Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Is SEO a Dark Art?

A few years ago, Paul Boag wrote a widely-shared article for Smashing Magazine, "The Inconvenient Truth," that many believed called for "an end to the SEO sector."

His argument was that the fundamental purpose of SEO, to achieve higher rankings, was the wrong approach:

"If you hire a SEO company to improve your placement and you measure their worth on the basis of how high they get you in the rankings," he wrote, "then you are out of line with what Google is trying to achieve."

Instead, Mr. Boag suggested a strategy readers of this blog might find familiar: "your primary objective should be better content, not higher rankings."

We mention this article now, nearly two and a half years after its publication, because its assumptions about SEO are still prevalent in the greater online community today. Frankly, as Boag himself noted back then:

"Most website owners perceive SEO as a dark art, shrouded in mystery. They have heard phrases like 'gateway pages' and 'keyword density' or have been bamboozled by technobabble about the way websites should be built. All of this has left them feeling that SEO is the purview of experts. This is a misconception reinforced by certain segments of the SEO community."

Do you view SEO as a "dark art"? [Photo source]

Boag was right, of course. The fact the "SEO is the purview of experts" is a misconception. Yet Boag's article itself seems to lapse into the same misconception.

By pigeon-holing the practice of SEO--the relentless pursuit of "higher rankings"--he misconstrues the evolution of the SEO community; he neglects just how this community has adapted to the diverse demands of Internet marketing.

True, many specialists are still mired in the single-purpose pursuit, via design and development "tricks"--of higher ranking, but any SEO specialist worth his salt understands that the key to performance is quality, relevant content.

The "tricks" are often necessary, but as Benji Arriola was quoted in Forbes, predicting the future of SEO, earlier this year:

"SEO & social media will further merge with traditional PR & marketing practices."

As Brent Gleeson wrote (quoting Arriola):

"Old SEO tricks at the code level and spammy link building will continue to decrease. SEO will focus on the production of great content that can come in a number of mediums: textual, images, videos, interactive apps, and more. This is what traditional advertising experts excel at; they just have to adjust it for the user behavior on the web. Link building will involve content promotion, influencer outreach, and relationship building. All the same tactics used in traditional marketing, but powered by new tools and social media. SEOs that do not evolve and understand the fundamentals of traditional marketing and storytelling will become obsolete."

This has been happening for years. Unfortunately, like Boag, many continue to view SEO as "a dark art." For his part, Boag suggests performing the work of online marketing in-house:

"Ultimately organizations need to change so that online marketing is a more distributed role with everybody taking responsibility for aspects of it."

Where we fundamentally differ from Boag is our belief that a good SEO specialist can be an integral part of this team--even if he or she is hired from outside the company.

It is truism of business consulting that an outside force is best suited to view the dynamics of a company in a new way--to help the company break habit patterns and mechanical ways of being.

In many ways, a good SEO specialist plays this same part for a company's marketing: he or she observes, reports, and catalyzes a new approach. If he or she is proficient in design and development, all the better.

The face of SEO is not dark; it's humble, approachable, and keen to help.

Alex Stepman, our blog's sponsor: a humble and approachable SEO specialist who understands the diverse demands of Internet marketing. 

If you're prone to think of SEO as  the "purview of experts," we invite you to read the Organic SEO Blog. This blog is decidedly not written by experts; our writers aim, simply, to learn and to share this learning in an accessible way. Once you get past the misconceptions, you discover real human beings.

Internet Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively build and promote websites, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398. Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective content marketing campaigns.