Just over two years ago, the term SEO, or search engine optimisation, was a relatively unknown phenomenon banded around in world of online marketing and understood simply as “making websites work”.
Online marketing has in recent years really started to take precedence as marketing evolved further and further into the online realm. To some, it was a complicated sounding process that was often assumed to be just about trying to make your website rank higher in Google. As a result, ill-informed brands sought a quick-fix at a low cost without realising what was actually being done to their own website.
Then, Google changed the way it wanted websites to behave, or be seen, and a lot of websites suddenly began to suffer. The backlash caused SEO to swiftly turn into a taboo terminology, striking fear in the hearts of those who had previously employed people to ‘do’ SEO on their websites. It also meant the good, reputable SEO agencies were suddenly landed a whole lot of backlink analysing, and ultimately bellyache.
In the wake of the latest Penguin update in October 2013, hundreds of websites that had unknowingly employed naughty “black hatters” to work their inconsistent techniques discovered their site had suddenly disappeared from search results. Black hat SEOs had been furiously busy, buying endless bad links and listing in useless online directories in their hundreds, in order to accelerate site ranking in search engines. Literally overnight, companies were finding themselves off the search engine ladders; no longer recognised or appearing in search results and with no clue as to why. With very little knowledge about what had happened, companies began to review their previous SEO strategy and discovered their backlink profiles had caused them to be penalised. Many companies received a message from Google themselves; warning of their unnatural website links and heavily suggesting they address their strategy and online behaviour moving forward.
As with everything in the fast-paced internet world, the demand to be top of Google’s listings quickly meant there was a growing market for spammy techniques and fast results. Businesses paid low prices to bad SEO companies and inexperienced freelancers to ‘do’ some SEO in order to get them higher than their competitors online. The organic, “Fairtrade” SEOs who had ethical online marketing backgrounds and focused on long term strategies, rather than quick-win ROIs, were being snubbed simply because their work couldn’t deliver as quickly as their naughty industry rivals. It is due to the unethical acts of the smaller “black hat community”, that the term SEO quickly gained a very negative reputation within the online marketing world.
Although Google rolls out these updates to assist both users and businesses with websites by making browsing the internet a simpler process, it has meant innocent businesses and their sites have suffered. Businesses have even begun to stop using the word ‘SEO’ for their employees looking after the in-house website, and even marketing agencies who would previously have hired ‘SEO co-ordinators’ have begun using different terms to describe essentially the role of an SEO account manager. All of these actions signal that people are wary of using the ‘S’ word within our industry and question what an ‘SEO expert’ can bring to their business.
The last few months have been all about the recovery process for many online businesses; the clean-up operations after months of negative SEO work. Although search engine optimization rapidly became a bad term to some, people recognised they still needed help to get their website back on track. This is where the “white hat” online marketers have stepped in and have started to correct the shoddy work of their questionable counterparts. These are the genuine SEO gurus who have been following best practices organically for years. This means for example, working alongside a PR team and generating positive organic links with quality content. White hat SEO is the angel on the other shoulder to black hats’ cheeky devil, and where black hatters had previously promised to produce hundreds of links, potentially in a short period of time for a lower cost, white hat SEO’s were honest and transparent about their work and the timeframe.
Search engine optimisation is all about being ethical in the eyes of Google and growing strong authoritative links in smaller numbers, over time. Using quality content combined with social activity and off-site activity to influence how well your website can be read by the robots online are just some of the ingredients which make up a tasty recipe to successful SEO. Rather than building lots of links to poor quality sites and churning out over-optimised and keyword stuffed content.
This will be no means indicate the end of search engine optimisation as a marketing tool; any business with a website will need an ongoing online strategy to keep their website under the eager gaze of Google. What we do predict however is that those of us formerly known as ‘SEO experts will lose the perceived ‘ugly’ three letter term from our job titles and adopt a more generic ‘online marketing strategist/ website updater/ person behind the website’ title. Catchy, we know.
We at Interdirect want to know your views on the word SEO; have you already adopted an alternative terminology within your agency? Are you now perhaps hiring for a ‘digital whizz’ and avoiding the term SEO altogether?
Leave your comments below or share your thoughts on our Twitter, @Interdirect.