Many people who are involved in SEO do the things that we have been doing for years in SEO: keyword research, optimising content with keywords, building internal links and external links, tracking rankings and so on. The question is how tenable is this SEO strategy? Can you continue in this way for years or is it time to reconsider SEO and the strategy you pursue?
The most common SEO strategy
Most people who are engaged in SEO want to rank as high as possible for that one keyword or that small group of interesting keywords. In my opinion, you can hardly call this a strategy. It is actually more of a goal and I think we should ask ourselves why we want that so badly. Presumably people think that you get the most out of SEO if you are in first place. A big misconception it seems to me. Yes, you are at the highest possible position for that one term but that is all there is to it as far as I am concerned. I always call this strategy vertical SEO or traditional SEO. The tactical interpretation is usually: keyword research, one page optimisations and attracting external links. The corresponding KPI is rankings.
Why the current SEO strategy is not sustainable
I have written a lot about it before, but never before have I written a blog that was really purely about the different SEO strategies. Therefore, a small summary of why I think the current way of SEO will not last much longer. As far as I am concerned, the current way we do SEO is surrounded by misconceptions. We all do keyword research to know what people are looking for. But what good are keywords really? They don’t tell you anything about what your customer is looking for. The second problem is that everyone consults the same tools and so everyone focuses on the one keyword with the highest search volume. That promises to be a busy affair. A third problem is that this competition ensures that in most markets SEO is simply no longer accessible to everyone. As a smaller player, you just can’t compete with the top terms. Somehow, we accept that in ‘real markets’ there are barriers to entry, but for SEO this does not seem to be the case. A fourth problem is that everyone focuses on links in order to rank higher. The result is that we are all on the hunt for the best links (because that is often what makes the difference) and thus it has become a budgetary issue: who buys the best links? But is visibility really for sale through links? Or is Google working hard to become smarter? What if Google gets better at using AI and machine learning to find out what people are looking for and what makes them happy? And what if it’s no longer about keywords, but the information needs of your customer that are much more complex than just some keywords?
Is another SEO strategy possible?
Yes, as far as I am concerned, there is another SEO strategy worth reconsidering. It is not about ranking as high as possible, but as widely as possible. It is about as many searches as possible within the entire customer journey. For SEO that is think and do. In the see phase, people are not yet proactively looking for something, but you have to trigger them. SEO does not play a role in this phase. SEO only comes into play in the think phase; people have a problem and start to investigate. In the care phase SEO also plays a small role: people need to be triggered again and are therefore in a more or less reactive state of being.
However, most people who do SEO now only focus on the do-phase: keyword bound SEO. You may be number one on that one term, but you are missing a huge chunk of the market. If you go for a SEO strategy that allows you to rank more broadly, you will also focus on traffic in the think phase. The disadvantage: it often takes longer for this traffic to convert. The advantage: the market is open for these types of searches because everyone is busy with keywords and rankings. This means that you can often achieve much faster results if you are prepared to pursue a different strategy. I call this strategy Horizontal SEO.
Do you have to do anything (at all) with SEO?
Before you start wondering whether you should do something to your SEO strategy, it seems useful to me to first consider whether SEO is really an interesting channel for you. Because that a channel exists, does not mean that you really need to do something with it. If you offer a service where people simply do not go online looking for information, then SEO is by definition not the channel for you. Imagine that you are in the security of events. The question is then whether people in the organisation will use Google to look for a security guard or whether they know someone within their own network. I suspect the latter. Should you then want to rank high on ‘festival security’? That doesn’t seem worth the investment to me.
Another thing: if you are a small entrepreneur with a clothes shop in a medium-sized town, do you need to do anything with SEO or can you perhaps acquire new customers more easily via Pinterest and other social channels? I suspect the latter.
Another one: you are a brand name and would like to get started with SEO. The first question is: what do you expect from SEO? Do you sell trainers and want to be number one on ‘trainers’ with your brand? I think you can forget that. Google will always show a webshop where people can compare and not that one brand. If you work for a brand, by definition you are playing a completely different game. A last example: suppose you sell window screens and you want to attract customers through Google, is SEO still the appropriate channel for this? How much should you invest as a newcomer to become visible on this search term? Probably the costs do not outweigh the benefits and quite frankly: how much more search volume is there outside the term ‘window screener’? So my point is: don’t do something with SEO just because the channel exists. Do something with it only if you actually benefit from it.