Until a few years ago it was possible to win at SEO through taking a relatively robotic and technical approach to website optimisation and to then build links en masse through largely automated/outsourced or at least templated processes.
There was often little love in this process apart from the love of finding and implementing new techniques but it was a far cry from building a brand and business that you could be truly proud of. I am not saying that the two did not often go together, as they did, but rather that it was not necessary for them to fit together.
Many SEO’s have concentrated on creating great content for many years but that alone has never been enough to guarantee success.
In many ways this old style SEO created a divide between SEO’s and their brand marketing and PR department counterparts. SEO’s were often considered to be a necessary evil, a kind of underhand and slightly immoral addition to the team that got results but did so in the background where they could not interact with the customers and key partners/stakeholders.
In 2013 the job spec of an SEO is very different to what it was just 4 or 5 years ago. There are many SEO’s that are a lot more comfortable with their new and more public role but there are many others who are now struggling with this transition as they lack the necessary skill sets.
In this post I will not be talking about what has changed in the past few years as that has been covered in depth elsewhere – here and here are a couple of the best post Penguin/Panda link building posts around, I will instead be talking about what I believe is the heart and soul of SEO success nowadays.
The key to SEO success is understanding your unique business benefit
Before factoring in specific SEO skill sets such as website architecture or the ability to creatively build and hustle links there is something else that needs to come first.
The soul of your business – If you take the backlinks from any website and then discount all of the links that have been actively built so that you are left with only the truly organic links then you will find that these usually occur because of an interest in/respect for/need for what you do as a business. There is often an emotional reason behind these links; somebody appreciates your reason for being, above any other competitor of yours.
OK – I acknowledge that there are many brands out there that get links just through being a well known brand and without any specific unique benefits being necessary. For example people who run hotel websites may have a resources page where they link out to car hire companies in order to benefit their guests and they may just randomly pick a few of the well known car hire companies to include on the page regardless of whether or not those businesses are any good. That is the power of a strong brand and it takes time to get to that place and most businesses will never get there. For small businesses gaining links is often a lot more to do with emotional, first hand experiences or relationships.
The key to becoming popular as an individual or a business is to be comfortable with yourself, understand your unique strengths and to communicate your benefits in a way that has an emotional impact on the viewer. SEO is now also aligned with this idea – unless there is genuine benefit in a business then SEO will be tightly constrained and held back. As the business will find it difficult to impact people on an emotional level, at least in a positive way, SEO’s will struggle to build relationships and links.
To illustrate this point I am going to use an example from Made to Stick a book by Chip & Dan Heath. In this book they talk about the “Three Whys” – the idea is that when you want to figure out the emotional core of an idea (or business). They suggest that you start by writing down why you think people are doing something. You then ask “why is this important?” three times. Each time you ask it you note down your answer, when you do this you notice that each time you answer the question you get more detailed and closer towards uncovering the core of an idea as well as the emotion behind it.
If we ask the question “Why is Google a popular search engine?”, we may answer that it helps people to find information quickly. then we may ask “Why do people want to do that?” So that they can find answers to what they are looking for. Then finally we may ask “Why do people want these answers?” So that they can connect with people, achieve their goals and get closer to fulfilling their dreams. As you can see the final answer gets close to the core of Google’s unique benefit.
Anthony Cafaro is an employee at the Creative Lab in Google and the designer behind one of Google’s most successful marketing videos:
As you can see, Cafaro went straight past the practical benefits of Google and created this emotional video about how Google helped somebody find love. He could have made a video that showed effective ways to search or talked about the complexity and intelligence of the Google algorithm……
This video gets right to the core of Google and communicates it perfectly. I have embedded this video in blog posts (this is the first time on this site) and linked to it close to 10 times since I discovered it 3 months ago.
How understanding the soul of your business gets you links
Once you have cut through the crap and you are clear on what is unique and special about your business then a number of other things become clearer:
- Who does your business benefit most > Who should you be communicating with?
- How can you benefit these people? > What content, if any, do they need? How can your service be more beneficial to them?
- What is the best way to reach these people? > How do you carry out your outreach efforts?
The personality of your business should ideally be visible in your website design and through the tone of the writing on the site. Mailchimp do this very well – personally they wind me up with the Monkey’s wise cracks, but I still respect them for having a personality of their own and through making an effort to communicate with their customers in that tone of voice:
If you can allow the soul of your business (or even the soul of the people in your business) to be present in everything that you do then you will have a personality; some will hate you and some will love you – that’s life. Those who love you will link, share and promote for you with other like minded people.
Google has always had the same mission:
“Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Through constant algorithm development as well as their new found access to social data Google are giving better and better search results for users by getting close to understanding the intent and context of peoples searches. In order to increase visibility of your website these days you need to genuinely meet peoples needs and solve their problems with your products and services. SEO is now about solving human problems rather than manipulating search results.
Great marketers will always be able to gain a competitive advantage in SEO but now more than ever they need to be able to back up their marketing with a solid business in order for it to be scalable.