I have a confession to make: While my agency does a lot of work in the area of search engine optimization (SEO), I really don't believe that SEO as a profession should have ever come into existence. And while this belief doesn't stop me from taking on new SEO clients each year, it has influenced the way that we do business.
To me, SEO is really a collection of marketing and site development best practices that any self-respecting website owner should be doing anyway, even if Google and the other search engines didn't exist. Basically, with a rare exception (that I won't go into here), everything that has been claimed as an SEO activity these days was probably much better off in the hands of an assortment of other functions within an organization.
One of these functions in particular is "link building," the practice of creating links back to a website purely in the name of improving organic search ranking for specific keywords. This is one of those aspects of Google's page ranking algorithm that I really wish they had kept to themselves because, as with every other aspect that has been revealed, the first thought that seems to cross the SEO's mind is, "How can I exploit this newfound knowledge?" -- rather than realizing that a lack of links to a website may be the cause for poor organic search performance.
Over the past few years, Google has made considerable efforts to update its algorithm to catch those that have wielded link building as an unfair weapon in the battle for expanded reach in organic search. With each update, you can hear the cries of some SEOs who somehow felt they were being singled out as some sort of monster for doing what is basically cheating. As a response, Matt Cutts and many other Google representatives have done their best to explain what a more naturally occurring link to a website might look like; however, most SEOs are still at a loss as to how these links could actually come about.
Those of us who have even the most basic knowledge of the old-school marketing activity called public relations recognized this sage advice almost immediately -- it's called "getting coverage," and PR professionals have been doing it for years.
While SEOs have been sliding links into comments on various websites, using deep crawl data to discover old links that lead to bad links, and creating networks of thin content purely for the sake of linking to deep content, public relations professionals have been building relationships, working the phones, and working with members of the press to get the word out about their clients' products and services. And in this day and age of digital media, that coverage usually has a really great link back to the website -- and Google and the other search engines eat it up like digital candy to a digital baby.
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Fascinating article, Jeff! A lot of articles about marketing in the digital age completely write off old-school marketing, but there are still valuable approaches from the old-school style. On our blog, we have a post about the challenge of developing a marketing strategy that will make an impact (http://blog.prosemedia.com/the-challenges-to-formulating-a-marketing-strategy-that-makes-an-impact/), and one of the things we mention is that you have to learn and react to data. This article has a well-put together argument as to why that's so important. Great job!
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