The Algorithm is Not the Goal

Every day there are new adventures in the SEO quest to understand Google’s algorithm. Yesterday, Andy Beal reported on an interview Eric Enge conducted with Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, and the big news was that 301 redirects (if you don’t know what they are, just think of when you enter a web address and where you end up is somewhere other than that address) result in some loss of PageRank.

From an SEO perspective, that’s very interesting. But from a marketing optimization perspective, it’s kind of a yawner.

Because the algorithm is really only a small part of the battle.

Every day there are countless blog posts, Twitter tweets, and whatnot promoting a new article or list of tips for how to get your site to rank #1 in Google.

But what few of these articles, posts, tweets, lists, or what-have-you spend much time talking about is how to optimize a web presence in terms of a business strategy; how to follow through on the clicks that come in the door from search and ensure that the visitor intent is understood and the promise delivered upon.

Doing well in search is about knowing your brand. And your brand is largely about what your customers experience when they interact with you in any format. So by extension, search is about customer experience.

Customer experience is measurable, and when understood, it has underpinnings throughout a company’s strategy. A company’s annual and quarterly goals, both developmentally and financially, should be relatable to customer experience. The metrics a company uses to measure each of its departments, even the non-customer-facing ones, should be relatable to customer experience. And certainly a company’s marketing strategy and efforts should be entrenched in customer experience.

There’s no way that SEO should be let off the hook just because it so often isn’t understood by non-SEOs. Ideally, and in our approach, SEO is one part of a virtuous cycle — marketing optimization — that improves and informs itself to find new gains as the process matures. Cutting it out of that loop means forcing it to be measured in an arbitrary and almost inevitably short-sighted way.

We recently had the opportunity to pitch a big company — let’s call them Company X — on our SEO services. We definitely didn’t walk away with the gig, and I doubt they were even taking our pitch very seriously. But that’s OK, because we learned a lot from the experience.

One of the things that we learned was that even if we had managed to convince Company X that we were the right agency for their SEO work, we really weren’t. What I mean by that is that we excel when we are brought in to partner with our clients to help read the maps, set the ship’s course and provide running input as the ship sails that helps correct course and get them where they’re going faster and with less effort. That’s why our service set isn’t just SEO: it’s acquisition through search and social, it’s analytics, and it’s on-site conversion optimization through A/B and multivariate testing.

What Company X wants from their SEO agency is for someone to row the boat.

Don’t get me wrong: we know how to row, and we’re good at it. We practically make rowing look like an art form, we’re so good at it. But on its own, it’s not a service we’re particularly excited about offering. To stretch this whole ‘boat’ analogy even further, it makes most sense to us when we’re allowed to dine at the Captain’s table as well as providing some of the muscle that moves the ship.

What are your thoughts on SEO as a part of or separate from holistic marketing optimization? Let me know in the comments.

This entry was posted in search and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.