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Why the Future of SEO Is Bigger than SEO: Integrating SEO into the Whole

by Virginia Nussey, October 23, 2013

Audience: Digital Marketers

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes


  • The absence of keyword data is not the end of SEO.
  • The new SEO must strategize holistically across former silos. 
  • Strive to build relationships with visitors and make your website a destination they go to directly, sans search.

After attending SMX East, Bend WebCAM and Pubcon Las Vegas all in the month of October, I’ve detected an overarching theme emerging which ties together all the tactics and big picture points-of-view:

smx ny.jpgStrategizing in buckets is out.

It’s time to break down the walls in our thinking and in our marketing services. As SEOs, we’d better pay attention to the changing times and adapt. Here’s why ...

First, (not provided) is not the end of SEO. Not knowing exactly what queries Google searchers are using to get to our websites doesn't hinder progress toward the SEO objectives of driving targeted search traffic and optimizing for conversions. And to be even more provocative, I'll venture that it's a good thing for the SEO industry ━ a reality check to force us to see the forest and get us out of the weeds. We believe the effect of (not provided) is a return to core tenants of SEO strategy, rooted in carefully designed architecture and data-driven content development.

Bruce put it succinctly as I spoke to him the other day: "Businesses aren't looking to us to optimize rankings. They need us to optimize for revenue." Yes, start SEO with keywords, build pages to rank, target the appropriate persona, draw qualified traffic and optimize the conversion funnel. Losing keyword referrer data from one organic source in one reporting platform doesn't negate this process.

Organizations are restructuring. I had a great conversation with a couple of experienced search marketing specialists employed by an agency in Baltimore. Talking to them I learned that the agency was moving away from a siloed approach to client services. While this pair were tasked with overseeing and driving project needs for search (both paid and organic because, again here, their agency had knocked down dividing walls), they also were trusted by clients to point out complementary platforms and tactics. Part of their role was managing budget, so if they saw that they didn't need to allocate all budget spend to paid search, for example, they would direct some of the budget to their colleagues specializing in display. While individuals may specialize in a marketing channel, organizations must not, and every marketer should have a rich understanding of the dependencies and complements of media platforms as they relate to their target audience.

At Pubcon I had a chance to speak to Mark Daoust of Quiet Light Brokerage, a professional website broker. Mark gave a presentation to the webmaster audience about valuing a website for a sale and his company's approach to increasing a website's value during the session “Buying and Selling Websites.” I left with a reminder that a website's rankings aren't the only measure of its value. The SEO success of a site is one item on the checklist when Mark calculates a website's value. If it's the only item checked off, that site's value is highly vulnerable to algorithm fluctuations. Takeaway: Look to increase the fault tolerance of your online presence by diversifying investments and strengths. Again, look to develop a holistic marketing strategy.

Search behavior is changing, and search technology along with it. Marketing strategy must adapt. Google Glass, Hummingbird and the Knowledge Graph are all tied to a new and evolving relationship between user and technology. In this next progression, search is a natural extension of how we relate with the world — a sixth sense we call upon in our exploration and interactions. From mobile devices in our palms, and soon from wearable connectivity devices like Google Glass, we find, buy, schedule, learn, talk, note and photograph people, places, businesses, events, goods and services.

Beyond its ready accessibility, search technology is moving toward a more natural query model. We can speak our searches in normal, conversational language, a trend that emerged with Siri and Google Voice. Conversational search results delivered for voice-activated searches can account for pronouns in a series of searches. For example, ask who the president of the US is and then follow it by asking "How old is he?" and you'll get "52 years."

Google's latest Hummingbird update and the "entity search revolution" (see the liveblog post below) support natural language semantics through a complex understanding of deeper connections. A tree is no longer the four letters T-R-E-E strung together; a tree is a concept that holds the collective understanding of how it is perceived and remembered. It bears fruits and nuts, it collects love-struck initials and cradles clinging children.

Entity search, voice search, wearable devices — these new technologies require SEO to move past keywords and on- and off-page optimization. Shift away from thinking about drawing visitors to your site through search, because for the easy info, Google will have you beat with direct answers. Develop your site into a destination all its own. The new SEO must span the silos of content, community management, advertising and public relations.

At the keynote conversation with Richard Alfonsi, Twitter VP of global online sales, I gained more perspective about how people are connecting online today. A critical trend to note: people are plugged into multiple screens at once. For instance, Twitter is the most popular social media network users turn to when interacting with TV. Alfonsi said that 90% of TV experiences have concurrent Twitter conversations.

The future is connected. But what does that mean? Through Alfonsi's stories I appreciated the special role of Twitter to tie into the real-time discussion that reflects the popular voice and opinion on current events. It can give voice to and enable the mobilization of previously voiceless groups, as witnessed during Arab Spring. There's a new marketing model where blackouts during televised sporting events are a slam dunk opportunity for nimble brands. The big wins happen when businesses build relationships that drive customers back to the site, sidestepping search after the initial find has passed. Deep relationships are defined by loyalties that are channel agnostic, leaving search-myopic marketers behind.

Search efforts today must ultimately be tied to goals on other channels. You want users to opt in to an ongoing communication, whether through Twitter, Facebook, email to blog subscribers or online forums, so that they select your site from their bookmarks.

My understanding of an integrated technology future was formed after attending SMX East and Pubcon Las Vegas and hearing sharp marketing professionals share the view of the horizon from where they sat. If you want to read about what the presenters covered in conference sessions, enjoy the liveblog posts as reported by Chelsea Adams and me, listed below.

Search Strategy

Search Tactics Social Future Technology