September 05, 2013 - 1 comment.

The channel formerly known as SEO

SEO as we knew it may be dead, but ranking highly on Google continues to be key to business success. In a world full of penalties from Google, what are marketing managers to make of this major shakeup of the channel formerly known as SEO?

Since flower delivery site Interflora and a number of regional UK newspaper publishers were  hit with a hefty penalty from Google for paid links and advertorials back in February  this year, it’s been very apparent that the search engine giant is serious about cleaning up the search industry.

What is crystal clear is that the days of trying to manipulate Google results are over. Any agency still talking about how it ‘creates links’ is persisting in perpetuating the myth that SEOs can play Google by creating links purely for the purpose of securing higher Google rankings. There are three core questions: what can we do, does this channel still exist and, if so, what is it?

Firstly, there are parts of what was formerly called SEO that remain critical – the technical, onsite and key phrase strategy elements. Digital platforms must be developed in a way that Google can easily understand and conform to Google’s idea of what it believes its visitors want to find and experience. We’ve found that our clients’ best performing websites have been those that have taken SEO into account from the very beginning of the design and build process. Relevant and well optimised websites remain core to securing high ranking positions on Google.

However, the next part is where SEO, as it was formerly known, has changed completely. Undoubtedly there are still ways SEOs can create links purely for ranking benefit that still successfully impact rankings and get away with it. The question, however, is always ‘for how long’? One thing is for certain: Google is smarter and better resourced than any SEO team anywhere, and sooner or later Big G will shut down the activity and likely penalise the offending websites.

Google is clear about what it wants; to rank content that real people find valuable and improve the experience of the internet for you and I. SEOs will debate the importance of various ranking factors and talk about ‘domain strength’ and ‘link juice’. However, in the brave new world, understanding these intricacies has much lower value. Although they can explain why your rankings have improved, in terms of using them to guide activity the obvious is stated – a great media site link from the BBC is a good indication to Google that you have produced some great content.

Moving forward, it seems clear that marketing managers need to approach their desire to rank highly on Google for their target terms with a new mind set. Rather than commissioning an SEO agency to make a brand look like it deserves to rank highly through manipulation of its link profile, marketing managers now need to build a digital presence where their brand earns its link profile through being a brand that bothers to produce great content. As such, rankings on Google are now just a single KPI that could be used to measure the marketing manager’s effectiveness at building their brand – other KPIs could, and should, include brand awareness,  affinity, levels of engagement and, of course, ROI.

When you look at it from this perspective it should actually be reassuring to marketing managers. What was once seen as the ‘black art’ of SEO is now just good old fashioned marketing. It’s all about understanding a target audience’s needs and wants. The question remains as to what support marketing managers should seek from agencies. What is the role of their SEO agency beyond onsite/technical consultancy? Are SEO agencies really best placed to build your brand, or do you need an agency that’s skilled in creating compelling content? Equally, marketing managers need to ask if their brand/marketing agencies have the right skills to build their digital brand presence with the same level of expertise as they would apply to their offline activity.

Although times are changing at Google and within the marketing industry, the future‘s bright for brands that can get to grips with the changes quickly and go back to focusing on what matters most to them – their customer.