SEOs Are Not SEOs. But We Still Do SEO.

What am I: An online marketer, a Web developer, or an “SEO”? I’m all three, but here at Accelerate Media we decided to go with “Online Marketing Strategist.” The reason is that, simply speaking, SEO is a loaded term that doesn’t adequately describe what this specialized field of Web strategy is all about.

So then, why not SEO?

There has been lots of talk in the industry about this topic. In an excellent Whiteboard Friday podcast last year (, Rand Fishkin of Moz admits that while he used to ardently support using the label “SEO,” he now wants to move away from it. The reasons? He lists three:

  • SEO is bigger than just “SEO”
  • There’s a perception of SEO that is hard to change
  • We’re selling ourselves short

He’s right. Words take on meaning based on perception and usage. And SEO (short for “search engine optimization”) is now generally associated with a specific, limited set of technical skills, ranging from keyword optimization, link building, and oh-so-mysterious “Web 2.0s” (an -ism if I ever heard one); to spammy frowned-upon techniques like content spinning, link spamming, and keyword stuffing. The goal of all these tactics is the same— rank higher in organic search. If you’re a “really good” SEO, you can hit the #1 search result for a targeted keyword—by any means necessary.

But this is less and less of what SEO is. Google’s algorithm is changing all the time. The Penguin 2.0 update penalizes keyword stuffing and rewards higher quality content. The Panda update fights “scraped” content and content farms that offer low quality, recycled content. This means that those spammy, outdated SEO techniques are becoming less and less effective and may even end up costing you.

Additionally, our gracious Google overlords have been mysteriously but steadily rolling out new updates that are drastically changing the game. For example:

  1. Local. Google is now location-aware, especially on mobile. It will often return results more relevant to your location than the search terms you entered.
  2. Enhanced search listings. Rich snippets, like breadcrumbs and review ratings, present lots more relevant click targets to the user, all in a single search result. We can enable these features by properly setting up the page code, but frankly, Google decides when to show them.
  3. Personalization. Google+ is integrated into SERPs (search engine results pages) now. So a search liked by a few of your friends will jump right to the top and, guess what, it’s probably more relevant to you. And if you’re logged in to Google, the first page results will be rearranged according to your search history and preferences. The tricky bit here is that everybody’s results order will be different, as Moz’s Dr. Peter points out.

What does all this mean? That increasing page rank ALONE is no longer a winning SEO strategy. You can’t influence these new changes with traditional SEO tactics. And you don’t just want clicks, you want high quality clicks that lead to conversions. This means you need a comprehensive strategy.

But, let’s face it, communicating this fact to can be extremely difficult. Potential clients scour the web looking for the “guaranteed top spot on Google” or “Genius SEO.” Sorry, this “magic bullet” technique doesn’t exist. That’s why we talk about “online marketing strategy” with our clients. It shifts the focus away from the buzzword-y “SEO” and helps our clients see the whole picture.

On the other hand…

Why SEO?

But, we still do SEO. This is key. As the backlash from Paul Boag’s recent article indicates, we can’t just scrap our SEO tactics or remove this buzzword from our profession. Why?

The first reason is because of simple oversight. We’re all human, including developers. They’ll miss things, like setting the page title on every page or linking properly. A developer has 1001 things to worry about during a project, and SEO tasks are often on the bottom of the priority list.

But hey, doesn’t everyone use fancy content management systems (CMSs) now, like Wordpress and Drupal? Sure, these projects have tons of quality, tested code, and the communities offer useful tools like Yoast’s Wordpress SEO plugin. Does that mean we don’t need to ever worry about on-page SEO? No. Actually, we need to pay more attention than ever before.

CMSs make the chore of running through an SEO checklist easier, but then suddenly everyone’s an SEO. It de-legitimizes the skill set. But when the developer doesn’t specifically do SEO review of a site, he doesn’t see the importance and it is promptly forgotten. For this reason, we absolutely need someone who’s doing SEO page reviews, sifting through every page with a fine-toothed comb.

And beyond the on-page optimization, we can’t underestimate the importance of keyword research and selection. This is one of the most valuable skill sets of a good SEO. It takes a unique talent, more than just tools and techniques, to identify that needle in a haystack—the one keyword that will drive valuable traffic—and to pick longer tails that will produce ranking results.

Not to mention the other tactics that round out an SEO’s talent toolbox: conversion rate optimization, quality content creation and syndication, facilitation of thought leadership, creating social media presence, etc. This is where the SEO professional steps in.

According to Moz’s yearly industry survey on ranking factors, tried-and-true SEO tactics are still the most effective influencers on your rank. So if you don’t get that stuff right, you might not even rank at all, which puts you right back at square one.

The Takeaway

Here’s the sound byte. SEOs are not SEOs, we’re online marketers (or whatever descriptive title you prefer). We have to have a comprehensive strategy that works in 2014. But we still do “SEO,” that limited skill set that is so easy to get wrong.

At Accelerate Media, we understand these nuances, and we work hard to future-proof our strategies so that we’ll be building success for our clients for a long time. No matter what new curveballs the search engine demigods throw at us.

Bring it on!

Date Posted

Author: Author Image Wes Jones