February 16, 2012
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You've heard of it. Marketing people seem to bandy the term about, but what is it really? SEO is search engine optimization, or how search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! see your website. There is a lot of information, and misinformation, about SEO out there. But let's strip it down to the basics.

At the highest level, there are generally two types of SEO: White Hat and Black Hat. Black hat are the types of tactics that will get Google to send you down the page rank--Google even punishes itself. Now under the white hat category, there exist many best practices for SEO. Others have already done a fantastic job detailing this information (here and here), so I am going to discuss what SEO is and isn't in terms of marketing.SEO should be a byproduct of good marketing techniques, not a dirty marketing trick.

Search engines are important to your business. Google is the Yellow Pages of the 21st century. People find businesses through search engines, so being relevant to keyword searches is important. So, companies should invest a lot of time and energy into SEO, right? Eh, maybe not. At least not directly.

Above is a useful video about SEO. In it, you see that in addition to the technical best practices, the important aspects of SEO include accurate descriptions of the pages, fresh content, and credible references. Not surprisingly, these are all things that are part of a good marketing strategy. The fact is, if you understand good marketing and can apply traditional marketing tactics effectively, there is no reason that you can't be successful in the digital world.

This is where I come in on the topic. I am sure there are plenty of people who will disagree with me, and I don't pretend to be an authority on the topic, but in my mind, SEO is more of a byproduct of good marketing practices rather than a tactic unto itself. Now let's unpack that statement.

When I say SEO is, or should be viewed as, a byproduct of good marketing, I understand that there do exist some best practice techniques that help improve SEO. Link building, smart design of a website, staying away from frames or excessive use of Flash, etc. I get all this, but here is the thing. With the exception of link building, most of the technical aspects of SEO simply help to get your site crawled. Rather, they ensure that Google and Bing can see your content and put you into the page ranks. They alone don't improve your SEO in relation to your competition--unless all your competition break all these technical conventions.

Even link building, which is something that will increase page ranks, is rooted in the idea of developing solid, fresh content that is relevant and speaks to your audience, i.e., solid marketing content. The more you review the suggestions for SEO tips, the more you realize it is putting traditional marketing techniques to use in the digital world.

Is finding guest blogging appearances any different than writing bylined articles for trade publications? Is sending out links through social media that different from a direct mail campaign? The fact is, if you market yourself well, reach your audience, develop solid information targeted at the right audience, your SEO will increase.

Now, this perspective on SEO is important for another reason. Search engines change their formulas all the time. With Google's recent foray into social media, search is becoming more personalized to the individual, their networks, and their location. Basically, Google can pull the rug out from underneath you and destroy your best laid SEO plans. However, if your SEO strategy is based the concept of good marketing practices, you minimize the risk of search engines sweeping you aside. More importantly, your success is less dependent on a third-party algorithm and more on your personal marketing efforts. And doesn't it feel better to control your own destiny?

The bottom line is this. Search engines are important. But developing websites for search engines is not. More importantly, relying on search engines to develop leads your success in the hands of someone else. If you focus on developing a site for your audience, it will find its way up the page ranks. Execute a good marketing strategy, both online and offline, and your SEO will follow.


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Jeff Francis is a marketing geek who would never refer to himself as a guru. He is that weird sort who enjoys watching commercials and analyzing communication strategies. He is also available for hire and would love to hear from you. So, head on over to the contact page and get in touch.

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