Can We Talk...About SEO?

Can We Talk...About SEO?

By John McTigueJan 17 /2012

The debate is raging in Google+, Twitter and elsewhere. What is the true nature and value of search engine optimization these days? There are purists and extremists on both sides of the issue. SEO's claim that while Google and other search engines have changed their ranking algorithms, the science of (and need for) optimizing web pages, blog posts and advanced content remains sound and of paramount importance. The inbound marketers claim that content relevance and social media engagement have usurped the role as primary drivers of success in web metrics (traffic, leads and customer conversions). What's the truth? Is there a middle ground, and are they both right at least to some extent?

the great seo inbound marketing debate rages on

Stating Their Cases

I won't name names in the different camps here, but if you contact our Chad Pollitt and read some of his recent posts, you'll see where the lines are drawn. I'm sure Chad will add some of the best threads in the comments below.

Practitioners of SEO

The term "SEO" itself has been around a lot longer than "inbound marketing" and is far better known in the Internet marketing world. If you do a search analysis on these terms you will find that SEO has about 11 million global monthly searches, while inbound marketing has about 22,000. When we ask potential clients what they want, they invariably answer "to rank on the first page of Google" above all other possible goals and metrics. Search engines are still the dominant sources of traffic and leads for nearly every industry and every platform. Nearly every study that's ever been done indicates that ranking higher on Google yields a better chance of getting found online. Granted, Google has changed its emphasis with the releases leading up to Panda, and it now appears to favor content relevance and "quality" over strict keyword optimization rules of thumb, but that doesn't mean that SEO is irrelevant - it simply means that a more holistic approach to SEO is needed. In fact, many feel that inbound marketing is just a relatively new offshoot of SEO strategy.

Practitioners of Inbound Marketing

You might assume from our website content that we fall squarely in the inbound marketing camp and that we believe that SEO is becoming irrelevant. Hardly. We're already there with the holistic approach, but we do feel that our clients need to be better educated in modern "getting found" strategies, especially in understanding the importance of relevant, high quality content shared on a regular basis. It's easy for them to hark back a few years when they could hire experts in PPC and link building to just go out and raise their visibility by using classic on-page and off-page SEO tactics. Nowadays that strategy has become less effective. Inbound marketing wasn't invented or "repackaged" to replace SEO. Instead, it was devised to augment SEO as a way to drive more traffic and leads and measure them directly through marketing automation. We still see it that way.

Who's Right?

Well, let's face it, people like to argue, so the debate will rage on. Let's not lose sight of the goal of all of this Internet marketing, providing ROI to our customers. It's not constructive to point fingers and shout the other side down. We can all learn from each other in this crowded field of long-time experts and digital native upstarts. I would like to see this conversation evolve into a serious attempt to find the right path to helping less visible companies and individuals become better known and more frequently visited. If that means we need to swallow our pride and stop pigeon-holing each other, so be it.

So, hopefully I'm starting up a new camp, somewhere in the middle, that believes there is truth on both sides but no need for separation and finger pointing. We would love to hear your comments.

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar

The Author

John McTigue

With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. You can connect with John via LinkedIn and Twitter.