SEOs With Their Heads in the Sand?

Over the last 3 months I’ve spoken at 9 conferences and done 5 live webinars.  And a trend has emerged, unfortunately.  This trend is split between companies and consultants, though from along the singular line of SEO work.

To illustrate, I’ll paraphrase a recent Twitter exchange.  No names, to protect the innocent, and if they read this, ferme la bouche… 😉

Tweeter: Duane, we have a lot of problems with scrapers.  If we write a message for them to stop in the meta keywords tags, will we get penalized?
Duane:  Huh…?  Wha…?  Por que?  I mean, WTH…?

Tweeter: We think we can get them to stop scraping if we post a message there to them.
Duane: Well, it’s unlikely you’ll get penalized, but if the message is way off topic, the algo might look at you funny, wondering why you’re tag is so oddball.  I wouldn’t do this.

Tweeter: Understood, though we’d like to try this.
Duane: Why the heck would you waste your time with this?  It’s not going to stop the scraping, and “could” lead to other issues.  There are other ways to actually block scrapers.

Tweeter: We agree, but this client is thinking they want to try this…
Duane: Tell them not to.

I know some readers will laugh at this, some will think it’s a clever move, but in my mind, what struck me and stayed with me all week was this thought.

What are businesses thinking that they see this sort of thing as worth investing time in?  And what are consultants thinking in entertaining stuff like this? (In fairness, I have no idea where that actual issue stands now, or how emotionally invested each party really was in the scenario – clearly the consultant thought it iffy at best; at least that was my impression.)

But, when I look back at all the people I’ve talked to over the last three months, from airplanes, to cab rides, from airport concourses to hotel lobbies, from halal carts to restaurants, I keep coming back to this trend.  And it’s a trend we’ve all been guilty of following.

Burying our heads in the SEO sand. (Not to be confused with a “sandbox”, which may or may not exist… SEE!  There I go perpetuating the trend…!  It doesn’t exist… or does it…?!) 😉

What I’m really getting at is the inability for many SEOs to expand their scope to include the other important aspects of work needed for a site to be successful.  I still meet SEOs on every trip who think usability is someone else’s job.  Or that all site design should go through SEO for approval.  Or that social is simply the integration of “little buttons on the page”.  Or that once they get visitors to a site, their work is complete.  Nothing frustrates me more than people tossing the ball over the wall.

Guess they all missed the memo about today’s “SEO” being a highly complex blend of tactics and methodologies.  In fact, I think we’re damn near at the point where we need to stop wrapping all this work under the umbrella of SEO (I realize that horse is at least comatose, if not entirely dead today…).  That’s just the technical work you do on pages and systems.  What the real focus needs to be on is the all up digital marketing plan.  How each component supports the other and how to use each to best effect.

“Sure, you say, but my clients don’t get all that “big think” talk.  They just want SEO.”  I’d suggest that your role, whether you’re an inhouse SEO or a consultancy is to educate the client.  No client (well, very few, at least), would blindly push to spend their own money in a direction that gives them less of a return.  SEO can help, yes, but layer on social engagement, usability and targeted content creation and you’ll build a legacy site – one capable of being a leader for years into the future.  Understandably, this approach is more complex, but set yourselves on the right path now, and take advantage of each step along the way.

One of the single most critical efforts anyone in SEO can do is to help their business or client understand what is worth investing in, and what isn’t worth investing in.  This means you need to know far more than just SEO to offer guidance.  A person who only knows SEO and excludes other tactics is like a ship that can only turn left.  Best case, you move in circles.  Worst case, you can’t avoid the rocks.  Neither case is even remotely close to ideal.  Better to learn more, be able to offer better guidance and craft an environment where people understand all this work is inter-related and influences user behavior, which impacts engagement, perception and revenue.

Or, keep your head in the sand.  Must be nice and cozy under there, with no changes to worry about.  Will you be prepared for what changes next, when you finally come up for a look around?

Duane Forrester
Sr. Product Manager
Bing Webmaster Tools

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