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Is SEO Still A Worthwhile Investment?
In an industry as fast-moving as SEO, a bit of introspection is never a bad thing. Those who keep up with SEO blogs could argue that we introspect among ourselves too much, but that’s another story for another time.
What I wanted to reflect on in this post isn’t any of my personal doubts relating to Google’s latest algorithm tweaking or what Matt Cutts’ breakfast choices could mean for the future of SEO but rather on whether SEO still represents a wise investment for businesses.
Now, I already know that the answer is ‘yes’ (and why would I say any differently, considering SEO keeps a roof over my head, my belly full and my brain entertained) but let’s take a step back and look at the ‘world of SEO’ from the perspective of someone who isn’t involved in it on a day-to-day basis.
SEO: A Hypothetical Outsider’s View
SEO has a bad reputation. We all know that. Some SEO agencies, whether intentionally as a scam or unintentionally through blissful ignorance, are willing to do just about anything for a quick buck, including performing a literal interpretation of the Google Dance.
Some will offer to build you one billion links in a month (which usually means, unless they’ve got incredible contacts, a billion spam links) while the more unscrupulous will take a slightly different approach. One example I’ve heard (and I’ve heard many) is an agency posing as Google and offering the unique opportunity to occupy a recently-vacated space on the front page of the SERPs – in exchange for a hefty fee.
Beyond the spammers and scammers, SEO appears to be extremely unstable; it’s been declared dead more times than Nikki Sixx, rock and The Undertaker combined. While we know that it isn’t actually dead and most ‘SEO is dead’ articles are actually a) linkbait or b) badly misinformed, that number of death declarations can’t look good to someone not acquainted with the intricacies of SEO.
Google’s willingness to tinker with algorithms at the expense of businesses also seems to paint the process of SEO as being akin building a beautiful mansion on the edge of a rapidly eroding cliff. Panda and Penguin, as tiresome as they are to talk about, affected a lot of businesses and, in some cases, years of SEO work was undone in a flash. Coverage of the updates wasn’t just limited to bickering between SEO blogs either; both Penguin and Panda received coverage in publications as widely-read as The Guardian and The New York Times.
The constant speculation on SEO blogs (including this one) can also serve to offer up a picture of instability and uncertainty. Did Matt Cutts really say that press releases offer no ranking value? Will creating an infographic be beneficial or not? Are guest posts the new article marketing? To an outsider, it probably seems as though the industry has no idea whatsoever what Google’s next move is – or indeed what their current move is – instead choosing to jump on whatever nugget of evidence it can derive some sort of speculative information on a particular ranking factor or penalty from.
So Why Is SEO Still Worth It?
Yet despite all this, I’d still consider SEO a vital investment for any business with a digital presence – and not just because I get paid to say that. What definitely isn’t worth it is investing in ‘the old SEO’, where quick wins are guaranteed via thousands of links and directory submissions but results – and your money – are lost just as quickly.
SEO, for the most part, has come to mean something entirely different in the post-Penguin and Panda world. Whereas SEO was once all about shooting up the Google rankings as quickly as possible via technical on-page factors and link building, SEO in 2013 is a long process encompassing much more than link building. Technical SEO, it should be noted, is as important as ever and a site that isn’t up to scratch technically isn’t worth trying to optimise off-site.
SEO today is as much about adding value to and increasing engagement with a brand (and, of course, a site) as it is about getting a site ranking for particular keywords. The crux of many current SEO strategies is content marketing, the process of creating content that audiences will find valuable and thus share with other people, creating a viral effect, building brand awareness and, yes, getting you a metric ton of sweet, sweet links.
Some would argue that rankings aren’t even the most important factor in SEO anymore, with increased traffic, conversions and brand awareness the ultimate signs of success. Nevertheless, there is still great value to be placed on rankings but where you rank on Google for certain keywords shouldn’t necessarily be the be-all and end-all when determining the success of a campaign.
So what should you look for in an SEO proposal? I’d argue that a combination between technical SEO, content marketing & social media and high-quality link and brand awareness building – an all-around online marketing package rather than one weighted towards a single discipline – is the way to go.
In conclusion, for all the Pandas, Penguins and ‘SEO is dead’ articles, I’d say – and I hope our clients would agree – that SEO is still a worthwhile investment. It may be a confusing, occasionally misleading beast but it’s a beast that’s worth investing in.