It struck me that this is a topic about which many folks in and around web marketing professions are curious about. With some of the recent changes Google’s made around link building practices, brand biasing, and intent matching. And, since my opinions on the topic are unique from Mr. Nielsen’s I thought I’d share. Here’s how Nielsen opened:
“Our ‘secrets and techniques’ no longer work and creative agencies, writers, and PR specialists look down on us as the ‘hacks’ of the marketing world.”
And here’s how he concluded:
“Let PR agencies continue to send press releases ‘over the wire’ and let ad agencies continue to create brand awareness. We need to stick to what we do best – connecting with highly engaged audiences.”
I agree with the framing that other marketers often have of those in the SEO field. To be fair, a fair number of bad apples have email spammed, crapped up blog comments, and keyword-stuffed that perception into the web’s conscious. But I can’t get behind the idea that what SEOs do best is “connecting with highly engaged audiences.” I think describing SEOs as merely outreach specialists demeans the hugely important, vast swath of work for which professional SEOs are responsible.
When I think about the unique skillset SEOs posess, I’m drawn to a few key practices. In my experience, the best SEOs are T-Shaped marketers. They have a broad swath of knowledge about a great variety of practices combined with deep knowledge and experience around the vast array of foci that fall under SEO specifically.
What can SEOs do that no other marketer can?
1) Create a Strategy to Increase Search Traffic
A strategy isn’t just a list of tactics — it’s a unique approach that should leverage the strengths of the organization and exploit the weaknesses or holes of opportunity left by the competition. Getting it right requires the experience of having seen how organizations have won and lost in organic search, and an intuitive understanding of where user behavior, ranking signals, and the competition are headed in your arena.
2) Keyword Research, Targeting, Measurement & Improvement
Which terms & phrases make sense to target to fill various needs in your marketing funnel? Which ones should be prioritized in what order? How can we measure the success of keyword rankings and traffic sent now that Google’s removed referral data? An SEO can tackle these hard problems and bring in remarkable traffic and revenue as a result.
3) Funnel Optimization for Visitors from Search
SEOs know how to turn searchers into subscribers and search traffic into revenue. With the right tweaks, landing pages can become powerful channels to recruit the right people to your cause (or your products).
4) Diagnosing a Drop or Stagnation in Search Traffic
Tragically, drops in search referral traffic are when I see other marketers, teams, founders, and execs turn to SEOs for help most. In many of these cases, having a professional SEO on staff or a consulting firm on retainer could have prevented these drops, but I suppose no one calls the plumber when the pipes are working.
Many of the best SEOs I know spend an inordinate amount of time on problems around lost traffic. Penalties, technical mistakes, seasonality, shifts in searcher behavior, and changes to the results are just a few of the things that can affect traffic. Uncovering the cause and building a roadmap to repair the damage can be intensely challenging and time consuming.
5) Assist with Reputation Management in the SERPs
If there are results an organization or person would prefer not to see in the search results, professional SEOs are the only ones who can help. Reptutation management SEO is some of the hardest work in the business (and, thus, often very expensive), but the impact on someone’s online presence is often worth many times the cost.
6) Audit a Site (or set of sites) for Opportunity to Improve Search Traffic
Sometimes it’s simple things like slow page load speed, off-kilter keyword -> headline matching, or incorrect XML sitemaps causing a problem. Other times it’s more pernicious issues around thin/duplicate content, internal link structures, or making AJAX content accessible to crawlers that prevents a site from earning all the traffic they could. Regardless, SEOs are able to scour sites for technical issues big and small, attack problems in the right order, and help create maximum accessibility for both engines and humans.
7) Earn & Build Links, Social Signals, and Amplification to Help Content Spread
Early adopters of tactics and channels like social media, infographics, embeddable widgets, content marketing, and more were often SEOs. Our tribe is tenacious about seeking any methodology that enables a message to reach further on the web and earn visibility that could result in links and mentions and rankings.
In the complexity of today’s online marketing landscape, professional SEOs know how to leverage dozens of channels and hundreds of tactics to gain eyeballs. Sometimes, this practice overwhelms others and pigeonholes SEO. But our field has never been just about any single tactic.
I’d imagine that if you brought together a few SEOs in a room, we could list another dozen high-level marketing tasks that no other profession can tackle. This — and much more — is what SEOs are good at. From my perspective, none of these are less necessary nor less powerful than they’ve been over the past 15 years. That’s why the field continues to grow at a remarkable rate, and why professional SEOs are often so prideful and defensive about our titles, our perception in the market, and the sometimes overly simplistic or incomplete descriptions of our work.
p.s. I recognize there are many marketers who have the deep SEO skills & knowledge to perform these tasks, but may go by other titles. For the purposes of this post, I’d like to include any and all of those folks in the classification of “professional SEO” that I’ve used above.