The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in SEO

I typically don’t listen to many podcasts (reading is so much faster), but I made an exception for this interview between Kurt Elster from Ethercycle and Kai Davis, an ecommmerce consultant located in Eugene, Oregon.

Here’s the interview. There’s also a full text transcript.

If you’re like me and would rather read, here’s Kai’s click-baity-titled article on a similar topic.

There’s good and bad news about the state of SEO today. Kai writes:

What’s different about SEO now as compared to Search Engine Optimization two years ago is the need to focus on strategies that help you attract high-quality links by improving your visitors’ experience.

When it comes to getting more traffic, you need links from high-quality, relevant websites. And the best way to attract high-quality, relevant links is be aiming to make yourself more relevant and helpful to searchers.

Unfortunately, the conversation often focuses on ‘link building’, when it should focus on ‘how to delight visitors’ or ‘how to build a better business.’

When you get started improving the quality and relevance of your website, you’ll attract more links. If you’re creating educational, relevant content on your site — articles, resources, how-to guides, courses, tutorials, case studies, etc — that add value to your visitors’ lives, you’ll see more links, more traffic, and more sales.

But! It can take much, much longer to see results now than it used to. Depending on how optimized your site is and how invested in SEO your competitors are, it can take months to see your site slowly, incrementally creep up in the rankings.

I’d say that it depends on the market and what the goals are. In any competitive market, what Kai’s saying here is true.

The mentality that’s needed now is really more of a sales-marketing-and-public-relations mindset as it relates to actually getting links. From the perspective of buyers of SEO services, they’re caught between the ‘black-box’ type providers who charge nothing and provide no information about what they’re doing and the kind who can only honestly promise long-term results with a sustained effort.

Also, because every industry of any significant size has a big web publishing community now, it’s less important to bait links from large websites outside the niche and any proximate markets. While it can help in some situations, what’s really important is setting up workable business relationships (which happen to include some linking back and forth) in order to get much out of any investment into SEO.

One positive is that, because search is a mostly mature technology (at least on Google’s end), there’s a lot more comprehensible information about how it works.

The trouble with that is that, with greater information availability, and far more easy-to-use tools, it’s also far more competitive in a lot of markets.

The other key point Kai makes during the interview is about company size and staffing:

Kai: I know, right? I built my practice from the beginning to say, “I want to work with a very small number of clients but deliver the best results possible for them. That’s a different attack than a lot of SEO companies or a lot of consultants. They say, “Hey, we want to work with 50 or 100 different clients.” To do that, you might end up having to staff up or cut corners. I say, “I want to run an independent practice. I want to work with six exceptional clients at a time, and deliver to them the best results possible.”

It’s not hard to set up an agency that just hires anyone who walks in the door, spams and cold-calls the world, signs clients up for packages that range from $300/month to $2,000 a month, submits the client sites to a bunch of directories, pockets the earnings, and sends out robo-reports to the clients, who have trouble getting anyone actually knowledgeable on the phone.

It’s a more challenging task entirely to integrate search into a more comprehensive digital marketing effort. That’s really where SEO has been migrating as a category for the last few years or so — it’s still a specialty, but it’s much more connected to other categories within marketing than it was once seen to be.

While scale can confer certain advantages to larger agencies (it’s easier for them to automate), they tend to cut back on direct service and attention to the unique needs of a client. The generic approach rarely returns out-sized results.

Marketing is competitive. To win competitions, you need an advantage. Generic services can’t confer a significant advantage. That’s why it’s important to work with a company that can craft a unique plan for your company and your market.