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Posts tagged ‘SEO’


The Ubiquitization of SEO

The Ubiquitization and Commoditization of SEOIt’s taken over a decade, but I believe that we’ve finally arrived at the point where SEO and search have entered the stage of ubiquity. Perhaps we were at the long downhill slide a few years ago with the explosion of Search and SEO, with the explosion conferences. But, it’s ever-present now. It’s sauntering through the halls of every agency, it’s dribbling off the lips of small business owners, and it’s the little voice in every head of every executive at the boardroom table. It’s in the common vernacular of how we talk about digital marketing: “what’s SEO’s part?”. And, we’ve waited a long time for this recognition, the juncture where it’s common place for businesses to ask how we optimize and leverage search. Ubiquitization. We might do well to be careful for what we wish for. And, of course, the caveat to that, is just because they know they need it, doesn’t mean they “get it”. But that’s a separate post entirely. And, perhaps, a nice follow-up to this one?

Ubiquity has it’s price. I think we realized this a couple of years ago as an industry, as a field, but it was better to say nothing. It was important to enjoy the renaissance, the birth of a long overdue movement treading water in the digital undercurrent as the long-toothed serfs of the digital world. What ubiquity brings in terms of positives for the industry is acutely contrasted by its negatives.

Same As It Ever Was

Recently, Rand Fishkin posted a Whiteboard Friday that discussed the SEO’s job. Specifically, it’s this quote: “The SEO’s job, in my opinion, should have no boundaries other than what are the things that positively influence this cycle. What are the things that will help you achieve your goals?”

Inherently, I can’t disagree with Rand’s assertion: SEO’s job is whatever is necessary to help the client and achieve the goal. It’s what I’ve spent my careerThe Job of the SEO is the same as it ever was doing (and likely what you’ve spent yours doing too), learning technical website structure, learning UX, learning enough about design and its advances over the years to make websites accessible, learning social, learning content strategy, learning to architect search strategies, unlearning how to write to write for the web, etc. King of all, master of none. Because each affects the end goal of throughput of a website, whatever that particular throughput is.

Hasn’t it always been this way? The fact is SEOs have always been responsible for a website’s throughput. When throughput was visits, it was our SEO that was held accountable for the throughput metric. When the throughput was TOS (Time on Site), it was SEO that was responsible for this metric too. We all know too well that throughput is a multi-shaped, multi-shifting creature (depending on the site), but if the company uses SEO/Search, you can bet your ass SEO is invariably being bonded to that throughput’s success or failure. When SEO claimed the lion-share of success, it bears the burden of failure.

As companies demanded more from throughput metrics, as the traditional ROI metrics began to filter down to the digital space, and the analytics became ever more capable of measuring traditional ROIs, the role/job of SEOs expanded. Traffic and SERP Position isn’t enough to satisfy traditional ROI metrics concerned with sales/dollars. Traditional ROI metrics demanded that SEOs incorporate other skills, become more holistic in their approach to satisfy ROI, expand their narrow focus.

And, just to wrap up the point, once SEOs were seemingly responsible for a website’s success or failure, it became less about the SEO (but that always remained our core strength) and traffic and rankings, but blending these techniques with other disciplines to create a throughput monster. The job expanded from necessity to become as valuable to the market as possible, to keep business moving through the door, and to earn as much as the market would bear. This is really no different than any other service industry job: create as much value as you can to create as much profit and growth as you can. However, the explosive expansion of the job role coupled with the explosive expansion of information available from professionals has led to a state of marketplace saturation. And, so here we are today: ubiquity.

Positive Change of Ubiquitization

The Positive Attributes of SEO's UbiquityThere’s Enough Pie To Go Around. For Now.

It’s not all bad. Ubiquitization of SEO/Search has brought more people to the table than ever before. From giant Fortune 500 brands to neighborhood corner businesses, everyone is of the understanding that SEO is must have. It is an essential tool and channel in the marketing arsenal and practically writes itself into scopes of work (we’ll get back to this point later). The days of working really hard to get businesses to see the value are all but gone; they’re finding us now and convincing us why they are a good candidate for our services. Is that oversimplified? Ya. Granted, there are always small factions that lag behind and insist they will catch up when it’s time. And, there’s no denying the magic two-step of the Dog and Pony Show plays to an endless record.

The ubiquitization of SEO has led to more opportunities for more people and agencies. There are more slices of the pie to go around, offering entrepreneurial folks the ability to build something sustainable and scratch out a living thanks to the expanded job role of SEO. But, eeking out a living is as close to nirvana many will get to. In fact this post illustrates these points beautifully, and published today no less. We Can’t Help Every SEO Prospect!, makes the point for me. For every seasoned professional that turns down a site for one these reasons, there’s an opportunity for an other SEO to pick it up (yep, even the “ethics”. Some SEOs are bendy that way 🙂 ).

As much as we’d like to think that SEO is still a highly specialized marketing field that deserves a handsome reward, our collective work on a number of different battlefields and boardrooms over the last decade to make it inclusive to marketing mix, has also caused its commoditization. Like any commodity, there will be concentrated pockets and coffee-drip waterfalls, and has truly become a price vs. brand service.

Negative Change of Ubiquitization

The Negative Aspects of SEO's Ubiquity and CommoditizationThe Monolith of the Super-Group and Homogenization of SEO

Evenutally, the concentrated pockets will grow and trickle-down will become less. It’s already started to happen; independent SEOs and those running small SEO/Search shops are packing in the tent for the seemingly greener pastures of agency-life (both digital and search). The information and voices have already started to become more concentrated and are coalescing, take Moz/Distilled, iAcquire, SEER, Blueglass, etc., as examples. And, concentrated pockets of influence tend to try and make things more homogeneous than they already are. They attempt to mainstream it and mainline it. Because, after all, when it’s about price (which it is), only brands are worth paying the premium for. It’s no real coincidence that Moz hooked up with Distilled 4 years ago to off-load the SEO/Search Clients, to focus on tools. And, it’s no real coincidence that Search “super-groups” are commonplace, and why every traditional and digital agency is hounding (and getting) the best SEOs with chops.

The attempted (still in progress) hijacking of SEO to be “inbound marketing” is just the latest attempt to mainstream it and mainline it. Make SEO a faceless, unassuming thing. Just another channel in the tome of the marketing playbook that everyone can lay claim to. By the end of 2013, I strongly suspect and agree, as Tad Chef so eloquently put it in his piece on The Future of SEO in 2013 will ultimately have to be “[…]about giving SEO a new meaning.” If not, you can either join an agency, go in-house, or become a marketer. That’s where this train intends to stop. Where the companies pay top dollar for “inbound marketing”, and the SEOs are working themselves into the grave taking the clients that “can’t be helped”.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma of SEO

Commoditization through our new-found ubiquity is/will be making life hell for Independent/Small SEO shops and small businesses alike. Maybe you got lucky and hooked with a big firm and get fed a stream of business to contract out on. If that’s the case, this might not apply to you. But, for the small business it’s about price. Plain and simple.

Their margins are slim enough, that they’re not going to want dump that into the prices being asked by Premium Search Brands, which means they’re going to haggle and shakedown every independent and small firm to the cent. It’ll be no different than any service or product that drops down from the “premium” tier; you’re willing to pay less in the hopes that what you buy gets you to the point-in-time down the road when you can upgrade. Make no mistake that small businesses are just as needy, if not more so. They intend to get every penny worth and ever so gently (though sometimes not) bend that scope. Indeed, it’s cynical, but it’s straight economics and a ever-revolving Prisoner’s Dilemma. The trick is learn how to cooperate to survive so every gets the best of the situation. Small shops and independent SEOs will have to cobble together several of these projects to make ends meet, struggling to keep it together until they either move up the Tier Structure or pack it in.

Going forward, I have to be honest and admit I don’t know how this shakes out. The industry is, and for the most part always has been, in its own Prisoner’s Dilemma. Experience and historical trends tell me that the Search and SEO industry shifted the gear to warp drive on this course. There’s always the possibility that this trend will reverse itself.


REWORK, Phish, and SEO

Try Not To Be Confused

Trust me.  I know it’s an odd pairing; disjointed, in fact. But there’s something both REWORK and Phish can teach us about SEO and SEM. And, I have to admit, this post was a tough one to glue together and find a link to all three.


SEO is, for the most part, details work. We swim in the data details, finding out if this or that piece of data is meaningful. And why it means something to you. There’s no question that SEOs like to jump head-first in the deep end of the keyword pool. And, you want us there: it’s one of things we do best. However, there’s a real tendency to get incredibly detail-focused early on that you end up drowning before you can do anything meaningful.

That’s where REWORK comes in. While the book is designed for small and mid-sized  business owners (SMBs), there are some key points that SEOs either ignore completely or simply forget that’s where their focus should be first. The Epicenter (or as I like to call it, the foundation). The entire book is is dedicated to eradicating “bloat” and finding the core.

When you start anything new there are forces pulling you in a variety of directions. There’s the stuff you could do, the stuff you want to do, and the stuff you have to do. The stuff you have to do is where you should begin. Start at the epicenter.

37 Signals' REWORK

Rework and Rethink: Solidify Your Core

Before you start drowning in the all the possible directions a website could go, focus on the thing that’s going to matter most to the site: the core. Start with the site architecture, making sure that it’s exactly how you need it to be in order to optimize it for maximum results. Then move to keywords and keyword phrase choices. Then to internal linking structure through content, and so on. Make sure what you do on-site is solid before you start asking the rest of the world to give you votes.


Phish and SEO

If you’ve never listened to them, this section is going to be harder to understand. But with anything improvisational, communication and risk are central to the idea. Improvisational masters listen first then create around what they hear everyone else saying. Phish has been doing this for over twenty years. While their studio albums don’t break records on the charts, their live shows are something to marvel.

What they do best is take a highly complex arrangement and then stretch it (or “change gears”) until it becomes a conversation between the four musicians, each picking up on each others “words”. The result: they can take the music in any direction through progressive chromatic changes, going to an almost ambient sound, or turn on a dime, and create something that’s pleasingly dissonant. The trick, it seems, as with improvisational master, is not breaking the rules until you master the rules. It’s one the major tenets in creative writing too (i.e. using fragments and slang).

The same is true of SEO. There’s going to be a time to change gears and change the direction of approach. But only after you’ve got the rules down and solid website core. This is where you turn ho-hum into magic. You can start unraveling your SEO tentacles into off-site optimization, page speed, and social media. All you have to do is start listening to the site and the consumers visiting your site to know where you should go next.

The Science of Improvisation

If you’re still scratching your head, don’t worry, I’m going to clarify it in a moment. That’s the common thread between REWORK and Phish. Mastering the art/science of improvisation. The gentlemen at 37 Signals (creators of Basecamp project management software) have made the art of improvisation a veritable science over their six years.  And, Phish, like their jam-band predecessors before them, found a way to work and rework a single song hundreds upon hundreds of times. Each time a unique entity.

Although each one starts from a very different end of the spectrum, both find their way to being centric, smaller, simple, and lasting.  And, that’s the how I tie in SEO: it’s what SEO is about. Improvising to continually focus on core SEO: business-centric keywords and phrases. Honing a website architecture until the bloat is erased, and it’s simple and usable. It’s about improvising and listening to the site and the people who use the site, to create lasting results while inducing conversions and generating leads.


The SEO of Now

The Uninitiated Looking for “The SEO of Now”

I suppose it’s time to throw my two cents in on the “SEO is Underground” topic. The prerequisite reading for this post are as follows:

johnon_comSEO Goes Back Underground in 2009

seo_book_logoSome Popular SEO Experts Don’t Know Much About SEO

What SEO is on tap for today?

What SEO is on tap for today?

What’s today’s special?

That’s the mentality that breeds within the SEO community. Everyone is looking for shortcuts to search marketing success (i.e. what corners can I cut?).  I am asked ALL THE TIME, what’s the easiest thing I can do (implying there are “tricks” or otherwise “some magic potion” I can sprinkle on their website) to stimulate instant growth and success. With little to no work. The uninitiated are always looking for the SEO of now.

The SEO of Now is simply a reiteration of a ‘soup du jour’ concept: what’s hot today? I have to agree with both John and Aaron, that the majority of SEO professionals are underground.  Some of the things I read are simply laughable. Similarly, there is a mentality among those SEO publishers that we should “do as I say, not as I do”. The professionals doing the bone-grinding work; the solid-method-not-flashy-testing, are locked away in a room going blind sifting, analyzing data and seldom publishing those efforts. That said, there are professionals out there do, with best intentions in mind, stand in the limelight and provide great information. They are out there, but far and few between.


It’s the rockstar (the “me-me-I-I-meme”) socio-cultural tendency that leads to the SEO of Now. It’s the want/need to be center-stage that allows the Jell-O SEO out into the open. That’s the true savagery of the of community: this idea that you have to have stardom and face-time to be heard and taken seriously. It’s that thinking that propagates the SEO of Now horseshit. People talking to just talk and make a headline for themselves.

SEO Pixie Dust is the SEO of Now

SEO Pixie Dust is the SEO of Now

Why I Welcome the SEO of Now

It may sound strange, but I keep praying for the SEO of Now folks to keep pumping out their garbage. The truth of the matter is short-cuts and fluff are going to get you burned. And, yes, it’s going to burn those of not involved too, but the strong survive.

It’ll be those proclaiming expert, professional knowledge, and producing nothing but junk, that die off first. You can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.

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