There's (obviously) nothing wrong with SEO. The search engines' objective is to help people find what they're looking for.

If you create something that people are looking for, and complete their search, you're all on the same side. Optimising that is good for us all.

But, as with all human things, scarcity and competition naturally set in. If there are only three places on the winners podium, people start to obsess about how to get the edge.

The simplest argument suggests that you just double down on creating really great stuff that satisfies what people are looking (searching) for.

But to do so in a way that's substantially better than the competition is hard. And the more superficial it is, the easier it probably is to copy.

By contrast, if you could find tricks and shortcuts that had as big or bigger impact, wouldn't you just take those?

And in fact, if you started to weave that magic for those who really needed it, maybe even as part of the recipe for those already upping their game on their core content, why wouldn't you do that?

Black and white

There's a lot to be said for taking a search-informed perspective on strategic marketing decisions.

Indeed, I'd argue that it's increasingly this route of search-savvy knowledge being applied in other marketing disciplines, one that seems an organic and natural future for those with the skills and experience.

Like journalists sucked up into the PR machine for their writing experience.

However, something about this culture of shortcuts seems to have bred a seedy underbelly as a ying to the yang. What you could now probably describe as the 'black hat' crew and tactics.  

Perhaps it's the instinct to take on the challenge of Google's ever mysterious algorithms and feel like you've got one over on them at their own game.

Or maybe it's the opportunity to offer clients a magic box and not worry about them asking how the sausages are really made.

It’s a difficult one to call, but I think an almost ‘get rich quick’ culture has propagated in certain corners.

Hide and search

Meanwhile, search has changed. It's becoming so hard to just play the game that you end up with half the discussion revolving around really sensible smart strategy, things like using content to gain attention and stand out online or semantic markup and metadata to genuinely clarify the definition of your entities.

The downside of this is that it potentially disenfranchises and creates a fleet of ex-”search experts” whose previous toolkit is no longer fit for purpose, and they’re prepping up to turn their questionable intentions and gaze this way.

They all want to write content and perform outreach to make sure they're with the curve.

And just in the way they cluttered, confused and abused search in ways that have damaged the experience, now they're coming for the good stuff.

Finding SERPO

It’s really important to re-emphasise that I’m not talking about all SEO people here, or all SEO strategies. In fact, I’m literally in the process of looking for a great, experienced, top quality search consultant to collaborate with.

But in surveying the landscape, it feels like there’s a more distasteful element out there feeling the pressure of increasingly idle hands.

So let me finish with the reassuring bit. I don't think they can do it. I don't think one of these bad guys can actually breed brilliant content without paying someone who can.

They’ll end up moving on or relying on people who can actually do a good job to get there. Or maybe they’ll even turn over a new leaf in the process and join a process of creating real value.

Over the next 12 months or so, we’re going to find out together.

Maximilian Tatton-Brown

Published 1 May, 2014 by Maximilian Tatton-Brown

Max Tatton-Brown is Founding Director of Augur, and writes about what's next in the world of technology, marketing and startups. He is a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or Google Plus

18 more posts from this author

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Comments (4)


Jonny Craft

This article sums up my current thoughts exactly!

We are currently coming across more and more 'agencies' buying links from other continents and seeing how it effects their clients campaigns. It allows us to gain trust with our content focused campaigns knowing that they can not be matched by these agencies as they do not have the knowledge or resources to do so. Great post.

over 4 years ago



An interesting read.

It can't be denied that a lot of what is being passed off as 'content marketing' at this moment is complete junk. What would be referred to as 'spam' in other channels. And of course there is sometimes the commercial pressure from clients to try to cut corners and 'trick' your way to success.

As per my latest blog piece, I think what we have here is an industry in complete turmoil, in which almost no one, be that clients, agencies, consultants, SEO people, PR people or whoever, completely 'own' or necessarily even understand the landscape.

We have 'digital' agencies now finding that 'digital' just isn't all that special anymore - its just how things are done - and maybe they just need to be 'a marketing agency'. We have PR people, often with zero digital credentials but with a natural grasp of campaign mechanics and engagement, plus the media relations to make things happen.

We also have 'traditional' agencies finally realising that they need to take all of this digital stuff seriously and start to think about putting some kind of properly effective offer together - often with no clue as to how to achieve this. But maybe with great in house creative and real commercial marketing savvy that most of the digital boys still can't quite lay claim to.

As the author says, there is a pretty undignified scramble going on out there and its not just SEO people, looking to repurpose their redundant link building teams.

In the middle of all of this we have the poor client, clinging to last year's marketing plan, perhaps wondering if maybe they should invest a couple of hundred quid in one of these new fangled infographics that everyone says will drive hordes of hungry visitors to their doors.

Its a very interesting space out there right now and one from which I believe that entirely new agency models need to evolve. The old structures and combinations of skills just don't cut it anymore. The whole superstructure of the marketing services sector needs to be flattened and fundamentally reconfigured before we see things starting to settle down. Otherwise there will remain this unproductive infighting between what are essentially entirely compatible services.

How can you do PR today, without social media?

How can you do SEO without content marketing?

How can you build a brand without engaging consumers across multiple channels, with consistent, joined-up experiences?

The answer, of course, used to be to keep spending more on above the line advertising. Just keep blasting away.

But most people are finding out that doesn't work any more.

Interesting times ahead!

over 4 years ago


Danny Whatmough, Associate social media and digital director at Ketchum

@bower - great comment, totally agree

over 4 years ago


Ruth Smith

Such a great piece, I wholeheartedly concur! I previously experienced working in an agency and felt sick when I found people spend so much time trying to shortcut the search engines instead of focusing on great content. So I started my own business where that is what we do.

over 4 years ago

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