To Survive SEOs Need to be Brave – Not Busy

Five tips on being brave, engaging your clients’ customers, and driving a long-term and sustainable digital marketing strategy.

In Good To Great, Jim Collins points out that the advent of the automobile brought on a quick but unnecessary death for carriage companies. If carriage companies had recognized they were actually in the transportation business, rather than the carriage business, they could have adjusted and survived. Similarly, search engine optimization (SEO) will continue to be successful if the companies that provide these services understand their true business: engaging real people who require the products and services of their SEO clients. This is a powerful paradigm shift in SEO, where high keyword rankings have historically been the only indicator of success. But it’s a shift absolutely necessary if SEOs want to remain a part of a company’s marketing strategy.

Over the last decade SEO has gone from a basement business to a successful profession. This is because search engine optimization proved itself a very economical way to accomplish a company’s growth goals. But over the last few years the digital landscape has evolved. So have the challenges and opportunities for reaching people online.

Today, the way information is delivered to people using search engines is dramatically different than just three years ago. There is no longer a universal search return. Rather, search engines display individualized information to people based on their geography, perceived interests, previous search history, and personal relationships – even recommending search results based on what was of interest to their friends.

Because the search engines now draw from so many sources, the technology and platforms that search engine optimizers must become familiar with have also increased dramatically. Where once a SEO’s sole focus was on a client’s website, today he or she must address social networks, social bookmarking, geo specific local search, online video distribution, mobile applications, press releases, web trends, guest blogs, infographics, content development, newsletter distribution, syndication, business citation, and much more. This accelerated volume of opportunities and specialization was reflected in the MozCon 2013 SEO speaker program, which covered nearly 20 individual areas of emphasis!

To keep up and make sure their clients continue to rank well in the search returns, an SEO’s current strategy largely relies on creating and distributing a lot of flimsy content (blogs, videos, press releases, etc.) throughout all of these new channels. This is done in the hope that search engines will continue to perceive a lot of activity related to their websites and continue to rank them higher than their competitors who do little or nothing online. These tactics have successfully worked in the short-term, but the data show that keyword rankings are increasingly volatile, with flip flopping first and second page placements becoming the norm. This ranking instability is further evidence that traditional SEO tactics do not translate into a sustainable growth strategy.

To create a sustainable client generation strategy, SEOs must shift to a model of long-term and meaningful community engagement. It is no longer good enough to create the perception of online activity, rather SEOs need to engage their clients’ professional communities, local communities, and the press – both online and in the physical world. It is especially important that search engine optimizers create digital activity that is authentic so that their data and feedback are real.

Below are five tips for initiating a sustainable client engagement program.

1.) Be Brave

Be brave enough to do what is in your clients’ best interests. Be brave enough to buck the status quo. Be brave enough to do something your competitors are not.

2.) Be Brave Enough to Write Content with a Niche Audience in Mind

Don’t try to reach everyone in the world every time you post. Look for an audience who shares a specific interest or topic and add something to an existing conversation – rather than trying to create your own. This will increase the chance your content will be shared because you will have addressed a very specific and existing problem or interest.

3.) Be Brave Enough to Tell Real People About Your Business

Don’t just post. Reach out to people who share your interests. Tell them about your content and why you believe it is important. If you are writing for a specific topic, take a quick Twitter hash tag survey and see if you can find five people to message who also have your topic on their minds.

4.) Be Brave Enough to Ask for Advice

A lot of people believe asking for advice makes them look weak. This is just not true. In fact, asking for advice puts the attention on the responder, who then leaves a conversation feeling more valuable. There is nothing in this world more powerful than making one another feel valuable. So if you are brainstorming a topic for a piece of content, reach out to people who know something about it and publicly ask for their advice.

5.) Be Brave and Look at your Competitors as Potential Clients

Sometimes the people who would be most interested in our insight are the people we consider our competitors. Engaging with them can feel uncomfortable. And sharing with them or letting them in on our “secrets” may seem like bad business practices. But the truth is that if you’re publicly broadcasting, and your competitors want the information bad enough, they will find it. So turn that into a strength. Embrace your position as an industry authority on your topics. Build trust with your competitors and colleagues with real and meaningful content and remind them too, that you are available should they ever need you. I think you will find (as I have) that a majority of your competitors are more like you than you imagine. They too want to provide the absolute best service they can. Make sure you let them know you are happy to be part of that effort.

Contrary to popular belief and a blizzard of like titled blogs and articles, SEO is not dead. But the profession’s continued survival will require its membership to be brave, to engage actual people in real conversations, and to replace rankings tactics with sustainable online growth strategies.

Travis Luther is the President of Denver, CO based Luther Media, LLC. Luther Media, LLC is a niche marketing agency and the parent company of Law Father  –, and ValetAds Valet Ticket Advertising – Luther is also an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Metropolitan State University of Denver.