I get calls and emails from people needing search engine optimization, or SEO, on their website. They need help to get their website optimized for the search engines like Google. It used to be in the not-too-distant past that doing SEO correctly on a website could generate reasonably good results. Google even provided us with lots of data in our Google Analytics about which search terms (or keywords) we were being found for on the search engines.

I think people still have high expectations of being found online for their desired search terms, and SEO is THE answer to be number one. So the big question here is, “Is SEO still the best way to get found online?”

SEO has a bit of mystery around it, and I see bad examples all the time of a web designer who tried to SEO their client’s website.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told by someone that “my web guy already SEO’d my website, but I’m just not showing up!” And I demonstrate that they have NO SEO, or that all their web guy did was install an SEO plug-in without DOING any SEO.

Sorry, Skippy, but that boat don’t float.

Getting Found in Many Places

It used to be that people searched on Google, and that was it. But now, your customers use so many different tools to search, connect and learn about your business, that just doing SEO on your website isn’t enough. As an example, YouTube is the second most-used search engine behind Google. If you’re not doing any videos, you’re missing out.

Social media didn’t used to have such an influence on our lives, but now you have the option to use paid placement on most of the major systems like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Social media is integrated with all our devices like our tablets and smart phones (which we didn’t have all that many years ago either!).

You have at least 10 different ways your customers are looking for you, and if you’re not using them all, you’re missing out. So SEO really only affects how your website shows up on Google and the other search engines. You have lots of other choices that you need to pay attention too!

Google Changes the Rules (And We Don’t Know What the Rules Are!)

SEO is not hard to do, and you should always SEO your content. But you also have the least amount of influence on where it’s going to show up than most other tools. Google doesn’t tell us what the rules are anymore, because if a little is good, then a lot is better. So when Google has told us the rules, we over-indulge and stuff our websites full of whatever they used to tell us, like linking, rich keywords in every nook and cranny, and so on.

So we don’t really know what the rules are, and can only surmise at some of them. It’s like playing a game of Quidditch in Harry Potter, but mid-game, they change the rules on us. It makes it very difficult to know what to do.

Flying Blind

Aside from the rule changes and the lack of an actual playbook, people all want to be number one on Google, or at least on page one of the search results. The reality is that there is no page one anymore. Google is using artificial intelligence to try to display the “best” results for each of us individually, and those results are different for each of us.

If you and I do a search, we’re going to get different results based upon:

  • Our past search history
  • What we’ve interacted with in the past
  • Social media signals from our individual connected network
  • What Google thinks our “intent” is in the search phrase

Worse, we don’t have the search data in Google Analytics anymore. Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) has some data, but it doesn’t divulge which search terms work best and more importantly, convert best. Even Google Adwords won’t necessarily give you “pure” data on your search terms, because your ad may show up for related terms you haven’t actually bid on.

Tough Competition!

Finally, you have competition and lots of it.

If there are 25 hair salons in my town alone, and they all did a “perfect” job of putting in the SEO on their websites, they still can’t all be number one. They can’t all be on the first page of Google, or even on two pages. The search results will vary from person to person, so it’s completely unrealistic to think that you’ll be able to get to #1.

If you’re in a larger metro area like San Francisco, well, forget it. Search terms like san francisco dentist as an example are unrealistic.

So I think SEO as a marketing tactic is getting wizened and pretty long in the tooth. The crown isn’t as shiny as it once was.

It’s always important to do SEO on your content, but you need to have marketing systems in place to attract, entice and retain people from lots of places, not just SEO. This is called Digital Marketing or Conversion Marketing.

Digital Marketing Workshop in July

If you’d like to learn how to put a marketing program in place for your own business, I’m hosting a 3-day Digital Marketing Training Workshop for consultants, marketers, entrepreneurs and coaches in July [Note: Registration is closed.]. During the workshop, we’ll put all the pieces together for you so you can easily implement basic SEO, but get your other systems in place to convert mere visitors to warm leads and into clients.

Will you join me?

(This original article was written by Thomas Petty, originally appeared here and was re-published with permission.)