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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Educate Your Team: SEO Isn't Voodoo

In a recent project document floated my way, everyone’s role was listed with many sections explained in extreme detail—programmers were given explicit instructions on expected functionality, designers were shown painstakingly built visual mockups… and the section for search said, “Duane to cover SEO.” Basically, “Oh Shaman of search, work your mystical powers to great effect on traffic and revenues—and do it cheaply, please.”

After years of preaching about how we need to work on projects to include search up front, I find myself wondering if my messages have been heard and understood.

Now, I ask myself this question several times each day—have I explained things in a clear enough manner? It’s far too easy to spin off into my own language of keyword density, canonicalization issues, and keyword research, which is truly voodoo to those “outside.”

As much as I snickered at my past encounter with the idea of “demystifying” what I did as a marketer, I’ve come 180 degrees to understanding, acutely, the need to ensure everyone on the team fully understands the words I say. In some cases, it’s as simple as explaining things a different way. In other cases, it’s as complex as teaching something new, in detail. The bottom line still remains—for a long time into the future, SEO (and parts of PPC) will remain voodoo, regardless of our best efforts to demystify the process.

Now, if we throw in the folks practicing as “black hats,” things can get truly daunting and confusing to those outside the industry. Doorway pages, cloaking, stuffing, burning domains—it’s all in a dark day’s work for an accomplished black hatter.

No wonder so many companies bristle at the thought of building their own in-house search marketing teams—voodoo, black arts, burning domains, bannings, penalties—it’s enough to make your head swim if you’re not already up to your neck in this world.

It remains in the purview of responsible search marketers to explain what they do to clients and co-workers before they do it. It’s tough enough trying to accurately assign an ROI to organic search marketing efforts. Save yourself some grief and be sure to fully explain things to everyone invested in a project well in advance. Helping them understand what “reasonable expectations” are is critical.

If you’re wondering if taking the time to spread the knowledge has any real meaningful impact within a company, take a look at your own daily situations.

Would a project move forward more quickly if the programmers knew how their efforts in building a site or new section might impact search results? Would a product manager be better able to support your efforts to optimize pages if they understood the “voodoo” of search rankings are comprised of hundreds of factors—many of which you can easily influence in a positive way? Would your ecommerce folks help you get resources to rewrite product descriptions to include relevant keywords if they understood how on-page optimization matters? Would your IT architect help you name folders in a certain manner if they understood the incremental differences that naming with keywords vs. anything else might make in the bigger picture?

I’m willing to bet the answer to every scenario above is yes. In every instance, they’d all do what they could to help you get things aligned.

This is why it’s vital to ensure everyone understands a bit about your world. They don’t need to know what to do themselves, necessarily, but they do need to understand that SEO efforts are not some kind of magic spray-paint that gets glossed over a finished product. I’ll teach folks 90% of what I know. The other 10% I keep to myself to keep the mystery just barely alive, and me out in front!

Here are some key phrases and ideas to keep in your back pocket:

  • Rankings are NOT metrics
  • SEO should be baked in, not spread on top
  • SEO is a game of inches, not miles—there’s no ONE thing that will make you a hero
  • Usability trumps SEO—the user’s experience should always be the # 1 focus

Duane Forrester is an in-house SEM, sits on the Board of Directors with SEMPO and can be found at his blog where he speaks about online marketing and monetizing websites. Duane is also a writer for the In House column which appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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