Adam Wagner

Dec 23 2012

Newcomer’s Response to: What the Heck is SEO?

digital marketing progress graphic

Over the course of the last month the organic search world has seen a hot debate over the perceived value of SEO and what role SEOs should play in content generation. Paul Boag wrote "The Inconvenient Truth About SEO" on Smashing Magazine earlier this month, which was received by an influx of pushback and commentary from SEOs. Then, on Dec. 21st a group of influential SEOs lead by Bill Slawski and Will Critchlow published their response on Smashing, "What the Heck is SEO?". In their rebuttal, Bill and Will asked numerous SEOs to respond to the below three questions. After reading, I felt an urge to provide my perspective on this issue as someone who has two years of SEO experience and is in the process of creating my own digital agency. My experience with search has been influenced by the current landscape of content marketing dominance, Social Media and Mobile technologies, which are relatively new to the world of digital marketing. I do not have a background that includes the years of web directory prominence, forum commenting and black hat prevalence. The current landscape is all I know and so I feel very comfortable with the back-and-forth conversation between developers and SEOs. We are entering an era where everything is becoming more and more integrated and we are all forced to work more closely together to achieve optimum results for our clients. 


SEO is evolving at a mind-spinning rate. Over the last year, Google has made its’ strongest push towards eliminated spammy SEO techniques by focusing on high-quality content that is being engaged with by actual users. Advancements in technology and the prominence of Social Media has give search engines the tools necessary to genuinely judge the quality of content instead of simply interpreting the purpose of the content. 

This has accelerated the overlap of SEO, content marketing, Social Media and PR. Agencies must provide integrated services in order to garner the results clients deserve. Recently, I was a part of an SEO pitch for a hospice company, but the hospice company already had a traditional PR firm that happened to be in the room during the pitch. It actually made a fairly awkward meeting because when it came to discussing link building tactics there are so many overlaps with what could be considered PR that the other agency kept feeling like they had to say “We do that…”. This shows the level of education that needs to take place even within our own industry. As the lines are blurred we all need to educate ourselves on the values of a variety of service offerings. The article by Paul Boag is a larger example of what I just described. It displayed the disconnect between some designers/developers and SEOs. These are two disciplines that are very different from one another, but that should be intricately intertwined. Instead of belittling one another, we need to focus on coming together and understanding the value that all bring to the table. 

Modern digital marketing is in the growing pains of an aging discipline. As it changes and matures we all need to continue to have these conversations in order to grow together.

“How do you define SEO?”

SEO is an antiquated term for describing the modern discipline of telling a story to search engines. SEOs seek to provide relevant, targeted traffic to their clients’ websites through search engines. Therefore, SEOs take advantage of any technique that will better a clients’ odds of appearing in top search results. As search engines evolve so will SEO. 

“What role should an SEO play in the development of content for a website?”

An SEO should play as large a role as necessary for developing content for a website. Depending on the size of the client the role an SEO will play in content development will likely decrease. If an SEO is working with a national brand, then there will be corporate copywriters dedicated to developing content, so an SEO will play a role in optimizing content and content strategy. 

However, for mom and pop businesses that are only able to hire a search agency, then the SEO is likely to be incredibly hands on with the development of the content. 

“Do you have a tip for Smashing Magazine readers about technical SEO?”

If you are looking to perform your own technical SEO updates for your site then make sure and only take tips from established industry pubs and experts. There is a lot of bad and/or outdated advice out there. 

If you are a larger brand, then hire a search agency with a proven track record in your category with account managers that you enjoy working with. 

SEO should never be taken for granted. Every business will benefit from the implementation of SEO best practices. 

As this conversation continues, I would love to hear from you on Twitter (@adamwagner4) or on your blog. I am glad to see that there are so many of us that are passionate enough to spend time defending our field. As long as this passion continues progress will continue as well. 

Author: Adam Wagner

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