SEO is Your Grandma’s Technology

Imagine you’re still trying to get VHS tapes, blissfully unaware that the DVD revolution has come and gone. SEO is like that. Even among digital companies, “I need SEO” is almost an unquestioned assumption when they’re not up to date on digital marketing. SEO (search engine optimization) is your grandma’s technology. If only it *were* about entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with pulling out that old turntable and putting on the Lennon Sisters. Unfortunately, for most companies, SEO is more like using medical appliances from the middle ages. Please pass the cranial drill.

Here are 5 questions you need to be asking yourself, if you have big plans to “SEO” your web presence.

What’s Your Strategy?

Is SEO even the right tool for your campaign? For instance, is it a short term campaign, like on Kickstarter? Google doesn’t tend to rank short term campaigns highly. Most SEO campaigns actually fail because a) there are only so many spots, while competition is fierce. It’s musical chairs with a push and shove roughness. And b) SEO isn’t a panacea for marketing – campaigns left to SEO experts and not governed by effective digital strategy are likely to alienate the audience you’re trying to lure by manipulating search engines.

How Do You Plan to Measure Your ROI?

Spending on SEO doesn’t guarantee return on investment. Even if you’re on page one for some search term, it doesn’t mean you get clicks, or that clicks result in conversions. And if your clicks don’t result in conversions, that actually results in a penalty, not a reward. Getting on page 1 becomes very temporary, if you blow it, and good luck getting back there after that! Hits don’t count. Likes don’t count. Anyone who tells you otherwise, is selling SEO services. The reason they don’t count is they’re momentary. What counts is an increased organic following, an increase in organic mentions and shares, and an increase in the discussion you have with your audience. Those things result in referrals.

Can You Sustain It?

Search engine value drops the minute you stop paying your SEO company, just like ads. But there’s a catch – if you stop paying your ad company, no harm done. With most SEO techniques, if you boost them up, then drop them, there’s a serious search engine backlash. You just bought yourself a black hole. So you’d better have the dollars to do it for the entire length of time you want to promote your domain. Furthermore, real SEO costs thousands, not hundreds. So make sure it’ll pay for itself in returns. In other words, is the money you put in recoverable in the value you can receive. Or is it just trying to hit the first page for some search and hope? Hope is worth exactly what it was before you took out your wallet.

How Fast Do You Need to Hit?

SEO is not instantanymore, and hasn’t been for ages. Ads are instant, but often have only modest conversion potential, if they’re not highly strategic. Socially prolific and engaging content is moderately fast, with a higher conversion potential, but it’s far from instant. Was marketing an afterthought for you? You’ve already launched, or are a few weeks out? Your likelihood of gaming search engines at all, let alone right away, is low. More importantly, search engine penalties are often triggered by attempts to promote oneself quickly, yet this is precisely why some people turn to SEO. If you overload them, to get where you want fast, you’re likely to get blacklisted. There’s no such thing as “pouring on the SEO” in this day and age; it’s search engine suicide. If speed was your agenda, SEO isn’t your ally.

What’s the Penalty?

Are you aware of the changes in Google Algorithms 2013-2014? Nearly everything that worked 2 years ago gets penalized today, because Google is at war with those who are gaming the system. Most SEO companies aren’t even doing SEO anymore, because they know they can’t win. A lot of SEO companies are now actually doing content marketing, just poorly, because it’s written from a technical mentality rather than an engagement mentality – one that evokes a human response. Maybe it shows up reasonably well in Google’s index, but so what? You could have done that yourself and probably with better results, because the content would be a genuine attempt to connect with your audience. It doesn’t mean you’ll reach actual humans. At a minimum, vet potential marketing partners for their focus on both content and human, social connection. If they talk about your audience like they’re cattle that can be ‘driven’ to your web site, or as impersonal concepts like ‘traffic’, they’re out of date – their strategy has passed its expiration.

Put Your Wallet Away!

A lot of this boils down to “Do you even know what SEO is?” Keyword optimization is dead. If you didn’t know that, and you’re buying SEO services, put your wallet back in your pants until you know what you’re doing. The chances are pretty strong that you’re buying a VHS tape of the Lennon Sisters.  Here’s a better way to approach your marketing. Ask yourself 3 questions:

Here’s a better way to approach your marketing. Ask yourself 3 questions:

  1. Who is my audience, really, and what problems are they trying to solve, really? Can you get in their heads, get past what you want them to care about, and get at what they really do care about?do care about? If not, you’ve got work to do, and shouldn’t be spending anything on marketing unless it’s on solving that disconnect. The level of connection you have with your audience determines the potential effectiveness of ANY marketing campaign, technical, social, or otherwise.
  2. What things do I have to talk about with them, consistently, pretty much every time I encounter them, even if I couldn’t sell them anything? If you’re drawing a blank, there’s work to do. That’s like the person who just wants to be your friend in order to sign you up for their current pyramid product scheme. Those green powder health supplements you mix in your drink. That makeup line they sell from a catalog. That ‘business’ opportunity. If that’s the whole conversation: “buy my stuff, buy my stuff…” then it wouldn’t matter how “good” your SEO was. You’d still not get enough business for it to matter.
  3. Where does SEO fit into my overall marketing plan? If it’s a substitute for your marketing plan, a stand-in for your strategy, or it *is* your strategy, you’re not getting it off the ground. The only SEO left involves references to fresh, frequent, sustained output of content. But not generic content – human content – content that involves an interaction in principle with a real audience with whom you’re fundamentally connected in a way we can sense – without you having to tell us. Before you throw money at technical panaceas, invest in some authentic strategy.

One more word about SEO and grandmothers. Einstein said, “you don’t really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” Consider that: if you’re using a technical solution to a human problem, you might as well be pissing on your grandmother’s fresh-baked apple pie. That stale, crumbly stuff in the cellophane is cringing in shame as you eat it!

For a digital strategy that’s fresher than stale SEO, contact MadPipe, and make your grandmother proud.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership in marketing, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.
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