Hot on the heels of my colleague Nick's thoughts on SEO in 2015 as featured on the Econsultancy blog this week, I took some time out to look again at Rand Fishkin's recent presentation on the same subject.
It's a weighty deck, well worth the time, and a few key issues really resonated for me, based on past, present and planned conversations with our colleagues and clients, in the UK and US.
The importance of brand
A couple of telling quotes from head honchos at Google...
This might sound archaic, but let's just remind ourselves what brands stand for (definition alert!):
'A name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.'
Or, from Wikipedia 'Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's product distinct from those of other sellers.'
Personally, I like this one the most:
'A brand is a reason to choose'
In other words, the traditional value of brand was firmly rooted in authenticity, trust, relevance, a way to root out the snake oil salesmen from the good guys... and doesn't that sound familiar in the context of SEO? You bet!
Fast forward to today, and this is I guess unsurprising, reassuring for established brands, but far less so for start-ups and market challengers. How much more difficult will SEO seem when brand building becomes an essential component of success? How can we clarify the value of branding in a ROI focused and last click fixated environment?
Links are just a great side effect of the relationships
Well said Rand, and let's just remind ourselves (again) that old school link building is well and truly dead, that creating great content is only the beginning, and that the art of relationship development with content platforms and destinations relevant to your brand's audience is a key and critical component of what we do.
And just like in real life, these relationships take time (love at first sight (site?) is still the exception, not the rule), require careful research and nurturing, and are difficult to predict and plan for. But done right, where content is tailored both to the needs of the brand and the prospective publisher's audience, we know that just a handful of earned links can hugely impact keyword rankings, and help to build brand awareness/engagement.
Measurability is often inversely correlated with opportunity
Loving this graph...
And this statement from a recent Econsultancy report on the Value of Marketing:
'In the morass of data being collected by marketers there is a growing sense that the how and what of that measurement is still not stacking up in terms of proving the function's actual value.'
In other words, despite years of anecdotal and empirical evidence to support the notion that ROI on SEO is incredibly efficient, paradoxically the increasing complexity and granularity of SEO will potentially decrease the appetite for increasing or even maintaining investment.
As digital marketing experts, our responsibility is to improve our narrative, to be better at telling the SEO story, simplifying the complexities, and clarifying the benefits in the broader context of digital as both a brand and direct response channel.
A final word from Rand... 'SEO is getting harder, but that high barrier to entry means greater opportunity for those who succeed.'
Couldn't agree more.