SEO has gone through countless phases since search engines first came on the scene and gained widespread commercial use: from the early days of keyword-stuffing and webmasters' controlling the SERP via volume link-building to the more recent era of tools- and technology-driven approaches.
Ironically, in 2023, traditional marketing is more important than it has ever been in SEO. Everyone has access to tools, AI, and technology, and any intelligent human willing to put in the time and effort long enough to gain real-world experience can learn to execute SEO.
What really matters is revenue and ROI. That's what adds value to businesses. As long as SEO is fixated on limited KPIs (rankings and traffic) and relies on the same shared tools and similar processes, it will be a commodity and so it will have limited value.
Refocusing on business goals and the marketing side of SEO strategy is how we can deliver the results that really matter in today's world.
If we want SEO to truly deliver business results, it needs to be approached with a business-centric approach. Keyword rankings and traffic are important KPIs, but they should not be the ultimate measure of SEO success.
What actually matters most to the business?
SEO should increase revenue or address larger business needs: increasing MQLs, driving e-commerce purchases, or becoming a larger percentage of incoming opportunities to offset paid media costs.
Sometimes SEO can support a specific area of the business that is struggling, or one with bigger margins, or even address a need unrelated to SEO, such as aligning purchase behavior ahead of an upcoming sale or acquisition.
The potential value of SEO is much more than keywords and rankings. The future of SEO is focusing on on what is important to the business, then creating meaningful strategies to reach those goals using SEO.
Why Marketing Matters in SEO
Now that access to SEO tools and technology is at an all-time high, not nearly enough marketers are thinking critically and using SEO as a true marketing channel.
When we look at the evolution of Google and all of the algorithm updates and added AI components, it's clear that if we want to be aligned with where search is headed, we need to focus on the user in more meaningful ways.
Content is king and has been for a while; now, search intent has become an important consideration. That is SEO's tie-in with the buyer's journey: actual consideration of what people are trying to accomplish through the search process.
Unfortunately, many SEO practitioners are looking at intent as the next ranking factor instead of looking at where Google is headed.
Recently, Google rolled out its helpful content update, which aims to reduce visibility of content created for search engines rather than for actual people. Google is sending clear signals that SEO must move away from rankings and toward real solutions for real people.
And that's why marketing is the answer.
A marketing approach to SEO means looking at the customers first, understanding who they are and what they want to accomplish, then using SEO data to create a strategy to reach those people with the right content at the right time.
That is how we drive engagement; and, ultimately, it's the business activity that is tied to real success.
Technology and AI
SEO tech has exploded from a few core tools to a huge selection of applications, including all-in-one SEO tool sets, specialized software, enterprise platforms, AI-driven solutions, and WordPress plugins.
There is tech to do almost anything you need to do, and everyone has access to a tool for executing SEO tactics.
Most recently, ChatGPT is on everyone's mind, and the content arms race is under way.
So how will that change SEO? If the Internet becomes flooded with "pretty good" content, higher-quality content will rise to the top. Original and innovative ideas, ones that can’t be assembled by AI from the internet’s consensus and common text warehouse, will have even greater value.
Tech obviously isn't becoming less important. But how we use that tech for SEO is more important than it has ever been.
If SEO marketers try to chase rankings by posting auto-generated content that merely takes up space on the SERPs, they will eventually lose. If, instead, we help users fulfill intended actions, and thoughtfully usher them toward solutions with real value, the user wins, the business wins, and ultimately the search engine wins.
Practitioners who use modern SEO tech to deliver business-centric strategies with a marketing focus will have more meaningful results that set them apart from the pack.
Process-driven SEO will likely go by the way of automation and become commoditized even more. It's time to get more advanced and use human creativity.
Enterprise SEO solutions have evolved, but there is a fundamental challenge that never really goes away: A successful enterprise SEO strategy requires aligning across departments.
A business-centric approach with strong marketing tie-in has the most appeal and highest likelihood of success. If we are properly focused on the customer, we should align with Business, Marketing, Product, and IT to get things done. Tech alone won't solve that challenge.
SEO Experience and Expertise
Access to SEO tools has allowed countless new people into the SEO space. In fact, almost one-third of SEO professionals today have less than two years of experience, according to a recent industry report from Search Engine Journal.
Today's approach widely relies on technology—so much so that many SEO strategies begin with tools and keywords and never make it to the nuances of the business. But those nuances are often where real business success is achieved.
Adding to that challenge, a less experienced workforce means larger agencies must rely on process over business experience and expertise. That continues the cycle, resulting in a continued focus on rankings and traffic as reliable metrics that can be delivered via process in order to scale.
SEO in the Future
SEO's landscape is changing. Technology is accelerating. SEO is becoming a bigger priority for most organizations, budgets are increasing, and an increasingly inexperienced workforce is focused on the SEO process over business success.
Both huge risk and opportunity lie ahead for SEO.
The risks are that AI continues to accelerate and process-driven SEO becomes largely automated—and further commoditized (although that's more a question of when, not if).
The opportunity is that SEO evolves into a channel that more closely aligns with business and marketing. Such a major shift is unlikely to happen without forceful prodding from Google or external factors, so the evolution must happen in the marketplace.
Businesses that adapt will grow and succeed, and demand for a higher level of SEO services will help move us forward as an industry.
More Resources on SEO in 2023
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