Why design & development blogs need to embrace SEO

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  • December 17, 2012

Recently I wrote a reply to a blog post on Smashing Magazine and submitted it as a guest post. The post was intended to demonstrate what a specialist SEO agency actually does these days and to address the misconceptions that the design/development community seems to have about SEO.

The post I submitted is below and at the end of the email is the reply I got from Smashing Magazines editor declining to publish it. After a few emails backwards and forwards Smashing Magazine still does not believe what I am saying SEO agencies actually do. The misconceptions about SEO don’t just lie with Paul, they exist across some of the largest design blogs in the world. This is one of the most frustrating email exchanges I’ve had and I just hope they let somebody reply to this from the SEO industry on the blog Smashing Magazine blog.

My guest post:

The job of an SEO expert or SEO agency is primarily to help websites get more visitors & revenue from search engines. The tactics that SEO’s use to do this are varying all the time and there is a major disconnect between what some in the online community believe SEO is about and what the good guys in the SEO industry actually do.

In the recent post by Paul Boag he started off by saying that readers should not invest in SEO and then went on to recommend that readers should focus on doing a number of different things, all of which are the exact tactics that a good SEO agency should be focussing on every month! That’s like saying that people should not bother to do exercise each week they just need to go for a run or start cycling. The problem isn’t that people should stop investing in SEO, certain people just needs to understand more about what the new world of SEO actually is.

In the past an average SEO agency might have had a list of tactics like the ones below – this isn’t modern SEO and should not be part of your SEO strategy:

  • Optimising content purely to add loads of keywords
  • Writing blog posts with dry content
  • Directory submissions
  • Article syndication
  • Link exchanges
  • Buying links in sidebars or footers
  • Buying paid posts on blogs that only exist to sell paid posts

There are still hundreds of agencies who do exactly this for clients every month but this doesn’t mean that this is what SEO is all about. In 2012 Google unleashed so many penalties that a lot of agencies doing low quality work had penalties applied to most of their clients. Some are yet to recover.

A good quality SEO agency should be working with clients on a monthly basis to do things like:

  • Making users really love the site by focussing on great design, content & usability
  • Using the clients real life brand equity and expertise to create a scalable and natural link-building strategy for example by releasing data, running events, building relationships with real life bloggers and journalists
  • Targeting long tail keywords with user generated content such as Q&A, reviews etc
  • Cleaning up any bad links that previous agencies might have placed – bad links hold you back these days as Google no longer ignores them
  • Analysing data such as conversion rates etc to find new opportunities for improving sales
  • Creating engaging viral and social campaigns designed to be shared by passionate users around social networks
  • Creating a content marketing strategy that will attract links and social attention
  • Troubleshooting and fixing issues and penalties (more common than you think)

A lot of the above probably sounds like something that can be done by a design agency, a PR agency or even an in-house team and that’s certainly true. The primary reason companies need to hire an SEO agency is to take ownership of the SEO traffic stream and make sure that the work is prioritised and executed correctly. Without a single person or agency to take ownership of this we often see certain things being missed and items that are almost great but could be so much better.

The job of an SEO agency these days could easily fit the description of a Digital Strategy agency but we need to embrace that and realise that SEO, design, development and all the other related disciplines are so much more integrated than even 12 months ago.

The SEO industry are embracing great design and usability as ways to add value and help clients achieve their ambitions – it’s about time that the design and development community embraced SEO in the same way. If not then you will end up like the PR industry who spend all day doing SEO by building links and relationships but don’t take credit for SEO improvements, don’t report on SEO improvements and don’t get to charge for SEO improvements.

The reply from Smashing Magazine:

Many issues that you list are actually tasks that content managers and content strategists do, I am not quite sure why you call these agencies “SEO agencies”? It would be great to find out what exactly core SEO experts do (like SEOmoz) and how website owners actually benefit from their insights. A couple of strategies and ideas related to SEO would be very useful to explain what it is exactly that SEO experts do.

They just don’t believe that this is the job of an SEO agency and feel there must be something extra that SEO agencies are doing.

Update: Smashing Magazine have asked me to clarify that they didn’t reject my post, they just wanted me to alter it to better fit with their audience. I think altering it to fit undermines the point of the post to be honest and am not comfortable with editing it.

Patrick Altoft

About Patrick Altoft

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events.

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