Web marketing is a complicated mash of disciplines that, fortunately for businesses, creates the best results when brands focus on all areas. Unfortunately for those who specialize in one area of web marketing, it’s not always so easy to explain what you do, where your discipline stops and another one starts.
Lots of people in the search marketing industry (and beyond) specialize, though. Specializations are what make experts. Know your discipline inside and out and how it fits into the big picture, and make sure you talk about it every which way until you’ve made your point.
So I should be able to explain this. I make a living explaining things through the written word. I’ve written and taught about my particular discipline, content, and how it relates to SEO and the big picture of marketing and branding countless times.
But I was absolutely at a loss for words the other day when a prospect came to me asking for SEO. Why? Because I could help him. He found me because he searched for “SEO to do list” online and found an article I wrote last year on, well, an SEO to-do list. But this was when I worked at the SEO firm, Bruce Clay, Inc.
“I figured if anyone knew SEO, it would be the person who showed up No. 1 for that search,” he said. I cringed a little for several reasons.
Understanding SEO is both super beneficial for what I offer on the content side, and also so terribly confusing that I could likely just straight up sell “SEO services.”
But that’s not what I’m trying to do here. I want my clients to look at the big picture of their brand and their audience, and understand how content and communications can get them to where they want to go.
The way we’d go about doing it is just the details. Yes, all that tactical SEO stuff that helps Google do its job better needs to be considered. And if it’s within my ability, I can do it for my clients or advise them on how to go about doing it. And that’s where it gets confusing.
So I think it’s safe to say that around 5 p.m. on Thursday of last week, I was having an identity crisis.
Same Goals, Different Mindset?
The thing that was most challenging for me on that phone call with the prospect was that we both wanted the same outcome: a usable site that’s easily understood by search engines and provides a great experience to visitors while also building authority for his brand on-site and through visibility in other channels.
But I didn’t want to sell SEO.
We talked for nearly an hour while I tried to explain how online content and communications integrated with SEO goals. We talked keywords, on-page optimization and making pages crawlable. But we also touched on what’s beyond that: building great content for those keywords that offers something useful for that query.
But still, the question came up about things like rankings and PageRank and so on and so forth. In trying to move the conversation away from those ideas and onto the bigger picture, I started to confuse myself.
And don’t even get me started on how much I wanted to kill all the confusing content on the services page at that time.
Does This Make Me an SEO?
I believe, based on this prospect’s business goals, we could achieve most of what he needed initially through my services (yes, even those SEO needs, like traffic). I wanted us to focus on building and promoting his brand as well as solving problems through content in the following key areas: his website, a blog, social media and authoritative industry sites.
I wanted to make sure his site’s content was organized well and written in a way that not only builds relevance for topics a search engine could understand, but also offers an engaging experience for users. It also had to take into account what his brand feels like, who the personas are visiting his site and at what stage of the conversion funnel they’re at.
I wanted him to get into the habit of adding fresh content on his site through a blog so that search engines and users keep coming back; so he could build an audience and brand around talking about the things that mattered to his users and showcasing all the great work he was doing for people.
And I wanted to make sure all the social networks appropriate to his brand, and where his audience was participating, were identified, set up, optimized and well-integrated into the site. And that he had a communications strategy in place to help build relationships and visibility there, ultimately driving traffic back to his site.
And of course, we would set up metrics to track progress and analyze the data on a consistent basis.
Does this make me an SEO? I don’t know. Is it kind of like, “you say ‘potato,’ I say ‘potato’”:
(Hat tip to Michelle Lowery for finding this amazing SNL clip to illustrate my point.)
There are some what I would consider really great, specialized and technical-minded SEOs out there. And I do not put myself in their category. While some SEOs may focus on the more technical side of things and not content, here we start with the content and marketing, and work backwards into the SEO as it relates to the performance of that content.
So, what does that mean?
Identity Crises, Boundaries and Education
I wonder if other web marketers are having an identity crisis from time to time, and how they deal with it. The lines are so blurred, where does one stop and the other start?
And more importantly, how do you set boundaries when you are trying to specialize?
Yesterday at Search Engine Watch, Mark Jackson wrote an article on the idea that it’s not what you do in SEO, but how you do it. Building on that idea, I may not be selling “SEO services,” but in the end, the goal is essentially the same: marketing your brand online. And this interview with Eric Enge reiterates the idea that others are heading into a more marketing mindset, too.
[And after writing this, I saw this post from Nathan Safran that shows survey data on where people believe content creation should fall within an organization and its SEO.]
I think, as marketers, the way we talk about SEO and web marketing is key. But the education that lies ahead of us in order to explain these marketing concepts as they relate to SEO or whatever online marketing thing a person is after is going to be feat.
And first things first: being able to explain it well. So I’m asking you, specializers in web marketing (or any discipline for that matter): How do you do it? Specifically, where and when do you set boundaries in your discipline, if at all, and how do you build that into what you sell?
Seeking your wisdom in the comments below or reach out to me on social to chat. Thanks!