What’s a sexier topic today than researching and leveraging the social graph and social media marketing strategies or link building strategies? In a world with complex, sophisticated online marketing strategies, who would believe that mastery of foundational tradecraft can still make all the difference? A lot of online marketers. Traditional marketers, true to their nature, are more interested in harpooning the next big wave and riding it out to the next big wave. It’s not that these big waves have to no effect or place, it is simply that they are tangential, or extensions, from a core foundation. To steal a phrase from Adam Audette, the idea behind Core online marketing strategy is to create it in a “sustainable” fashion. I feel like I write about this all the time, but I’m going to make it definitive by putting together, what I consider, all the core principles in one place.
Unsustainable Online Strategy?
“Sustainable” begs the point, what’s unsustainable? In a nutshell, it’s anything doesn’t remain solid over a long period of time. In a way, think of unsustainable as unstable; it’s an explosive mixture. In relation to online marketing, it’s a “churn and burn” methodology and an algorithm-chasing methodology; using techniques and methods that provide initial lifts and acceleration, but doesn’t necessarily stand the test of time. It is not intended to be ever-present and yield gains for the long run. In essence, unsustainable ignores the bottom-line user-experience in the equation of online marketing.
To bring back the “big wave marketing” metaphor, hitching a ride on the wave is what you do during the gold rush. It’s what you’re doing between the waves that amplifies what is sustainable foundation and structure, because this exists as a constant no matter the wave that’s rushing by.
Core Online Marketing Strategy?
Core-focused, as you can probably guess, is strategic optimization methods that focus on creating a sustainable, solid foundation to websites. That’s it. Like a house needs a rock-solid foundation to sustain development, like the body needs a strong core to harness its strength from, to be powerful and stable, so too does a website. Think of it in the following way:
A house without a strong foundation is simply a disaster waiting to happen. Everything you build on that foundation is susceptible to collapsing. Every addition you add on, every story you build, only further adds stress on a weak foundation. You’re building a house of cards. And, certainly, there are ways to shore up a busted foundation, but the end result is a procedure that will cost you more in the long-term.
A Core mindset doesn’t mean you have to shun online strategies that don’t relate to it, far from it. The Core strategy makes those complex strategies more inviting and easier to optimize for once you engage them. That’s the real secret to a Core focus. A strong core aids in creating tighter, more succinct content, better link building opportunities, and help to prevent the “Frankensteining” of your website.
The Elements of Core
The WHY Conversation(s)
We all conversations with our clients (at least I hope you do). But are you having the right kinds of conversation with your client? If you’re going to build a solid core and a carefully orchestrated online marketing strategy, you need to have the “WHY” conversations.
It goes beyond just talking about where they are today and what you can fix to make today better. It goes beyond finding out the objectives and goals with an optimization and marketing strategy, and making sure expectations are set. The WHY conversations are intended to get to the vision of the company for three to five years from now. After all, how can you build a foundation for tomorrow based on today?
In order to optimize and strategize for tomorrow, you need to know what it looks like today. I’m of the opinion that this is one of those lynch pin activities, peeling the site like an onion. Looking at the site from technical perspectives, looking at it from site optimization perspectives, and looking at the market place perspective (i.e. competition). You have to put all the pieces of the puzzle together in order to create a view of what tomorrow looks like.
This is a topic I harp on often because I believe it’s one of the single most important factors of strategy and optimization that plenty of people don’t take seriously. You’ve got to take your time building this, ensuring that you’re putting the focus-points of the site out front. That you use information for your conversations and audits to leverage how you’re building thematic silos of information around products/services. You want the architecture set up so you don’t cannibalize specific keywords and phrases. You want to visualize, possibly even map out, how you can cross-link throughout the site to flatten architecture and escape the block-level trap.
It goes without saying that this is the life-blood of any website. Content, while always having been an important factor, has had a reemergence in the past six to seven months as a cornerstone element. Many have Panda to thank for that. In the past, content has simply been another way to manipulate by “stuffing” business-centric keywords and phrases. If you subscribe that document level classifying is used (which I do, and seems to be at the heart of Panda), then stuffing is of a bygone era.
Therefore, writing content in a way that serves the user as well as engines is key. Content, in my opinion should be functional, informative, and actionable; it should tie in temporal and semantic relevance to targeted keywords. It should be structurally sound and should take advantage of internal body content linking. Moreover, your site content should be looking to build in the best usability and user-experience possible, up front (i.e. making clear calls to action through text and design).
Additionally, you need to think about how to keep content fresh and relevant. Whether that’s through blogging, gamification, articles/infographics/user-stories, or simply working on cultivating UGC (user-generated content).
Push/Pull Marketing and Optimization
Clearly, having roots deep-seeded in SEO, I consider this a must-have for any website. Applying great keyword research and user search trends to HEAD fields, creating optimized site content that helps to reinforce the message while making it appetizing for engines, are not optional in my opinion. Working on link building tactics, building exact match anchors, building semantic and temporal variations on business-centric keyword anchors. The list goes on and on. Ultimately, if you want to stay competitive in any market place online, you have to do it to maintain a strong, solid core.
But, equally as important, is defining the overall online marketing strategy. Do you engage in PPC (paid search)? Does it make sense to utilize location-based marketing (i.e. Foursquare, Google Express, etc)? Do you make social media marketing tactics a central piece, and if so, are taking into account how SEO can help you leverage this? Are you thinking about how mobile plays a part in the strategy going forward?
The success of many of these endeavors relates directly back to how strong your overall site core is. Is your architecture built in a way that it can accommodate these things easily (i.e. is it flexible to incorporate)? Is the content targeted enough, optimized well-enough to lend a helping hand to your paid search efforts?
Where Do I Go From Here?
These are just the core elements. It’s not indicative of the polished techniques you’ll need to acquire to have your online marketing engine roaring. For that you’ll unmistakably need practice. Then more practice and polish. At some point, you’ll be able to see how all these core elements work combine together like Voltron. But until then, it’s enough to keep your focus on these core elements; they are the keys to lasting success online. They are the key factors to having a website stand the test of time.
It’s time to move forward, get focused, and start harvesting.
In an effort to be more creative about posts, today I’m going a different route. Being introspective can offer you a lot of insight if you’re willing to face it all (the good and the ugly). I blame the writer in me, I blame the philosopher in me, and I blame poet in me for having to do this. In the end, if you can’t be honest with yourself, life will present itself as a lie. To that end, I think it’s time to write a letter to my bygone one-year-older self. It’s an art that’s dying in a byte-sized playground where quips and snark become the constitution of communication.
It seems we’ve found ourselves in the same spot for the last two years: at a crossroads. Because where we go from here, the direction Tony at 32 chooses, the u-turns are farther apart and they’re harder to make. It’s been another year to be thankful for to be sure; the birth of my third daughter Mia, the connections made that blossomed into friendships, creating some real movement with Silver Arc Search, and celebrating another year with my wife. This year was about the little things. This year was about digging deep and being thankful for small moments of astonishment and joy.
I know 31. At the time, it felt like you were living on your knees. It was excruciating to have to be thankful for a dinner, thankful that we have a place to call home, that Natalie is learning to use sentences when she talks, or that Madison is learning to read. They seem automatic. But when life starts to tear away at the edges, when the dark of things beyond your control threaten to fold in on you, these are the things you have to hold onto to make to tomorrow. You did a great job 31 of finding those glimmers, without which we may have given up hope.
Right. Direction. And u-turns. I’m faced with some hard choices right now. There’s a lot riding on the decisions I’m going to have to make in the near-future, as you well know 31. It seems that’s your gift to me; the opportunity to choose and the opportunity to fail. There’s no doubt it seems like a burden right now, and I’m sure I’ll be second-guessing myself in the days to come. I keeping coming back to this idea that I’m still young enough to fail spectacularly and recover. When I do a 360 perimeter check, I know it just isn’t true. Failure has consequences. Failure on multiple levels just isn’t an option.
Then I think, maybe I’ll fail-forward. Into the next great adventure. Maybe, unbeknownst to me, I’ve been living a charmed existence all these years and that it will take risking it all to see it. I do know one thing 31, we are going to kick opportunity in the teeth and ride it to the hilt. If we do fail, it’ll be something for the record books and a teachable moment to anyone who would care to look. Maybe we’ll never look back, ride off like John Wayne into those western sunsets, onto the next town that needs a hero to clean up the town.
This year we learned a lot about how not to manage a business: through crisis points. Like crisis politics, crisis business management is no plan at all. Moving from one fire to the next is the surest way to set the whole structure on fire. You can’t continually serve those who are screaming the loudest because everyone is screaming. All crisis business management serves to do is add layers of complex over-process to deal with a specific case here and a unique case over there. In the end, all you ever do is re-invent the wheel through by masking its simplicity through mundane, over-thought process.
This year we learned a lot about growing a business responsibly. That biting off more than you can chew when you’re making money is an easy thing to do. Because we never want the good times to end, and when the business is on a roll, the general feeling is that they never will. I equate to a sprinter that runs so hard and so fast that their lung collapses. Theoretically, I knew it was possible, but never thought I would see it happen. To expand so fast that you collapse, like watching a balloon deflate.
Of course we both pinned this on greed, the Gordon Gecko mentality, the super-sizing of everything mentality: if some is good, a lot is better. It’s that attitude that causes collapse for small and mid-sized businesses. And Rhea’s post on the ROI of No, is really about calculating the risk of temptation to kill yourself by gorging yourself. We learned this year that satisfaction is about being able to live comfortably. Not overextending. Not “keeping up with The Jones'”. Because The Jones’ is an illusion; they’re trying to keep up with someone else too.
I think we both know 31, that 32 is going to be a year of real newness. I’ll save us both from quoting Robert Frost here, because whatever we do now is, ultimately, a road less traveled by many. And we both know that through whatever trials and tribulations we’ll go through this year, we’re blessed to have led such an exciting existence, to be where we have been, to know who we know, and to know that the familial blood we carry in us carries us. That includes my SEM family too. Our bonds of picking each other by the bootstraps, that there is no quit in us.
I hope this letter finds you well 31. Let 29 and 30 know we’re just fine, I know they were worried about us. I think you should quote Shawshank for them: “Andy Dufresne, who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side [...] I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright and when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice [...]” They’ll understand.
No one who’s watching wants to see it. No one who’s listening wants to hear it. Anyone who’s just starting out in SEO or anyone who’s been in SEO for years isn’t going to want to hear it or even agree. SEO is a commodity. It’s been commoditized.
Deep down, it’s something I’ve known for a year or so now, but two recent posts have solidified this viewpoint for me: Rand Fishkin’s The Responsibilities of SEO Have Been Upgraded and Alan Blieweiss’ Why I Joined Click2Rank. Each has a unique subject, each has unique vantage point, but the end result of both articles brought me to “commodity”. Neither are prerequisite reading, but I would recommend them both.
Here’s the definition of commoditization from InvestoPedia:
1) While many consider this sort of adjustment worthwhile, some view commoditization as a cause of price fluctuations. 2) When a product becomes indistinguishable from others like it and consumers buy on price alone, it becomes a commodity.[emphasis mine]
The New Used Car Dealerships of the Web
Between the rapid globalization (read outsource) and higher levels of saturation in the market place today, SEO services are the newest used car dealerships on the web. The same knowledge resource [the product] possessed by many in a space dominated by price [consumers looking for the service]. The industry is about cheap quality. If the consumer doesn’t find SEO Company X’s price palatable, he/she can walk down the street and haggle with SEO Company Y’s people. Because in the end, all a client/consumer wants is a vehicle that gets done what it has to at the least expense to them.
Some will argue that this simply isn’t the case. And, I’ll listen to those arguments because I still want to believe it isn’t the case either. But let’s take this metaphor a bit further.
Ferrari’s and Yugo’s and Everything in Between
Like automobiles, SEO and SEM skill sets come in varying degrees. Some of us are highly-tuned, highly-functional Ferrari’s: clients know it’s expensive (and have a hard time justifying the cost), but also know (we hope they do) they’ll be getting precision, speed, luxury, and an unparalleled level of craftsmanship. Some of us out there are Yugo’s: clients know (again, we hope they do) all they’re getting is four tires and an engine. It gets you mobile, it’s A to B, it’s not the safest or the best, but it’s cheap training wheels. And then there is everyone in between these two poles; it’s a grab-bag of skill sets and you [the client] never know what you’re going to get.
A Second Depression
This is where it gets a bit political, so if you’d rather not, no hard feelings. We’ll catch up on the net another time.
It’s no big secret, the global economy is in trouble. From dollar-deflation issues and Euro troubles, to crashing double-dip housing market complete with derivatives [read a crippled banking and finance industry], crushed consumer spending, every company is watching their marketing budget with an extra layer of scrutiny. It was lean before, it’s lean now, and it’ll be leaner into the distant future. The Second Depression isn’t letting them off the hook, and in turn, they won’t be letting us off the hook.
SEO is less about experience, knowledge, and proven ability these days, even taking into account Rand’s accurate depiction of what SEO is today. It’s a numbers game for companies. They recognize the need for SEO and SEM services in order to be competitive, in order to still have footholds in the market place. However, since SEO services have been commoditized, it’s no longer advantage SEO.
The Game is Not Yours to Dictate Anymore
Companies know the score now. They no longer feel compelled to be held over the fire singularly based on an SEO’s knowledge, experience, and skill set. Thus, leading to higher costs. Prospective clients can send you packing and opt for cheaper(est) services thanks to a saturated marketplace, thanks to globalization. Current clients can spend half what they do now by pulling resources in-house. Couple that with ultra-frugal mindsets and heavily slashed budgets. Hopefully you can see where this is heading.
This doesn’t mean that Ferrari-esque SEOs are destined to find agency/in-house gigs (but that is one possible outcome). It doesn’t mean that Yugo SEOs and Middle SEOs will rule the market. It simply means that the game is no longer yours to dictate. And, as such, expect less. Even in destroyed economies, performance has a place. You can still keep the same prices, but expect that even less people will seek you out for that rate.
You can tell me that “quality” still means something to some. You can tell me that “results and proven track records” still hold water. I won’t disagree with that. But what I will tell you is that those things are “nice to haves” in a world where the guy next door does the same thing for half the price, even though he/she doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Because it’s about dollar-dollar bills y’all.