With the negative press and declining fortunes of social media suggesting that another path is needed for content marketers, one route that’s emerging is a not-so-dusty throwback: search engine optimization. Here’s an SEO refresher.
For years, SEO was the MVP. Then it became second fiddle to social media. Are we ready to welcome it back to the lead role?
Several recent articles have noted a changing attitude toward SEO. Now that Facebook and other social media outlets aren’t pulling their weight in driving traffic anymore, the media world is looking back longingly at SEO. Although spurned for a while, it was always there, reliable as ever.
Years of breathless articles about how social media was going to change the world played a role in pushing SEO to the sidelines, but it also had real shortcomings: Breaking news is a tough battle to win on search engines, and content strategies take months to prove their weight. Social media, for all its faults, feels more instant and interactive.
But, as New York Magazine’s Brian Feldman recently noted, social media content promotion is often driven by emotion and subject to exaggeration. That may add excitement, but it doesn’t always deliver what readers think they’re getting. SEO tactics may seem boring by comparison, but they’re focused on providing value.
“When a writer pads their article for the trailer of the newest Marvel movie with search keywords—data like the cast and crew and opening date—they’re optimizing for the Google robots,” Feldman wrote. “But they’re also providing genuinely useful information.”
Of course, Facebook (and to a lesser extent Twitter) was a pretty solid gravy train for a while, and those who succeeded at taking advantage of its organic reach did really well for a couple of years. Empires were built—just ask Mic, which was once pulling in tens of millions of hits monthly from Facebook.
But as that organic reach went away and social media’s bigger problems emerged—among them privacy headaches and that tendency toward emotion and misinformation—the idea of leaning away from social media started making sense again, including for associations.
If you’re giving SEO a fresh look after some time on the back burner, here are a few steps to consider before you go further:
1. Revisit the fundamentals. All the stuff that you might have pushed off to the side in an effort to win over social traffic, including keyword-driven title tags and meta descriptions, are still important. And much like the aggressive headline tweaking that defined the social media era, there’s a lot of room to boost traffic from a rethink of a staid meta tag—something the Ahrefs blog highlights in a recent post.
2. Do your research. Just as finding the right hashtags and joining the right groups can provide good ways to spread your message on social media, SEO works best when you’ve dug into the keywords. All sorts of tools exist for this, some free and some more expensive, but their goal is generally to help you figure out where the competition is and narrow your line of attack so you can find the gaps in the existing keywords and exploit them.
3. Don’t forget the AMP factor. Mobile has sharply changed the way web pages are viewed, a shift that Google leaned into in 2016 when it launched its Accelerated Mobile Pages. AMP has been a shot in the arm for websites that have embraced it, but it comes with a number of ethical issues about its impact on the open web. But if you want to improve your search position on Google, AMP is one of the best ways to do it.
4. Commit. It takes time to build authority in SEO, which means you need to be willing to wait it out for a while. It’s not like social media marketing, where it once seemed like there was a new network to jump into every week. This is slow, focused work. SEO is not a skunkworks project; it’s a long-term relationship, and you have to commit to make it work and see the benefits.
SEO never died, and neither will social media. If you leaned a little too much into social media in the heady years around, say, 2013, maybe now’s a good time to recalibrate. And when the next hot marketing tactic comes along, it might be a good idea to aim for balance.