Have you ever heard the expression “if you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got? Usually, I find that to be very much true. However, when we look at the process of SEO after the earth shattering Penguin and Panda algorithm updates from Google, it’s pretty clear that SEOs are going to have to change to adapt.
SEO to this point has been a pretty straightforward process of onsite optimization, content syndication, and back link acquisition. Many agencies and SEO professionals even have a routine down for doing this kind of formulaic SEO, however, it’s simply not going to work any more- at least for Google. In fact, it’s almost as if Google looked at those tactics and specifically decided to smack them down as part of these latest “P” updates (is Pirahna next? OH NO!). Many of the SEOs that I know are really struggling, as the way they’ve done SEO has always worked, basically, if you were doing SEO and your competitors weren’t, you’d have the upper hand on the SERP. Not so any more; so, what do you offer clients in place of those “old school” services? It’s time to change the model, and I have some suggestions here that I think can replace “traditional” SEO services.
Before I get into the list, I definitely want to point out that I do think there is still a place for on site optimization; that will never change, but it’s really a commodity now, nearly everyone does the same type of onsite optimization of meta tags, navigation, internal linking, and the like. The only real opportunity for creativity there is the keyword research, after that part is done the rest of an SEO campaign generally plays out the same way in most cases. Content production and distribution also have a place but the way we do that has changed, as well- Ezine Articles doesn’t work any more, folks! Linkbuilding, which I, in white hat SEO snob mode, have never really considered to be SEO, is (thankfully) going the way of the dodo- at least the old way of getting hundreds of crappy directory and comment links every month is.
The biggest piece of advice I have for SEOs in the Post-Penguanda era is STOP TRYING TO BEAT THE ALGORITHM. Let me repeat that- STOP TRYING TO GAME GOOGLE’S ALGORITHM. You are a marketer now, you always have been, but you are going to need some new techniques to fill the gaps of all the old crap you used to sell that worked only because Google hadn’t caught up to it. Here are some services you can offer to keep the value of your services in your clients’ minds.
Back link audits and removal of poor quality inbound links- I really feel that all SEO campaigns should be taking a month off right now, to audit all the inbound links to the site and spend some time getting any shady ones removed. You need to start fresh with a clean link profile. This can be a long and arduous process, and it might not show much fruit as it can be very difficult to get bad links removed (when you can find them) but especially if your client has received a notice from Google in the form of a Webmaster Tools message or even a letter, you must scrub that profile. This could take months but it is totally worth it moving forward. In fact, I would take the drastic step of halting all SEO work to solely commit to the backlink audit, until it’s clean.
Social marketing integration- Social signals are being used in the major search engines’ algorithms and most clients are clueless about how to use Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube to send the proper signals. Using an application like Buffer, a client’s social media campaign can be largely automated, and it is about an hour’s work to write 20 Tweets, 2 G+ posts and 2 Facebook posts to then trickle out over the course of the week. You can’t make them participate but you can give them a voice, if nothing else. Showing clients how to connect with a social media audience using appropriately hash tagged and linked content is a very valuable service, and it’s not separate from SEO. In fact, I’d like to get that out there right now- social media and SEO can’t be placed in separate buckets any more. They are one and the same.
Blogger Outreach- this is the new linkbuilding. Spending time building an inventory of bloggers that are willing to write (and disclose) sponsored posts, with inline links back to your site, is the new linkbuilding. Stop thinking of how to get 100 links in a day and instead focus on getting 2 really good ones, if you insist on retaining the “linkbuilding” title for your job. Some of the old techniques still work here, as well, such as contacting webmasters with dead links on their pages and asking them to replace those links with links to your site, but in the future “linkbuilding” is really going to be about relationship building.
Conversion rate optimization- what good is it bringing a horse to water if you can’t make them drink? By using advanced techniques such as geotargeting or behavioral segmentation, you can make the traffic that does come to the site more valuable. A/B testing and multivariate testing are also very valuable, and can provide insights into the client’s customer base that they’d never be able to get anywhere else but online.
Business analysis- a good SEO makes themselves a partner with their client. It’s not about squeezing another month of fees out of them with a song and dance about the latest update and how valuable your knowledge is, it’s about partnering with them to learn their industry, learn their customers, and learn their demographic. Again, this requires a lot of work, and you might have to get outside your comfort zone. I’m always surprised at how many SEOs claim to be able to help their clients make more money and do better business, yet lack any basic business training themselves. This sort of business analysis also requires regular phone calls with the client, but don’t go too crazy- anything more often than a biweekly call is probably pushing it and is going to strain the relationship. Nothing drives me crazier as a marketer than having meetings just to have them, it wastes everyone’s time as both sides scramble to have something to talk about. Every two weeks is plenty; and regular meetings should be counted as a very valuable deliverable.
Multi-channel attribution- Google has made this even easier for us to do with their new multi-touch reporting, which is able to give insight on what the purchase/conversion funnel looks like. From “the percentage of visitors who touched the site first via PPC, but then purchased via organic search” to “how to drive traffic to the site using social media”, SEOs can provide business owners great insight about how their clients behave online. For example, if you have a product that skews young, there’s a good chance that people are first discovering your brand on Social Media- how can you capitalize on that? How can you optimize for the right channel and purchase path? How can you keep that sales funnel full? Multi channel attribution and the resultant optimization can answer all of these questions and many more. This is a newer area of SEO/marketing- unless you have an analytics solution that does these things already- and it’s a great first step towards selling an integrated campaign, as well.
Content Creation and Marketing- Wait a minute, didn’t I say that wasn’t going to work any more? Well yeah, but not the way you’ve traditionally done it, which is likely to pay someone in Asia or India $2 an hour to put out some terrible content that barely makes sense with a few exact match anchor text links back to your site, then put the content somewhere like eZine Articles or Article Alley. Content marketing now is about the same thing I’ve always personally advocated- give people some value! Give them a reason to come to your site, give them a reason to click that inline link. Infographic link bait, guest posts, and at the heart of it- good, original, valuable useful content- are the future of content marketing. Google needs good quality content to wrap its ads around, and the best way to get to the top of the SERP isn’t a secret to be figure out- it’s to be the most valuable resource. Part of our job as SEOs is to inform clients when they simply don’t deserve to rank higher for a given term, and then propose solutions such as going after longer tail keywords to make up the shortfall. Content marketing also includes SEO optimizing Press Releases when the client actually has something interesting or valuable to say. Optimzation or re-optimization of existing content can also be quite a valuable service, especially if the client has “old” content that hasn’t been updated in a while.
Adaptive/Responsive design recommendations- It’s important that client sites are flexible, as web content is being consumed on a dizzying and ever-increasing array of devices from phones to tablets to desktops. Architectural recommendations about how to build a site to scale properly so that all visitors see all the clients’ content, in the best possible presentation, is part of both SEO and the previously mentioned conversion rate optimization. Schema.org markup is also very important, as Google builds its semantic web sites that feed the beast are going to get better SERP placements. This is also important as different devices proliferate- who knows what a browser will look like 5 years from now? Semantic markup is what the web was meant to be, if we’re only getting around to it 40 years later, so be it. Be on the cutting edge! Use the schema.org markup data to ensure maximum visibility.
Mobile website recommendations- It doesn’t make sense for every brand to have its own mobile site, but it does make sense to build the site in a way that maximizes visibility across a lot of different devices. There’s a whole separate mobile algorithm that takes things like scalability and site speed into account; so it’s important to optimize for that algorithm. Some clients would be better served by building an App for their customers- it’s an SEO’s job to make that consideration/recommendation as well.
Site speed optimization- Regardless of what you sell or to whom you sell it, the Internet is getting faster, connected devices are getting faster, and mobile website access is becoming more common. Site speed is an important part of the algorithm and an especially important part of the mobile algorithm. Any recommendations to make sites load and parse faster are very valuable, and while most SEOs aren’t programmers, there are lots of resources out there that can tell you in plain English what’s causing a site to be slow.
Have you noticed a theme to these recommendations? They all require actual work SEO has always appealed to people because hey, it’s on a computer, that means you can automate and replicate and duplicate and not really have to do ACTUAL work, right? Wrong. SEO has never been about that, and now, those SEO chickens are coming home to roost. Get on it! Improve yourself, improve your knowledge, improve your techniques, and improve the service you give your clients to be an SEO 2.0 superstar.