The world got in a tizzy last month when Matt Cutts sounded his warning about the “decay and fall of guest blogging and SEO.” Search engine blogs have been relentlessly relaying opinions about whether or not to guest blog – there have been guest blogs about the death of guest blogging. And as it happens with every other announcement of this nature, futurists started predicting the death of SEO. This is an unending cycle. Similar things were said when Google rolled out its Penguin and Panda updates as well. Veteran SEOs will recall similar opinions being cast on SEO after the Florida update of 2003.
So what do you do with your search strategy? A year back, guest blogging was okay and now it is not. Today it is okay to publish keyword targeted YouTube videos for links – tomorrow this strategy might backfire if your videos are not useful. So how do you chart up a strategy without any idea of how Google might take it up in future? One thumb rule that the search engine has always provided is to build links naturally. But we all very well know for a fact that it is extremely difficult to tread this path; especially when competition is doing exceedingly well with much shadier tactics.
It Is Not Your SEO Team’s Fault
Most startups do fine with respect to their on-site strategy. Few businesses today deploy tactics like cloaking or keyword spam. Ever since the Panda update rolled out, SEOs have in fact been vehemently advocating useful content over any other form of shortcuts. Where they fall behind is in their off-site strategy. Building “natural” links is extreme hard work and for a startup that has got little authority in the industry, it’s a difficult proposition. Given the weekly targets and low bandwidth at most startups, it is no surprise that SEO consultants keep going back to strategies that are deemed shady. After all, the management has no patience for an organic backlink strategy that may take a year or so to show results.
Re-Organize Your Team
How do you fix this problem? My proposal is to stop viewing your SEO team as one entity. SEO includes on-site and off-site components and the skill sets required for them are extremely different. On-site strategy requires someone with a good understanding of the back-end web. This member is also supposed to keep a tab on the latest develoments in the search engine world. They have an eye for distinguishing good content from the bad ones. Most SEO managers fit the bill here. I would not make too many changes to the way things are structured in the organization.
What you need to drastically redefine is how the off-site strategy is handled. This is a hard-core marketing role and is one reason why most SEO teams do not execute them well. The ideal person to take charge of this is the public relations manager. A good PR manager looks at small things in the company that makes it interesting and buzz-worthy. This is then packaged and sold to news media outlets for brand mentions. Take the example of BufferApp – a social media app company. In December last year, the company made the salaries of all the team members public. You may dismiss this off as a PR stunt – but what Buffer also gained out of this exercise is lots and lots of backlinks and social media mentions. Each one of the links that Buffer earned through this exercise is natural and should help them in their organic search. PR buzz could be done via various techniques – startups are known to talk about their growth strategies, publicly challenge competitors or find other creative ways to get linked by users.
None of this is new. Linkbaiting as a concept has existed for a long time now. However, the impact is higher when this is executed by an experienced PR manager rather than an SEO. My point is not that SEOs make bad link strategists. There are hundreds of great search engine strategists around the world. Similarly, there are a number of PR managers who do not do much other than mass-emailing press releases. However, I believe natural link building from authority link sources is something that can be handled better by a PR agency than a pureplay SEO company. This way, not only can startups ensure that their links are natural and from authoritative sources, but it may also help them optimize resources by integrating media buzz and the associated link building under one function.
Why should this work? To cut the long story short, a typical PR agency would consider a brand mention on The Hindu or TOI a success. But for an SEO executive, metrics like the PageRank, Domain Authority, etc. are all that matter today. Google has been evolving to give lesser emphasis on PageRank and greater importance to factors like brand mentions and so the SEOs will evolve in the long run too. Ultimately though, a perfectly evolved Google search algorithm will include all the ingredients that make it important for link building to be a PR activity rather than an SEO activity. If you are a startup whose website is yet to be tainted with shady backlinks from article directories and high PR expired domains, it is a good time to migrate your off-site SEO to your PR team. That is one way to ensure your search strategy stays robust in the long run.
[ About the Author : Anand Srinivasan runs a small newsletter for entrepreneurs at EntrepreneurshipDaily.com. During the day, he is a digital media consultant who works with small and medium businesses on their digital strategy. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org]