What the F is an SEO These days?

by rishil on December 12, 2012

Lately a lot of bullcrap is being posted about SEO and what it means to be an SEO. From PR agencies to web designers, everyone in the digital space fancies themselves as an SEO. Frankly a lot of popular magazines, sites and blogs are posting misinformation about what an SEO really does. A number of REAL SEOs and people who really understand Search Engines consistently point out that this is just rubbish information published for page view journalism.

People are scrambling to redefine SEO, and many names abound*. James Carson’s post about the whole scenario is probably funnier than mine, but I want to drill some home truths in.

What will you do?

Let’s try and understand what an SEO’s Job really is:


1. Understand what the clients objectives are from a SEARCH ENGINES point of view

An SEO should get detailed briefs from their client – what they want to rank for, why they want to rank for those keywords, and what the monetary or non-monetary value of those rankings are. This includes taking clients ranking / traffic wishes and then running them against the right tools such as the current rankings a client has, keyword analysis etc.

2. Understand what opportunities and challenges the client / clients site has from a SEARCH ENGINES point of view.

The SEO should then take data from stage one above and run a number of tests, checks and analyse whether:

a) The client’s site is built the best possible way for SEO, structurally, architecturally, and has all the relevant mark-up that SEARCH ENGINES look for.

But Rishi, Web designers do this right?

Fuck no. Some do. Most don’t. When a web designer sings the mantra of building a site for users, search engine mark-up isn’t part of the job. Neither are the correct robots directives, meta data etc etc. These are ALL HIDDEN signals that on the surface can be accessed by search engines to display on search results. A really good developer who looks at the site from not only a user / experience point of view on site, and then tries to marry that up with off-site experience, builds the site with view of following the best possible guidelines from search engines, is a designer I would be proud to work with.

b) The clients site has the right keyword targeting in place on site. If you don’t have it on site, ranking for it isn’t easy. (duh)

But Rishi, Content Marketers do this right?

Fuck no. Some do, Many don’t. A content writers job should be to get the best possible content out there. Content that is useful, interesting, funny, insightful etc. Content that can be passed around, and has a stamp on it: “I am good shit. Read Me”. That’s a pretty good mantra for a content marketer IMHO, and I would be proud as an SEO to work with one who does just that. A good content team makes an SEOs job easier.

3. Once the initial onsite, work has been looked at, and married against the clients targets etc, an SEO’s job is to look at strategy.

What should be worked on as a priority? What is the cost benefit analysis of making certain changes, does the cost of development work potentially pay off against work that doesn’t need dev work? What are the biggest threats? (for example in a case I was working, the dev team decided to block 40% of the site from search engines via robots because they built that area to create multiple sessions, which were being indexed. My recommendations were to go for a proper dev fix, and open that area up. Traffic went up 30% once we did that (in two weeks!), and further growth happened in consequent months. )


Offsite construction

The SEO has to then understand what signals about the site search engines have, and how they help or hinder a clients site from ranking.

But Rishi, a good PR firm can get a lot of links and shares! We don’t need link building!

Let’s not get it twisted. Traditional SEO is still about SEARCH Engine signals. Those signals were traditionally purely links and anchor text. Now, of course there are suspicions and tests in the wild, as well as theories that social activity around certain content and urls help them index and rank faster. I don’t dispute that.

BUT, an SEO still needs to get anchor text. While traditionally we used to hammer anchor text links, we now know that these can cause penalisation or ranking drops. So an SEOs job is to understand how google’s algorithm changes, and how those changes affect the way he or she works.

A good PR firm CAN get a lot of brand signals. But if you over do those, you can STILL cause penalties. You still need a clever SEO to guide that mix of signals. Along with other external markup, such as local listings, google plus etc etc. A PR firm that has a dedicated SEO resource, that has experience in purely SEO, would be one worth working with. A PR firm that has SEO as an “add on service” I would be wary off.


photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ramotion/5188784967/sizes/m/in/photostream/

photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ramotion/5188784967/sizes/m/in/photostream/

There are many, many more avenues that I haven’t covered above. However, the CORE function of an SEO is defined by their job title: SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION. Which in detail means:

Make a series of changes on and off a client’s site in order to rank it for a set of keywords and phrases that can drive valuable traffic to it, within a cost that is either immediately justifiable, or has a longer term return on investment. The SEO should work with all other disciplines in marketing to identify and maximise opportunities, making sure that their strategy and the SEO strategy are working in line to benefit the client, and the clients objectives.

/the End.

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Rishi Lakhani is an independent Online Marketing Consultant specialising in SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing and Social Media. Explicitly.Me is his Blog. Google Profile

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