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The problem with performing SEO in a vacuum

One thing I’ve always preached to up-and-coming SEO specialists that I’ve had the chance to manage is the idea of avoiding “SEO in a vacuum.”

Now at this point you might be asking yourself, “what the heck is SEO in a vacuum?” (and no, I don’t mean a literal vacuum…that would just be noisy and uncomfortable).

I’ll explain with some examples:

-Delivering a recommendation(s) based on alleged “SEO best practice” even though it conflicts with key branding guidelines. So for example, demanding that your client (or the company you work for) update the headers on their pages so that they include SEO-friendly keywords even if said optimization comes at the expense of key brand phrases.

Reality Check: While headers can impact search engine algorithms, brand considerations almost always trump the relatively limited value that keyword-rich H1 will deliver. If you are forced to choose between stuffing in a keyword or preserving brand messaging, choose the latter.

-Delivering a recommendation(s) that is simply not feasible due to IT/dev bandwidth or infrastructure limitations. So for example, trying to convince your client (or the company you work for) that they must immediately update URL extensions to make them keyword-rich and SEO friendly even though the current CMS and/or server configuration would make such a change impossible and/or require massive hours of IT/dev work.

Reality Check: Yes, it is a good idea to create static, keyword-rich URL extensions, but it’s not a deal-breaker if you don’t. Modern search engines have gotten quite good at indexing and dealing with even the most unfriendly of URL strings. Moreover, there’s usually a time and a place to deal with these types of fundamental implementations; namely during a major site redesign and/or CMS migration, when the IT/dev team will already be spending their hours in the guts of the site.

-Delivering recommendations that don’t take parallel marketing initiatives or timelines into account. So for example, pushing your client (or the company you work for) to remove those “SEO unfriendly” meta refreshes that signal a brand transition and replace them with server-side redirects even though a) making that change would require a significant amount of hours in order to remove the refreshes, create the redirects, and deliver an alternate user experience that accomplishes the original goal of communicating the brand transition b) the meta refreshes are temporary and will be replaced by permanent redirects within a matter of months

Reality Check: While in most cases, switching from meta refreshes to server-side redirects are the right move, it’s crucial to understand the entire scenario at hand. In some cases, it makes sense to leave things be and focus energy on other, more fruitful initiatives.

-Making recommendations without having done the due diligence and analytics data analysis necessary to justify the ROI of the recommendations. So for example, recommending significant changes to user interface of a page or entire site (presumably to introduce SEO-friendly navigation links, copy, meta data, etc) without digging for public case studies that show the value of such a change and/or laying out existing analytics data that shows the potential ROI (for specific keywords and phrases) that could be realized if the recommended changes are implemented. In other words, you failed to show how much money can be made by implementing the recommendations and how that incremental revenue will far outweigh the cost of the implementation itself.

Reality Check – most corporate decision makers simply will not invest money and IT/development resources without first seeing substantial evidence or data that demonstrated the incremental ROI that will be realized by implementation of the recommendations that are set forth. It’s also worth noting that the more substantial the recommendation (i.e. the more hours and dollars needed to implement the change) the more evidence and data that’s needed to convince the powers that be.

Now some of you reading this might wonder consider all of these things to be given, and if that’s your point of view, I applaud you. It must be smooth sailing for you in terms of getting getting things implemented on the SEO front, and your clients/bosses must love you (or you are your own boss, which is twice as nice).

However, it’s more likely that you fall into a different camp. You fall into that “my client/company is dumb and won’t implement these great SEO recommendations because they just don’t get SEO.” If that’s you, pay very close attention to the aforementioned methodology and examples.

Doing so can be the difference between getting your recommendations implemented and living in the perpetual frustration that plagues many SEOs who fail to connect with their non-SEO counterparts. It can also be the difference between building a strong basis of rapport with your client/boss and finding yourself kicked to the curb due lack of overarching marketing vision.

P.S. The examples above are just that; examples. There are literally an infinite amount of other scenarios that will require you to exercise a similar amount of critical thinking and understanding of the full scenario that confronts you (beyond the “SEO best practices” you’ve been indoctrinated into from countless blog posts and forum threads).

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