I tend to relate a lot of what I write about marketing on this blog to my own personal experience. One topic I’ve wanted to talk more about is SEO and connecting that to me as a marketer. As marketers we know that SEO is important—as marketing is heading the way of getting highly targeted and personalized, search marketing is very important to influence content, marketing programs, analyst relations, public relations and much more. It’s no surprise that growing SEO is a top priority for marketing this year.
I’m definitely not an SEO expert so I did the next best thing I could think of—I hit up my friend who lives and breathes SEO. Meet Doug Haslam. Doug tweets, blogs over at doughaslam.com, raises money for the Pan Mass Challenge to fight cancer and is a Senior Marketing Consultant at Stone Temple Consulting. He’s going to spend a bit of this post talking about his perspective and how SEO relates to marketing.
Doug, take it away…
Thank you, Susan.
The different stations of my career—broadcasting, public relations, social media, marketing and now SEO—have had a singular thread running through them; that thread is storytelling. I’m not one of those people who puts “Storyteller” in their LinkedIn profile, because that makes me sound like someone trying to make a living running story time for kids at the local library (honestly, that sounds like a fun job). However, those of us in the professions I have touched are all, when you cut things down to the base, about trying to convey a message to an audience and get them to react.
How does SEO fit into this? Fifteen years ago, I added some SEO skills to my marketing position to help with my website responsibilities. It was all new to me then, and quite technical. At the time I learned that SEO was very much about coding your site (with tags, metadata etc.) with the appropriate keywords to make sure Google knew what your page was about and could categorize and rank accordingly. That’s an oversimplification, but I didn’t have the need to go deeper at the time.
Fast forward to the mid-2000s, as public relations was fully immersed in the digital age and social media was starting to assert itself in our work (not to mention how immersed it was in our personal life); as PR professionals, we began to learn that SEO had some bearing on PR. We knew that content on the page was more important than we previously believed. This usually took the form of shaping the content we could control—press releases and other external materials that might be posted online. We learned to make sure that our releases and marketing materials were clear rather than clever, focused on keywords rather than buzzwords. We generally had less responsibility for websites outside of these new things called blogs, so again, that was the extent of it, though the lesson here was we were learning that Google was getting smart about content on the page rather than simply behind it. Another thing we were aware of, but dealt very little in, was the value of links. PR did, and continues in this vein, to undervalue the followed link in terms of a company’s SEO.
At this point, less than 10 years ago, we have a public relations industry that is fully aware of SEO, but does not see the mandate to fold it into its skillset. It is still the province of those who hold the keys to websites—and while other marketers pursue paid search tactics, PR still goes its own way. If we get a link from coverage, the emphasized point is to refer people to a corporate web site, not to alert Google to that site’s relevance.
Fast forward again to just a couple of years ago. I find myself at an agency, Stone Temple Consulting, that is steeped in the world of technical SEO. There was a lot to learn, but why, you might ask, would a PR/social media professional take a position in an SEO firm? The answer is in what some of us call content marketing. SEO, I have learned, has become so sophisticated that the basis of good SEO, aside from a technically-sound website, is good content. PR and marketing folks understand good content; they understand relevance, context and newsworthiness. The best ones know how to strip hype from helpfulness, to serve audiences and be compelling. Google and other search engines now understand good content and reward it. Understanding a site’s relevance is beyond placing links elsewhere; it is based on a sophisticated reading of the meaning of content, why and how it is placed there—and yes, following a link back to the site (the “vote” that still carries much currency in search results). The skills in managing complex relationships between different types of content, some of which have a less direct effect on SEO (social media, for example), are also important.
SEO is not just about technical knowledge anymore, though that remains important. Corporate communications cannot ignore SEO, but can learn to become more effective in their own jobs by being cognizant of SEO needs—from something as little as asking for a followed link back in PR coverage to a larger cooperation with overall corporate web strategy to manage content with an eye on SEO as well as the direct customer journey.
The unification of all the facets of marketing and communications in companies is something I have favored for years. SEO is one part of it, and it is as important a tool as any to have in your professional toolbox.
Doug, thanks for being a guest and sharing your perspective on SEO. There is still so much for marketers to learn, but understanding how all the marketing pieces to the puzzle work together will only make you a better marketer.