At least once a week someone asks me if SEO is dead yet, like it is some kind of terminal patient on life support. The same person normally then ends up running away as I go into my Number One RantTM on the subject, which is (in a nutshell) to please stop thinking of SEO as some single-aspect doohickey or flavour-of-the-week tactic you can deploy to magically increase the revenue on your website. If you’re asking this question, you don’t know what SEO is. But that’s okay, because I do, and that’s what I’m here for.
SEO advice, that is, not ranting. The ranting is a free bonus.
To quote a certain wise old woman, SEO most definitely aten’t dead, but like most things that aren’t six feet under it is developing and evolving. Where it used to be the hip, edgy kid hanging out in its mum’s basement and smoking ciggies while listening to weird experimental music, SEO has now grown up, moved out to the suburbs and got itself a real job.
SEO Doesn’t Work By Itself
Now here when I say “SEO” I’m referring to the more “traditional” workflows – technical fixes and tweaks, basic content optimisation and the like. Long gone are the days when this sort of thing alone could turn your organic performance into some kind of 80s rock-pumping powerhouse a la Rocky, storming up hills in one glorious montage. Now, occasionally you may get lucky with a particular win such as streamlining your site’s information architecture or sorting out some mass duplication issue, but that’s rare in the modern web.
This “technical SEO” stuff is still essential but it needs to be viewed more as a hygiene discipline, like browser computability testing. Will it necessarily kill you not to do it properly? Well, no, unless you really cock everything up, but you’re going to be at an immense disadvantage and essentially starting the race hobbled if you don’t get the house in order pretty darn quick.
TL;DR: should I still do core/technical SEO? Hecking yes, but don’t expect it to explode your growth overnight like pulling the stopped on some self-inflating raft.
Organic Traffic Ain’t Free
If I had a nickel for every time someone has stormed up and said they want to “do SEO instead of PPC to save money” then I most definitely would be off writing more smutty fanfiction rather than this blog. SEO is not cheap, not easy and most of all definitely not free. It offers a different pattern of ROI is all – organic marketing tends to pay off longer term, and (provided you do it right) builds on its own success over time.
Does that mean SEO is better than PPC? Why in god’s name should you pay for x clicks a month, every month, when if you invest in SEO instead you can be paying much less per click?
Well firstly (you sausage), most search/digital ecosystems these days run on ads – not just Google but also Amazon, eBay, Bing and any social network you care to name – so if you’re not looking into all possible channels regardless of click payment status then you’re potentially missing a ginormous segment of your audience.
Secondly, organic acquisition is just as competitive (if not more so) than paid, so here’s a mad idea – how about use both to get the best benefits? Adwords, for example, is fantastic for testing new query areas rapidly to see if they gain traction. A few hundred or so quid for a week’s limited PPC test on a new query bloc to see if it gets any traction is a heck of a lot cheaper than investing thousands over many months into organic positioning for the same bloc and then finding out it just doesn’t work for your audience for whatever reason.
Can you get efficiencies by marrying up paid media and organic marketing? Yes, and of course that’ll naturally lead to you saving a few bob, but my advice is to try them both together, test with dialling one back or the other up, assume nothing, and for the love of little pug-dogs do remember that your users are going to have multiple touchpoints with your brand – organic and paid, more often than not – before they turn from a curious click into a converting customer.
UX Is Non-Denominational Royalty
It’s a very valid point that rather a lot of search marketing ends up being a form of “user experience optimisation for search engines.” You don’t optimise your meta data or ad copy for giggles, you do it so it is more helpful/attractive to users so that more of them will click on it. This has never been more true than now as we edge towards the 2020s, with Google firmly steering the “UX as SEO” train out of Hypothetical Station towards Bloody Well Do It-Ville.
Everything from site speed and non-intrusive interstitials is on the organic performance radar now, not to mention site security, overly intrusive apps, sensibly-sized tap targets and all other kinds of shenanigans. Pay attention to your data and pounce on any friction points you spot as soon as possible so the whole brand experience for users is as slick as can possibly be.
That’s right kids, I said whole brand experience. No good having the universe’s best website and/or app if your customer service is awful, your logistics chain is broken or the actual doohick you’re offering is crap on toast. Word of mouth is still a thing, digitally as well as literally, so ensure you pay attention to the full lifecycle of all your users, existing as well as new customers, to keep those punters loving your brand and coming back for more. There’s more to LTV than the colour of the upsell buttons, amirite?
Escape That Google Box
I’ve been saying this for years at my old agency but I’m saying it again at Rebelhack, as loud if not louder. Where do your users go for stuff? Not just the physical “click to buy” or “convert to lead” stuff, but the research, the informational “wat dis,” the “x vs y” or whatever – the whole of their journey which might start with a minor or idle need but (ideally) winds up with them as a happy and loyal customer of your brand.
Selling some sort of physical doodad? Got an Amazon or eBay store? Increasingly vast numbers of shoppers start their search for products on those platforms rather than from Google. Offering the best alternative to Service Q in the market? Are you getting press coverage and mentions in the right professional magazines and blogs, chatting people up in the right LinkedIn discussions, schmoozing it at the right offline events?
Please, please, please stop asking about “getting to the top of Google” and start asking where the various sensory organs of your users are engaged. Yes, I said various – remember voice search is still on the rise so it’s ears now, not just eyes. These are the places you need to be at the right time with the right content, be that an ad, creative, PR piece, brand name-drop, sales dude on the ground or a good old-fashioned search engine results page.
Brand Drives Performance; SEO Makes The Most Of It
If you’re asking for organic growth marketing ideas, try not to gasp in astonishment when you get a ton of suggestions back that talk about PR (digital or conventional), outreach, social, content and other brand related activity with maybe a teeny footnote on the tech SEO side.
We’re here trying to make the car that is your business go faster, right? So think of technical SEO like tuning the engine – it gives efficiencies, improves power output, improves durability, but at the end of the day if you’ve got the best darn tuned engine in your car the damned thing still isn’t going anywhere unless you put some fuel in it. That’s your brand equity, from your reviews on Facebook to your press coverage, allied influencers, social buzz, cool content, funny webcomics and (of course) that oh-so-shareable video of your CEO dressed as a giant carrot while handing out free popcorn outside Twickenham. That’s what is going to get this motor really running.
Organic Marketing @ Rebelhack
Hey Ruth, didn’t you used to regularly rant somewhere else? Why yes, kind and gentle reader (with slightly damaged metaphorical eardrums, if you’ve been following me more than ten minutes), indeed I did. I was on a three week mini sabbatical at the tail end of March but this month I started my shiny new jobsicle as Head of Organic at Rebelhack. The job was going to be called Head of SEO. Who was paying attention to what they just read and now understands why (hands in the air, please)?
Am I sad to have left the unstoppable rocket ship/freight train/other large object with a lot of momentum that is 4Ps Marketing, part of Artefact? Of course I am. If you’re a big household name brand (or watercooler-name brand, if you’re in the B2B space) looking to get to grips with the future of this digital malarkey, for god’s sake stop reading this and plan a coffee with some of the dudes over there. Tell Matt I sent you. And remind him of the differences between AI and machine learning, because sometimes he gets over-excited and mixes them up. You can tell him I told you to say that, too.
But I am also super-stoked to be getting under the skin of the awesome businesses working with Rebelhack, learning the intricacies of early-stage growth modelling with Logan (who is also quite often over-excitable – clearly when it comes to CEOs I have a type) and helping a whole shedload of cool, new and exciting firms disrupt their industries with fresh ideas and the kind of bolshie enthusiasm you normally only find in a herd of puppies.
We’re already making changes to super-turbo-charge organic marketing at Rebelhack. We’re hiring our first dedicated in-house PR and outreach person (hit me up if you think this could be you, incidentally) as well as bringing in a new, sexified version of our in-house tech platform and overhauling our reporting to make it even easier for our partner clients to get to the bones of their growth marketing. We recently moved into our shiny new office in the middle of Hatton Garden; it has our name on the door and everything. We’ve even figured out how to work the coffee machine.
So strap in and hang on, folks, because it’s going to be one heck of a ride. If you fancy a cuppa before boarding, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk about we can turn your fledgling business into a growth superstar.