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The goals that are typically established for an SEO campaign are often aligned with a numbers-driven strategy and closely tied to the vagaries and constantly changing rules of the Google algorithm. Those goals are fundamentally flawed.
The primary goals of most SEO practitioners are to increase rank in the SERP and drive traffic, but they are not going far enough. Because most practitioners use artificial means to accomplish that goal, results are focused on those metrics alone, and not on actual engagement and conversion.
The true goal of SEO should be to engage customers and deliver conversions, and that cannot be accomplished with the artificial tactics used in traditional SEO campaigns. What SEO practitioners are missing is the fact that a highly-ranking search result that does not engage offers no value.
When SEO doesn’t engage.
Because the focus is on numbers, SEO practitioners, before deploying any given tactic, will ask first, “Will this increase my rank in the SERPs?” And if the answer appears to be yes, then the tactic is executed. The flaw with that methodology is that Google ranking is transitory. The algorithm changes constantly. Also, this overlooks the fact that position is not only dependent on your own SEO work, but on the work done by your competitors, which you cannot control.
Those tactics often fall short of actual engagement, and as a result, even if SERP position is increased, no additional sales will result.
Let’s take a common tactic — content marketing. SEO specialists believe strongly in the value of backlinks, hyperlinks on third party sites that point back to your site. There is no doubt that Google values legitimate backlinks highly in calculating a website’s position. Practitioners accomplish these backlinks through a variety of means. A common tactic is creating dozens, if not hundreds of short backlink-containing articles, which are then placed in blogs and websites that have been created for the express purpose of SEO. The flaw in that thinking is that those articles — and the sites on which they are published — are created for search engine algorithms, not for real people. Content is often thin, poorly written, and contains very basic information that is of little value to someone looking for guidance in making a purchasing decision.
Those types of articles do not lead to conversion. In fact, it may lead to the opposite, since the poor quality of the article may harm your brand rather than help it. The end result of that strategy is a temporary boost in SERP ranking, but no actual sales.
What Fred has to say.
The March 2017 Google update, known as “Fred,” was designed to penalize websites that host thin or low-quality content. Anecdotal stories show a significant amount of consternation on the part of SEO marketers who have seen their boilerplate affiliate websites, sites meant solely to drive AdSense revenue, and “private blog networks,” designed to artificially generate backlinks, take a significant dive in rank.
Does this mean that SEO practitioners and marketers should stop using SEO? Not at all. But it does mean that the goal of SEO has to be redefined before it can have any lasting value. SEO that works will have to shift away from mechanical tactics and numbers-driven strategies that ignore quality and rely on thin content created by non-professionals who are more concerned with keywords than value. Private blog networks are out. Brand journalism is in. Brands with a strong SEO strategy are already replacing SEO managers who understand metrics and tactics with managing editors who have journalism experience and understand quality and thought leadership. Larger brands like Kroger are already getting in on the act with branded sites with thoughtful stories. Bulk posts in article comment threads that don’t add to the conversation are being replaced with thoughtful discussion, curated by editors and often by invitation only.
Related: The 5 Most Common SEO Myths
A new shift in SEO strategy, and a redefinition of its goals, will ultimately result in a stronger campaign that can withstand the changes in search algorithms. Google may penalize specific tactics, but they will never penalize quality.