Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, sounds pretty niche-specific, doesn’t it? If you’re a business administration person, it might sound as specialized as it is obscure. SEO is like “front-end user interface developer”: techy and incomprehensible at the same time.
If you’re a marketer, SEO might similarly be filed in the drawer marked “geek.”
Many developers, on the other hand, approach SEO much as a traditional doctor handles the mention of “chiropractor.” As in “Oh yes, theoretically there’s a place for that practice, but it is usually unnecessary, sometimes even unethical, and always a waste of money.”
How little do they know! SEO is fundamentally an inter-disciplinary, technological, marketing practice. If that statement doesn’t resonate with you, I’d encourage you to read on, and then make your own case in the comments below.
Let’s first start by laying to rest a notion that makes it impossible to understand the current state of SEO: SEO is not a specialty. Yes, you heard that right.
Let’s think about this. When most people use the term “SEO” they are discussing a desire. That desire is to get more visibility for their website (and obviously, their product or service) with their primary customers or prospects. If you are immersed in SEO, you already know what the implication of this is.
On the other hand, if you are NOT immersed in SEO, let me lay out the basic overview of the true specialties needed for an SEO project to succeed in a competitive market:
Technical SEO – Before you can succeed with SEO, your website must be technically “friendly” to Google and Bing, allowing their crawlers (aka bots, spiders, spider bots) to access the site and making sure they are not confused or mislead by it.
Programming and Development – A modern website faces an ever higher technical bar to compete at its best in search results. It must load fast, be responsive to mobile devices, operate in a secure environment and be designed to protect the security of its visitors in a horribly hacker-friendly world. It might also need to conform to Google’s AMP standard. All of these things are impossible to achieve without some web development chops.
Modern Keyword Research – In SEO we normally think first of “keyword research,” but that’s only a small part of the research needed. First, enlightened keyword research focuses on “searcher intent.” John Alexander, the founder of the Search Engine Academy, coined the term “Keyword Forensics” to describe this type of behavior research.
Other research – But research goes beyond keywords and searcher behavior. There is also the question of researching competitive landscapes and specific competitors, not to mention researching specific patterns that might make the way the search engines deal with this niche distinctive (for example, does Google tend to show videos for the searches in question? Local results? Featured snippets?).
Content creation – SEO needs to concern itself with more than just churning out a bunch of meaningless content to “fill space” on the page. The content needs to be written in such a way that it’s attractive to search engines (a function of SEO knowledge) and attractive to human beings (a function of good marketing copywriting).
Traditional design – People expect your page, your product, your brand to be visually pleasing, project a trustworthy image, and reflect a professional presence. Creating the “look” that serves this purpose is the function of graphic design, yet it’s important for SEO. Why? Because one of the key metrics of SEO success is not simply getting seen in search results rankings, not merely getting people to click on your link, but also in your ability to persuade those people to take action on your website.
User interface design – Here’s another area that has an impact on “SEO” but which isn’t really “SEO,” namely the process of making an interface that will encourage a user to interact with the site. Poor UI will lead to people hitting the back button and abandoning their website experience. This disengagement will end up harming SEO in several ways.
Pay per click advertising – Technically this is not usually grouped with SEO, but I would make the case that it should be. Google’s efforts at creating a need for paid search advertising have been quite successful, and most businesses are finding that paid search is necessary to reinforce traditional SEO. Additionally, many of the optimization techniques used for traditional “organic” SEO are needed in leveraging PPC advertising.
Videography – YouTube is the world’s second busiest search engine. Enough said.
And I’m sure there’s more – So, what have I overlooked? I consider this a starting point and I’d love to see your take on it.
My conclusion is that those of us who have spent years in SEO consulting and training must increasingly view our discipline as much broader than we traditionally view it. This raises increasing challenges, and makes the case for meeting by building a diverse team of practitioners that can support the increasingly heavy, increasingly unwieldy, umbrella that we call “Search Engine Optimization.”