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As you probably know by now, SEO and PR are getting more closely related. But there is one aspect that both have always had in common, and that is that both have long been labelled a supposed ‘dark art’. 

PR and SEO; mysterious art forms that deal in the unknown, experts fixing things unseen, like wizards behind the curtain. 

It has suited both industries, to be known this way.

“Oh, yeah, we just need to curbudgle your whojamaflip. It’s absolutely essential, or you’ll get befluddled. You don’t want to get befluddled. Yes it’s an extra thirty grand.”

The importance of transparency

Fortunately, we have been forced to throw back the curtain somewhat on PR. Even the real masters of its dark arts, the government spin doctors, have had their behind-the-scenes treatment in TV shows such as the BBC’s The Thick of It

Of course, the life of a tech PR in an agency such as the one I work for is not quite that of a government PR, and our own MD Richard Parker is a bit less sweary than Malcolm Tucker.

But other factors, such as the fact that us PRs now outnumber our journalist counterparts more than three to one, have meant that increasingly people know what PR is and understand it is not a kind of magic. 

Which stands to reason, PR is the older industry and it’s about time we adopted a bit of transparency. But I think it’s also about time we recognise a commonly misunderstood truth about SEO. 

Time for the truth

Which is, that SEO is not complicated. In fact, it’s really very, very simple to understand. 

It sounds complicated, sure. Search engine optimisation. Anything with ‘optimisation’ in its title must be hard to understand! Right?

Well, no. Google (and we are just talking about Google search here, the other search engines follow it and so should you) itself is very complicated. Yes, you do need a PhD in computing to operate Google’s search algorithms.

If you wanted to truly understand them, you would need to be an especially talented doctor of machine learning. But that level of understanding isn’t what is required for SEO. 

In the early days of SEO, it was. But that was back when Google’s algorithms were far simpler, and all you might need to get to grips with them would be a GCSE in maths. More links + relevant keywords = good.

Now, conversely, as Google’s algorithms have become more complex, there is less to understand. To ‘do SEO’ properly, you don’t need to fully understand how Google’s algorithms operate and you probably never will, you just need to understand why.  

Giving Google what it wants

This ‘why’ is not a big secret. In fact, Google is very public about why it keeps making its search algorithms more complex; it wants to serve the best, most relevant content to its users. 

Understand that, and you understand SEO. Anytime you are trying to decide whether or not such and such an action relating to any part of your online strategy will impact your SEO, working back to this point should give you your answer. It’s not a dark art; it’s common sense. 

Thinking about writing a blog post crammed with keywords relating to your business? Don’t. It’s not good content, and not likely to be relevant to anyone. 

Thinking about asking a list of 500 random bloggers to link to your website? Don’t. If they don’t create good content it's of no use to anyone. 

Thinking about changing the title of every page on your site to ‘KITCHEN SINKS’ because you want to sell more kitchen sinks? Don’t. It’s not a good approach to content and not relevant to every page. 

It is okay to put ‘kitchen sinks’ in the page title of your kitchen sinks product page by the way, as long as the content’s good and relevant to people looking for kitchen sinks. 

SEO fundamentals

Do a few of these and you’ll find it’s an easy leap to understanding a couple of SEO fundamentals that are not likely to change any time soon: 

  • Create good content that is relevant to your intended audience.
  • Share it with your intended audience and influencers that they trust.

Invest time and resource into these things, and you’ve got yourself an SEO strategy that should work for you long term. It’s not ‘white hat’ versus ‘black hat’ SEO, it’s just an approach that has a multitude of benefits aside from making sure the Google Gods don’t come back and bite you in a new algorithm update.  

That said of course, both of these things are easier said than done. What is ‘good content’? Who is your audience and what is relevant to them? How and where do you share this content and who are these ‘influencers’ that your audience trusts? 

Which is why I said SEO is easy to understand, not to do. You may well still need experts to help you do a good job of it, just don’t let them befluddle you with whojamaflips. 

Ian McKee

Published 17 July, 2014 by Ian McKee

Ian McKee is Social and PR Director at AgencyUK and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn

10 more posts from this author

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Tudor

Relevant, Good content has always been of high importance. I believe content marketing is what most SEO agencies are push at the moment.

over 2 years ago

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Somir Das

Hi Tudor, you are absolutely right. Now content plays a vital part for SEO. If anyone wants good rank, only pay attention to the original, relevant and informative content from where readers get true information and get the proper answer of their quires.

over 2 years ago

Bridget Randolph

Bridget Randolph, Online Marketing Consultant at Distilled

Hi Ian, good article and I like your central point that SEO and PR need a bit of demystification!

However, as a consultant working in an agency environment with many different types of client, and in particular with companies with very large, complex websites and international targeting, I disagree slightly with your conclusion that the fundamentals of SEO are simply creating good content and sharing it with your audience.

Rather, I would say that the *purpose* of SEO is to enable your audience to discover your content (which should be good quality) via search engine results.

You are right to say that SEO is not difficult to understand - but in my opinion, the real basics are:

- don't inadvertently block search engine crawlers from your site or confuse them with multiple versions of the same thing (for example, parameters, duplicate content, international content which is not correctly targeted, mobile sites which are not linked to the desktop version etc)

- ensure that any page you want indexed is clear in the intent. Wwhat is the page about (keyword topic)? is that clearly communicated (on-page optimization)? is the page unique for that topic (this doesn't mean you can't have a higher-level page and more specific pages if there is search volume for these terms, as long as the content of each page is unique and useful. So for example, if you're a shoe store, it's fine to have a page about 'boots' and a page about 'black boots' as long as these are things your users will find helpful. There are various ways to figure that out).

There is nothing shady (or mystical) about making your website as clear to crawlers as possible - if anything, doing SEO correctly should help create a better user experience as well. But in my experience, there are many nuances in technical implementations which are not solved by simply 'creating great content and sharing with influencers', which means if you do not have technical expertise it is important to work with someone who does (and who can explain in simple terms what they are doing and why it works).

Creating great content and sharing it with your target market is *good marketing*. Good *SEO* is about the technical ways of ensuring that crawlers can understand and correctly rank your website.

over 2 years ago

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Michelle | Applause IT

Great article and on the whole I agree, it's certainly not a dark art.

However, it is now a highly competitive market with companies spending literally millions on 'great content' to get the quality link backs and recognition needed to produce a natural content spread across the web.

To appear on high ranking pages in Google for some terms is almost impossible which can be an issue for the smaller players who don't have the budget behind them to continually produce the content needed to secure a page one listing. .

over 2 years ago

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Dexter Cruz

Actually it's looks like complicated for first time heard and tough too but after the modern and new skill its wants only transparency to google and its want to follow instructed basic and smart rules of it.
Transparency with google should help to get high ranking .

over 2 years ago

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Gerry White

This is not a great article - SEO is pretty complicated unless your running a personal blog, tech SEO is complicated, everything from checking links (the link to your Twitter account is broken by the way, that trailing space causes issues, at least in firefox)

If SEO isn't that complicated - why do so many big companies get it so wrong? from canonical tags to faceted navigation, mobile ... you name it - the truth is that SEO is seriously complicated, or at least on an ecommerce or international site, by using someone who knows a site will be fully indexed, ranked appropriately and ultimately clicked on.

over 2 years ago

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Manohar Das

Hi Ian,

Thanks for the post. Even I plus one you on this that SEO is not about search engines, it's about our audience and that's the way it should be. But not many people get this, specially some reluctant clients. Hope they read it. :)

over 2 years ago

Ian McKee

Ian McKee, Social and PR Director at AgencyUK

Thanks everyone for your comments on this. A couple of replies...

@Bridget: I think we're coming at saying the same thing in slightly different ways, and I don't disagree with any of your comments. When I'm saying 'understanding SEO' I guess I mean 'understanding the *purpose* of SEO', and I just think that underpins a hell of a lot. The reason you want to avoid duplicate content, target international content appropriately, enable redirects correctly, all of that is part of serving your (and by extension Google's) users with good, relevant content.

@Gerry: As I say at the end of the post, SEO is easy to understand, but not to do. I know very well that technical SEO, particularly for big ecommerce or international sites, is not straightforward, what I'm talking about here is the underlying principles *before* understanding all of that. I talk to a lot of people who think that (even for a small personal blog) SEO is a mysterious science, when really it is common sense. As far as on site is concerned it's common sense that requires you to know a lot of best practice, but still common sense that ultimately is about enabling your audience to find (your) good, relevant content. And cheers for pointing out the broken link - I'll let the editors know!

over 2 years ago

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Tech SEO

Oh my goodness. Another article that fails to discuss the importance of technical SEO.

over 2 years ago

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