If you write content that lives online, or you’ve ever seen the back end of a WordPress site, you probably have a basic understanding of SEO. But SEO is a discipline that’s changing fast. My understanding of how content and SEO work together has definitely evolved over the past 10 years, and I’m always eager to hear about how other marketers see modern SEO.
For answers to my SEO questions, I turned to Doug Haslam, a marketer who has had a varied and interesting career — in public radio, PR, social media and content creation — and his work has taken him into the land of SEO. He’s been working with clients through the SEO firm Stone Temple Consulting for the past few years.
How would you describe ‘modern SEO’?
For my own sanity (and in our work), I have compartmentalized SEO into two buckets:
- Technical SEO is still important. I see this as helping Google find and navigate your site easily. Technical SEO keeps you from confusing Google.
- “Content marketing"-based SEO is more public-facing, and why a PR/social media professional like me would enter the SEO side of the profession. This is centered on not fooling Google. It’s about creating content relevant to the topics you want to be known and rank for, and placing it on your own site and other sites to emphasize your authority in those areas. This must be done ethically (not buying links or spamming content onto low-quality sites, for example), for to fool Google is to make Google angry and face penalties that will cost you in organic search results and traffic.
So, to recap, the two tenets of SEO are don’t confuse Google and don’t try to fool Google.
What are people's biggest misconceptions about SEO?
I think the biggest misconception is that SEO results are instantaneous. The truth is that good work may take months to show real results, and even bad or unethical (“black hat SEO”) work may take months to get penalized. I have seen an on-page content tweak show results in a day, but that’s not something you can count on. The biggest need for any search marketer is patience.
What are the trends you’re watching in SEO?
We have an eye toward digital assistants (like Amazon’s Echo) and how they might affect search and how people use search results when they are using voice assistants.
What are the biggest marketing challenges your clients are facing?
As ever, different clients face different challenges. The most common is in finding and interpreting analytics. There is so much to measure, but pulling out the most meaningful metrics that track to business goals — without bending them to make a campaign or program appear to perform better than it really is — is probably the most challenging. There is a core group of metrics in the SEO corner of marketing (starting with organic traffic, rankings, et al.), but knowing how they affect goals further up the sales chain is a key too often missing.
What are some B2B brands you admire? Are there any marketers whose work you keep an eye on for inspiration?
That’s a tough question, not because I don’t admire brands or marketers, but because I tend to be loath to single out companies or practitioners for praise above others. Over the years the brand that most often sticks out with an approach to marketing that is thoughtful, innovative and pragmatic is Cisco Systems (disclosure: I have worked with Cisco from the outside at various times in my career). Cisco was early in relying on video content — perhaps before most people could reliably consume it; it also has had the self-awareness to recognize earlier than other big companies the problems of a too-distributed social media landscape (that is, too many accounts, many unregulated and unorganized). I know that’s not an SEO example, but that speaks to the need to think of communications as bigger than one of its subcategories.
I tend not to engage in hagiography in the industry, so I always keep a wary distance from recommending follows. I will say that, in my current capacity, it is not simply kissing up to mention that the founder of Stone Temple, Eric Enge, is a principal author of “The Art of SEO” and is someone from whom my colleagues and I have been learning lots in the two years I have been there. Outside of the influence of my paycheck, I have long been a reader of Danny Sullivan, dating back a good 15 years, well before I knew I would be engaging in SEO in such a meaningful way.
What advice would you give to young marketers just starting out? What lessons do you wish you'd learned earlier in your career?
My advice is to learn as much about every different facet as you can: PR, advertising, social media, marketing, SEO and more. There’s always time to specialize and become an expert in one facet or another, but broader knowledge helps you remain aware of how what you are doing fits into the rest. It’s easy to get in one track and stay with it, and perhaps at times I did that for too long, but any opportunities to broaden out? Take them. The other is to learn how to write and keep at it — through your work, blogging, a hobby or anything. Just write, and keep at it.
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