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Is there such a thing as a short-term SEO strategy?

One of the advantages of having a sales-facing role at a large interactive agency is getting the opportunity to gain insight into the logic of CMOs, marketing directors, and marketing managers at Fortune 1000 corporations. Even though I’m approaching the three-year mark in this agency role of mine, I never get tired of hearing the incredibly varied and sometimes bewildering strategies being pursued by some of the decision-makers that I deal with, particularly when it comes to SEO.

Here’s an example:

I was recently speaking with a decision-maker for a large firm in the automobile vertical who basically told me that while he appreciated the long-term value that our comprehensive SEO services could bring to the table, he was in need of a strategy that would deliver almost instantaneous returns (as in 30-60 days) for some incredibly competitive, high-volume search terms (his rationale was that he was in need of a quick life to insure his job security). Therefore, he was leaning towards investing most or all of his SEO budget into high quality paid links.

Now what’s a self-respecting SEO supposed to say?

The reality is that while I believe in the service that we provide for our clients, it’s hard enough for us to move the needle for highly competitive terms in 6 to 12 months – and we disclose that to potential clients up front – so getting those types of returns in less than two months would be damn near impossible. Also, despite Google’s stance on the technique, the purchasing of high quality links with keyword-rich anchor text is a tried and true method for making an impact on highly competitive keywords in a relatively short period of time. Using this technique might not necessarily get a site above the fold for said keywords, but if done correctly, it likely to make a noticeable impact within the 30-60 day time period that this particular prospect was shooting for.

However, the one key thing that I pointed out to him was that while this technique would likely deliver the desired effect, it provides absolutely zero long-term SEO equity. In other words, those paid links would act in much the same way as paid media; as soon as you stop paying for them, the SEO value and corresponding ranking lift would quickly dissipate. Granted, this individual might not really care about that eventual outcome, especially if he’s worried that his days at the company are numbered.

Regardless, I still believe that the best approach, given the fairly dire circumstances, would be as follows:

If you absolutely fell that you must take a stab a “black hat” technique like paid links, make sure to hedge this bet with an organic approach to optimizing page, site, and server-level elements as well as a robust content-creation and link-building outreach program. That way, you can secure your short-term goals while also setting yourself up for long-term success and the perpetual equity that comes from good SEO, solid content, and natural inbound links and anchor text.

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