What is the difference between doing “SEO” and doing “marketing”?
- Website speed
- Quality content that is designed for human beings
- Domain-level metrics and brand-building
Here, I wanted to elaborate on two other major points of Fishkin’s and explain how — in my opinion — the story is a little different. First, here’s the whole presentation:
The Move Towards Topic Association
In slides 11 to 18 and 34 to 46, Fishkin correctly argues in the webinar that digital marketers will need to focus more on topics and less on individual keywords following Google’s advancements into semantic understanding.
Sergio Redondo summarizes the issue at Search Engine Journal:
Search engines understood identifying keywords alone was not enough, instead, they needed to understand how the data was related, both with within the same site and through out the web. This is where the most important change within the search landscape occurs: a progression from the ubiquitous keywords to the increasingly important entities. Words become concepts and search engines evolve into genuine learning machines.
Here is some more theory:
- Semantic SEO Talk With the Experts (Patrick Hathaway at HitReach)
- 5 Questions About Semantic SEO (Matthew Brown at Moz)
- What SEOs Need to Know About Topic Modeling & Semantic Connectivity (Fishkin at Moz)
Now, what does this mean as far as practicality? Here’s a basic example. A single “entity” is called sneakers, tennis shoes, gym shoes, trainers, running shoes, or other terms by people in different parts of the English-speaking world. In the old “SEO” days, a single website would probably have created different pages that would each target and aim to rank for a single term such as “buy sneakers,” “buy tennis shoes,” and the others.
Today, however, Google’s semantic understanding knows — or likely will know in the future — that all of those terms refer to a single “entity.” As a result, the search engine will tend to return the same, single set of results whenever someone searches for any of those terms. And those sites with the largest brands — in addition to other factors such as localization — will rank highly regardless of which specific keywords they use because Google knows the underlying user intent.
This should not be as such a big deal as many people think — as long as they have been doing good marketing from the beginning.
Tom Schmitz writes the following at Search Engine Land:
…the new way to optimize web pages is to include all related keywords and variations on one page.
Prior to this development, SEO teams typically created a different page for every keyword. Google is forcing us to put lots of eggs in one basket. If you get it right, you can rank for lots of keywords, key phrases or variations. Get it wrong, though, and you sink.
With all due respect, here was my thought after reading this paragraph: This is news?
In a comment on Schmitz’s article, I wrote:
You mean that, post-Hummingbird, we should use synonyms and related phrases instead of just repeating the exact same words over and over again in every reference? That’s just good writing — and it shouldn’t be news that good writing is always the best practice.
If you do good writing and marketing — the semantic SEO will (usually) take care of itself.
Fishkin also correctly argues in the webinar that the best way to “earn links” — rather than build them artificially, which Google does not like — is to build relationships via social media, blog commenting, and e-mail. As I argued in two Moz essays of mine here and here, these practices are just doing public relations and publicity by other names.
As digital marketers continue to move into an era when good, old-fashioned marketing is more important than traditional SEO, they need to learn the best-practices that existed since long before the Internet. SEOs have a habit of “discovering” some tactic that traditional marketers have always used and then renaming it as they try to understand how that tactic had been used successfully for decades. Here are just three examples:
- “Guest posts” are just by-lined articles
- “Blogger outreach” is just doing media relations
- “Content plus outreach” is just doing publicity
If SEOs want to be truly successful, they need to research those latter three topics rather than pretend that they are doing something new.
Fishkin also observes in the webinar that “brand mentions near keywords may have link-like effects.” In addition to in my Moz webinar, I also addressed this in an SMX Milan presentation (slide 13):
The idea is based on the principle of “co-occurence” (sometimes incorrectly called “co-citation”): If mentions and links to your website tend to occur on pages and websites that focus on a certain theme, then our site will tend to rank more highly for terms that relate to that theme. If you use a good messaging and positioning strategy and target the right outlets, then the co-occurence will occur naturally.
SEO is Not Getting Harder
In one of the final slides, Fishkin argues that “SEO is getting harder.” With all due respect, I would say that the statement is not entirely accurate.
It’s not that “SEO” is getting harder. It’s that “SEOs” are being pulled — kicking and screaming, a lot of the time — into a world in which the traditional practices of marketing and communcations have again become just as important as they always had been before search engines had existed. In general, the decade of 2000 to 2010 was an aberration and a deviation from the norm — it was when SEOs could get away with tactics from a “bag of tricks” to manipulate Google.
Yes, on-page and technical SEO will always be important. But as Google becomes smarter, everything else is again coming down to doing good marketing, communications, and public relations. “SEO results” are increasingly just by-products of quality marketing and PR.
So, what is the difference between doing “SEO” and doing “marketing”? My response:
— Samuel Scott (@samueljscott) December 24, 2014