Stop Selling SEO Short

SMS Text

Over the last year, many debates have raged about whether SEOs should start referring to themselves as inbound marketers or a number of other broader disciplines. Many long-time members of the great church of SEO consider the very thought of calling themselves something different almost treasonous at first.

After stewing watching our industry evolve at its most rapid clip ever over the past year, a clear truth has emerged: the only way to consistently win at SEO today—and over the long run—is to create high-quality content.

This isn’t just the theory of one SEO, inbound marketer, or agency. Many have written about this subject.

In February of 2012, Andy Betts artfully predicted this shift in his article “Future of SEO: Change, Convergence, Collaboration.”

Like it or not, SEO has changed and its future relies upon a complex relationship with content marketing, social media, and collaborative technology.

Google’s changes over recent years, such as Caffeine and Google Panda updates, are mostly concerned with content and relevancy issues. Google’s SSL changes are driving many SEOs to change and adapt the way they work with a renewed focus on quality content, social media signals, and technology.

Yahoo and Bing have also moved away from “technical SEO” in favor of content marketing and social media.

It is telling that, despite the fact that this was written almost nine months ago, there are many who still cling to the old ways of doing and measuring things.


Because, high-quality content is never easy to create, and it’s not cheap.

In other words, the SEO game has gotten more difficult, which means it requires significantly more time and effort. If this additional time and effort only amounted to the same benefit as yesterday, increased search engine rankings, one may conclude that the overall value proposition for doing SEO is weaker.

Not so, my friends. Lucky for us, creating high-quality, topically focused content drives:

  • Increased traffic from social media
  • Community and audience growth (e.g. followers, etc.)
  • Increased traffic and link popularity from referral sites
  • Higher customer engagement and user statistics
  • Increased newsletter and internal blog subscriptions
  • More conversions
  • Increased brand recognition and advocacy

There is a large volume of data on the Web that support these claims.

Pure Content found that daily blog posts lead a to a cumulative increase in traffic. Kuno Creative recorded similar data in a study comparing an increase of blog post production from two to three per week to five to ten per week. This concept is catching on. A report from Optify found that 30 percent of marketers spend most of their time creating and managing content.

A New Analytics Paradigm

If you believe everything that I’ve stated above, a clear conclusion must be drawn: The value of SEO campaigns must be measured differently. First page search engine rankings are no longer the leading indicator of SEO success and value.

Consider this: If your business is driving tons of converting traffic from long-tail keywords, why does it matter where competitive fat-head phrases rank?

This presents a challenge for existing SEOs who may have originally sold their client on first-page rankings. Explaining to them that the industry has changed fundamentally, shifting focus to a new set of KPIs, may be a bitter pill to swallow.

However, an understanding of the KPIs that truly matter—traffic, conversions, community—and an additive approach to measurement that draws a correlation between those KPIs and search engine rankings will lead to greater campaign success.

AuthorRank Is Critical

In his study “Science of SEO,” Dan Zarrella came to the conclusion (using millions of data points by the way) that unless a website sells pills, porn, or poker it will get more efficient SEO results staffing professional writers as opposed to SEOs.

Having professional writers in-house, however, may not be enough. Those employees will need to be experts in the industry vertical that the business or organization operates in, constantly producing high-quality content within the topic model.

Google has already begun to consider the authors of content as a ranking factor. Agent Rank, or AuthorRank as it is more commonly referred to, will have a powerful effect on SERPs going forward. In his excellent article for SEOmoz, Mike Arnesen states that:

AuthorRank, of course, wouldn’t be a replacement for PageRank, but would be used to inform PageRank, therefore enabling Google to rank high-quality content more appropriately.

He goes on to state that:

People want to read content written by credible and knowledgeable people and using AuthorRank as a major part of their search algorithm just makes sense.

The challenges that this brave new world presents is an obvious reason why traditional SEOs still cite first-page rankings for their clients as a reason not to begin focusing on content marketing. Unfortunately, they’re simply polishing the brass on the Titanic.

Eventually, rankings and traffic will sink as their competitors begin publishing expert-written, high-quality content that solves customer problems.

If we SEOs don’t start measuring, valuing, and selling clients on the benefits of high-quality content above just search engine rankings, we are selling ourselves and our industry short.

Unfortunately, our industry’s chosen acronym implies that the only thing we do of value is drive search engine rankings. We know our content and techniques drive far more, so let’s start taking credit for it.

Image Credit: iStock Photo

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck

VP of Marketing at Bloomerang
Steven Shattuck is VP of Marketing at Bloomerang, which helps nonprofit organizations to reach, engage and retain the advocates they depend on to achieve their... Read Full Bio
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Hi Steven,

    yes you are right that now short SEO will not ranking any where. Those websites will rank good who will have a long term seo and with variation of anchor text. 🙂

    Thank you

  • “If your business is driving tons of converting traffic from long-tail keywords, why does it matter where competitive fat-head phrases rank?”

    That’s a conversation I have had with many, many clients over the years. Obviously it looks good to the C-suite if you can get one page 1 for an incredibly competitive keyword, but those broader keywords tend to attract visitors that are just at the beginning on their life cycle and aren’t ready to buy. The long tail keywords are usually where your business makes its money.

    • I agree Nick, struggled with that one myself over the years. Keyword vanity is a difficult habit to break.

    • When I ask a prospect what they want their website to achieve, they always reply “I want to be at the top of Google for keyword…..”.

      When you ask them about sales, they seem surprised?

      And yep I still have to report on ranking positions! Whereas I prefer to measure amount of leads and sales.


  • “First page search engine rankings are no longer the leading indicator of SEO success and value.”

    Were they ever truly the leading indicator of SEO success and value? I’ve been reporting on them for years, but only because clients want to see them–I haven’t used them as the indicator of success and value ever, that I recall.

  • I agree with you, but most SEO’s aren’t changing with the times and they aren’t dropping the “get to the first page with big keywords pitch”. They also still use older SEO strategies which have hurt some of their clients sites, but hasn’t effected other ones or even helped them. But, even with the penguin hype and the industry pushing “content marketing” more, a lot of older techniques still work, and Google is a broken SE – so for bigger clients, go more conservative and I think it is a good to move to lean more towards content on real companies that do real things instead of living in the past and selling SEO short with laziness and short cuts . “Keeping us honest” will only improve the overall SEO product/service for the industry and I think that is a good thing.

  • Its a funny thing, Because with SEO the newbies think run automation software and your on top.
    You may be for the first couple of days but after that your penalized. The thing I personally dont see the point in doing any seo work for a site just built or made for affiliate income or adsense income. If it contributes to the Internet then I dont mind. Half of these sites out there is just spam pretty much.
    People Need to get back into traditional white hat seo methods.

  • Fascinating writeup. Adding to your point on high quality content, I think many SEOs spend way to much time trying to increase traffic. Obviously this is the first step which can be greatly supported by great content, however, when a website has a plethora of visitors, it is only logical in my opinion that a SEO should constantly be trying to improve conversion rates. A/B testing, Multivariate testing, Funnel Optimization, and much more. It just shocks me that I rarely hear people speaking about this critical step. It is wonderful to get traffic but if your website does not convert your visitor into the desired goal (i.e – phone call, lead, email signup, sale, etc), then it is all for nothing.

    Just my .02

  • Good article which seems to have spurned a bit of a discussion!!
    To me effective SEO is not just about appearing on page 1 and it certainly shouldn’t be something that is just asked for as a generalist service from marketing companies. It is an essential part of online marketing and, if organisations are prepared to spend money on their websites, they should also be spending money on ensuring that their site is found.

    So, questions that I would normally ask clients and/or prospects are –
    · Who’s going to write the content?
    · Who is responsible for PR efforts?
    · Who is handling social marketing?
    · Who’s doing link building?
    · Who’s restructuring the website, as necessary?

    Yes, the foundations can be done during the actual website build, but ongoing SEO is the key to success. Work with a specialist, agree a budget, allocate who is doing what and then work together to achieve your goals!

  • For years we have been trying to get our customers heads around not worry about being at the top of the search rankings for that one keyword that is used within their industry, not necessarily what their customer would use.

    But to concentrate on the keywords bringing in leads, which usually results from great content and call to actions.

    I think SEO is too limited a word now and doesn’t cover what SEO’s are doing for their clients. Inbound marketing does seem more appropriate.

    Great article by the way!


  • “The challenges that this brave new world presents is an obvious reason why traditional SEOs still cite first-page rankings for their clients as a reason not to begin focusing on content marketing. Unfortunately, they’re simply polishing the brass on the Titanic.”
    This is quite true, and sad, that some technical SEO veterans don’t like the categorical shift Google has made, and in the relentless battle to win more clients, the only thing to boost about is proven track record of how their previous clients rank on page 1, or #1 on Google.
    The industry is changing, and it’s more about quality content than ever, and more content from quality authors. For those of us who are inclined to research and writing, this is a long awaited and welcomed change. Sigh. Those that tend to tweak meta elements or debate over the strangely popular “keyword density” will have to learn fast, that it’s about engaging the readers rather than tricking search algorithms.
    In that regard of moving from tweaking existing material to providing new engaging material, SEO does sound like a dinosaur label, and with all the bad SEO services floating around, I’d dare to say that maybe we should accept new labeling only to distance ourselves from those that don’t want to change.
    But whatever the label, Content has always been King, and now more than ever. Thank you for providing a royal article on the matter. 🙂

  • Awesome article !

    I guess one of the problems for busy clients with responsibility across an ever-widening marketing mix is that first page rankings are a relatively straightforward objective to understand and measure. Think how popular Reichheld’s Net Promoter Score is – largely due its devastating simplicity.

    Content is king though, and I’m sure we’ll see substantial budgets diverted to content creation over the next few years.