Although SEO is an area with multiple ideologies in parallel, there is a distorted perception of which problems can be fixed with SEO and which can’t.
For any business to exist, it’s necessary to have someone who seeks a product, good or service, and someone who provides that product, good or service. Everything tends to run smoothly when there’s an alignment of expectations on both sides. Problems appear when misalignment chimes in. The severity of the problem tends to be inversely proportional to the alignment of expectations. The smaller the alignment, the greater the problem, and vice versa.
Image credits USPTO
The professional evolution of a consultant, especially those in SEO, isn’t always smooth. Without going into the merits of what counts as evolution, the SEO role it’s a sinuous path and a complex and iterative process. I’m a firm believer that, the best professionals arise from being constantly challenged on the most diverse situations and problems. The more diverse issues you solve, the more competent you become at your job! This process, mostly involves improving a logical and self-critical way of thinking in problem solving; something so necessary these days. Those who do not correct the route and try to go the easy way—which does not foster this way of thinking—likely end up becoming just yet another “expert”.
Aligning expectations in SEO
The alignment of expectations, in general, depends not on two, but on three interlocutors: the medium, the customer and the supplier. The medium is usually the setter; the party dictating the rules. The client and the supplier try to organize themselves, and make their goals work on the rules laid down by the medium. Nevertheless, the medium can either be controlled by one of the other interlocutors, or completely independent.
Whenever there is no alignment of expectations, we decrease the likelihood of achieving goals. For both the customer and the supplier end up with an individual perception of what they know about the medium—or think they know—instead of staying focused on understanding and studying the facts. This is what often leads us to try to solve the wrong problems, and what we usually call “ass-u-me”.
Misalignment usually arises from lack of understanding of the medium (or problem) and its components. Either by one or both parties. And this is the phenomenon we see both in customers, who think they know what they are asking, and suppliers, who think they know what they are doing. In the end, what area would be better for all this to conflate than SEO?
Misalignment of expectations in SEO
Believe it or not, but there are entire businesses, relying solely on top of SEO. The belief that, SEO is the area capable of unilaterally creating, or even saving an entire business. Businesses where a competitive advantage or a marketing strategy has never been defined. Businesses that believe that SEO is “the solution” that will solve everything that was wrong or did not work. How, in the age of Artificial Intelligence, are there beliefs that a business will succeed without a competitive advantage, or a defined market position, is something that goes beyond my ability to understand.
Unfortunately, misalignment of expectations are more frequent than we would wish. In SEO, this usually happens because:
- There is a misconception of how a medium (search engine) works—limited understanding of the medium;
- There is a misconception of what SEO can do for a website—between customer (potential benefit of the service purchased) and supplier (potential benefit of the service sold);
Bottom line: None of us has a clue on how search engines work, and no one really understands what they are buying and selling with respect to SEO. It’s all on the “ass-u-mptions”.
My point here is not to judge what you or I know about SEO or search engines. But to shed some light on the critical need to align expectations. If you’re already thinking about jumping in the comments with pitchforks, you got the wrong message.
But let’s face it, quality of services aside, all of this exists because there is a market. Because there are uninformed people, who prefer to let themselves be deceived by pompous adjectives, than to try to understand what they’re buying. The customer who buys the link building package; the shallow content marketing; the focus on keyword density, or the pursuit of myths. They do it because they think it’s something that holds value. Not because they made an informed decision, or tried to get opinions about what they’re buying. Most of the time, the business only moves forward by confirmation bias: My assumption tends to empathise with another person’s assumption when it aligns. Expectations!
SEO fixes everything… Or maybe not
SEO does not create value where value does not exist. SEO exposes value! And for something to succeed, value must exist. I speak about this in practically all my lectures, mentoring, and alignment with clients. And I think it’s something that should be very clear, even before selling any service. In layman’s terms: If the product I see on my site is crap, and I optimize my website, I’ll just expose the crap that is my product. I will not necessarily turn crap into strawberries.
Those selling optimisation, need to sit longer with their customers and make that alignment of expectations. Understand what the customer’s goal is, and what an optimisation service can do for their site. This implies the consultant to have a minimal strategic notion of what to do. A mere tool operator approach will likely fail spectacularly.
For example, in SEO what’s the main approach that folks tend to see as solution even without having understood the client’s product right? Link Building! We immediately think of how to gain links, without even having designed a coherent strategy. This is a reflection of a misaligned approach to a basic concept of value proposition.
It’s urgent and imperative to stop seeing SEO as what you do after having already tried everything else that didn’t work. Or that ranking better in search results is the sole strategy that proves that your product is better than your competitor’s. SEO needs to be seen as a continuous, iterative, and cumulative process. It’s like exercising: when you stop, you get fat!
Sorry, couldn’t help it!–Joking aside, in the past I have already talked about the need for a holistic approach in SEO. This need has not changed. On the contrary, it has increased.
SEO is a component of Digital Marketing, which permeates not only departments, but also moments. That is, the right moment to think about SEO, is at all times. But while the goal is something more enduring, strategy and tactical approaches may vary depending on the timing of a business’s growth. If we take a standard approach, blindly following what tools say and leaving room for misalignment, we run the risk of doing the wrong things at the wrong times. And if there is anything worse than building a weak house, it’s wanting to start the house from the roof.
If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions. — Albert Einstein
I believe in the constant dedication of time and knowledge needed to understand the problem I am facing. Going for a timely, tool-based and simplistic approach is not synonymous with “focus on SEO”, but rather synonymous with a limited approach and that strategically adds little value.