverables didn’t work for our agency?

Yeah, it took me almost getting sued a couple of times before I moved us to a time-and-materials strategic consulting model where clients buy hours instead of tasks.

There are particular types of clients that are more interested in what you are doing than what your results are.

These clients will never give you credit for the success of anything beyond the direct result of something you implicitly completed – and even then, credit is usually given grudgingly and with prejudice.

In a system where you are contractually obligated to perform specific tasks each month, these types of clients will lose their minds if you do what it actually takes to achieve success.

Especially if the contract states that you have to deliver specific items each month.

And when you change the focus because – well, things change and the original plan won’t work – you can get sued.

The worst part? You’ll lose the lawsuit.

So the choice is to either continue to provide the same contracted deliverables – which are quickly out of date on almost every project – or pivot to a contract that allows the flexibility for you to deliver what is actually needed for success.

Trust me, task-oriented clients, particularly procurement people, don’t like contracts where the deliverables can change.

But if you are going to have success in digital marketing, you must be flexible.

SEO is not a particularly proactive activity.

We have to react to how the search engines and users behave.

I don’t care how good you are, half of your predictions around search engine and user behavior are most likely wrong. If you think otherwise, you might be delusional.

SEO Job Description? Good Luck

So back to the question – what is SEO?

I think the answer is going to be impossible to agree upon.

To be successful in digital marketing, SEO can’t live in a vacuum.

All of the items listed above, and many more, can be part of a successful SEOs toolkit.

The current problem is that many who aren’t involved in digital marketing on a day-to-day basis want us to just “do SEO.”

We can’t just “do SEO” because none of us agree with what doing SEO even means. And that’s not a bad thing.

While the basic tenets of SEO haven’t changed much over the years, the scope and breadth of SEO duties have evolved considerably.

SEO professionals are no longer coding geeks that can make a site rank just by manipulating HTML code.

SEO success now requires multiple skill sets – from coding to public relations skills.

And because SEO professionals possess those skills, we often see other things wrong that may or may not fit into the scope of what most think we should be doing. And in most cases, we are going to fix those things, because that’s what we do.

In Conclusion

Problems come when marketers don’t know exactly where their territories are.

I’ve been yelled at by public relations and advertising folks, IT teams, marketing managers, and sales folks.

All because they saw what we were doing as their job.

Over the years, I’ve learned that secret is in communication and flexibility.

If you are an SEO and see something that needs to be done, figure out the proper channel to get it done.

If that channel doesn’t exist, then you just fix it.

But if you fix it, and it was someone else’s job, you can not only make an enemy, but you can create workflow problems throughout an entire organization.

There needs to be a process where SEO pros can get things done by the people who need to do them.

The final quality assurance responsibility also must be determined.

Have final QA responsibility if what I suggest we fight for – not the right to fix the problems.

Having the ability to say when a problem is fixed, and fixed correctly, is much more effective than being able to fix a problem only to have someone fix the way you fixed it.

That’s not how you become accountable for a site’s success.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what constitutes SEO and what doesn’t when it comes to results.

It absolutely matters when talking about who gets paid for what – but that’s why we started charging by the hour.

I wish I had a better solution, but it is what it is.

If your client or boss can get past the laundry list of to-do items and focus on the end result, everyone will be more successful and you’ll find that the “who does what” doesn’t matter, as long as everyone knows how “who does what” is determined.

More Resources:

Category Careers SEO

I am a 19-year veteran of the digital marketing world with previous experience in journalism, public relations and advertising. I’ve ...

What Does It Mean to ‘Do SEO’?

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