Wake up reputation managers: SEO convergence needed now

In the past 24 months, the world of search engine optimization has been rocked -- shady linking schemes, optimization short cuts, and quick fixes were the mantras of many so-called search experts. Then, Google introduced a powerful update.

There are a number of reputation rainmakers across the public relations space that do a fine job providing important public relations counsel during times of crisis. Unfortunately, many of them know nothing about what's arguably come one of the most vital aspects of reputation management.

In the past 24 months, the world of search engine optimization has been rocked -- shady linking schemes, optimization short cuts, and quick fixes were the mantras of many so-called search experts. Then, Google introduced a powerful update to its algorithm designed to curtail the overt manipulation of search results. Overnight, the tactics that were so successful for so long were now a liability.

For reputation managers to succeed in 2013 and beyond, this means search marketing can no longer sit in a silo. Instead, SEO best practices must be integrated across channels, closely partnering the search function with public relations, social media, and content marketing functions.

Search according to Google
As Google has maintained for years, its formula for success in SEO is simple:

  • Focus on users: Build a great website, focusing on users, not search engines.
  • Avoid manipulation: No tricks intended to improve search rankings.
  • Create great content: Develop original content focused on your audience.
  • Profit: Users will find your content and magically flock to your site.

Of course, unlike Field of Dreams, if you build it, visitors probably will not magically come. It requires sustained, ongoing promotion, marketing, and outreach to make this work. And this is where we begin to see the convergence of multiple disciplines that are so very critical to success in search in 2013 and beyond.

Enter convergence
If outright manipulation is no longer effective, and the prescription offered by Google is too simplistic, what is the magic formula for higher rankings? While there is no single panacea, there are some practical strategies that will build organic search traffic in the long term.

In 2013, success in SEO is dependent upon business weaving together a robust strategy that brings together an understanding of the technical underpinnings of a website, great content that resonates with your audience across channels, and the public relations and marketing savvy to build and leverage relationships to promote your site and content. Oh, and don't forget mobile.

Piece of cake, right?

Building long-term SEO equity
In the wake of the Penguin 2.0 algorithm update, gone are the days of a quick rise to dominance in rankings. Rather, companies should focus on developing strategies designed to deliver long-term benefits to their site and their brand.

At its core, this involves a completely new way of approaching SEO. Rather than trying to systematically manipulate Google, you must focus on understanding and delivering value to your audience, building your brand, and distributing your content across new channels.

While there are certainly others, today there are three pillars of a modern approach to SEO.

  • Content: We live in an attention economy, where marketers are feverishly vying for the attention of their distracted audience – set against a backdrop of media fragmentation. While Google councils companies to “create great content,” the reality is that simply isn't enough. You have to create amazing content that is unique enough to break through the clutter and connect with your audience. Ultimately, the goal of content creation from a SEO perspective is simple: attract inbound links, social shares, and greater brand awareness.
  • Promotion: You've written the most amazing guide to tackle the most pressing challenge faced by much of your audience, but shockingly, the magic traffic fairies haven't blessed your site with more traffic. What's up? The reality is, after you've produced an amazing piece of content, you have to let the world know about it. That requires relationships. And, this is where a classic approach of public relations comes into play. Conducting outreach to traditional media and online influencers will enable you to connect with your audience and demonstrate expertise in your field. This requires an adept, experience hand. It requires a staff that understands the delicate art of the pitch.
  • Social media: Social media has had a profound impact on SEO. Beyond the rise of high-ranking social media sites, social signals are having a direct impact on how sites are ranking in the search results pages. In fact, there are numerous studies that have demonstrated a strong correlation between social media activity and organic search rankings.

The world of SEO -- arguably the underlying lynchpin of reputation management -- has gone through a tectonic shift in the past two years. But for savvy search marketers who have been paying attention, not much has changed. To build long-term search engine equity today, marketers must focus more on their users and less on the search engines.

This means an organization's or brand's broader reputation management and marketing communications strategy can no longer function in isolation without the integration of search. It must intertwine with advertising, public relations, social media, content generation, and more. And if done well, it will set up your organization or your clients for continued success in the pages of search – today's bible for informing on nearly any subject.

Andrew Barnett is a partner and director of search marketing at St. Louis-based digital marketing and public relations agency Elasticity.

The Author: Andrew Barnett is a partner and director of search marketing at St. Louis-based digital marketing and public relations agency Elasticity.

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