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Paul Wolferstan, VCCP Media, head of organic media.
I never liked those maths questions at school that involved two trains travelling towards each other, and when and where they would crash. It always seemed to me that for those on board ignorance was probably bliss, and they’d find out soon enough anyhow. Watching the worlds of SEO and content creation, I can’t help getting that two-trains feeling again.
For a long time, SEO has existed in its own unreal microcosm, perpetuated by the search engines’ heroic but ultimately flawed attempts to return search results that were untainted by the efforts of manipulators who felt that their particular brand of made-for-SEO content should be number one.
Some niches and industries were so heavily affected by the distorting presence of extreme SEO that it was impossible to gain any traction without resorting to the tactics used by the incumbents, but even those bastions of unreality are now crumbling too.
The engines have finally found ways of using behavioural data to algorithmically identify what searchers want, and by definition what they don’t – allowing them to discount vast swathes of junk and low value content. So what is the carrot that accompanies this large and long-overdue stick that Google has finally created in the form of the various Panda and Penguin updates?
The answer annoyingly is what Google said it was all along – great content (that people want to use and share), but for many brands it’s not clear what that looks like or who is going to create it.
Making the move to creating content that is truly engaging for people, not search engines, is something that not many SEOs are capable of. For those that try to make the move, it is a steep learning curve, and puts them in direct competition with a range of other people in their organisation from the PR team, to the content manager and the social media guys. This has come as a rude awakening for a discipline that is used to being left to its own devices in the recesses of the marketing department.
The fact is that very few SEOs are great content creators, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be closely involved with the whole process from inception to publishing. Good SEOs are there to make sure that whatever a brand creates and publishes works properly in the search engines. They have been doing this for a long time with technical and development teams, advising on what will and won’t work, but they don’t code the pages or run the webservers.
The same principle should apply to content creation. SEOs need to let go, and realise that there are already people in this niche with immense skills. What those people don’t know is how to make content that works well across owned and earned media and which also ticks all the boxes for the search engines. Good SEOs need to concentrate on providing strategy, metrics and data to inform all these other people as to how well they are doing in the search engines (or not), and what else they could be doing.
At VCCP, where content creation and a bigger picture view of media channels have always been part of the reality, we prefer to see SEO as part of a wider approach we call Digital Media Optimisation (DMO) which we apply across all channels to provide an integrated view. With granular data and good metrics SEO can be optimised like any other channel but it also has potentially significant benefits across all owned and earned media. The creation of effective content is something that should be left to specialists, but some of the thinking behind it, the measurement of its success and the revenue that it generates via the search engines is something that SEOs should rightfully take credit for.