I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the term “SEO” and what it really means today. After a record run of attending conferences ranging from San Jose, Toronto, London and Leeds (soon to be joined by Seattle and Riga), I’ve become very conscious of a cloud of what can only be described as “SEO Depression” unfolding over conference panelists (though much less so for the delegates themselves).
The recurring narrative seems to be that Matt Cutts, like some kind of demon, is always about to unleash a torrent of difficulties for SEO folks. One area which has come under heavy scrutiny in light of the recent Panda/Penguin updates is link building and adding links to your site. Unlike some colleagues, I don’t believe that link building is over, but I do think that those inbound links have to have a genuine value for users, otherwise they’re really not going to help much.
To be honest, that’s been one of the search engines’ objectives for quite some time — to use links as an indicator of quality. So, if you’ve been “gaming” the system to get links, you’re much more likely to fall under the microscope each time a new change hits.
I’m not going to write one of those posts about SEO being dead, because I certainly don’t believe that to be the case. But, I do think it’s worth examining some of the common anxieties within the industry, especially as applied to Multinational SEO.
PPC Or SEO To Go First? Best Not To Work In Silos!
One of the things I hear often is the concern that paid search is eating into organic search, making SEO either less relevant or a less worthwhile time/financial investment. This strikes me as the wrong way to look at it.
If paid search is supplanting organic search permanently or temporarily (or, indeed, at all), that doesn’t change the fact that strong SEO is an integral part of any online marketing plan. If your competitors invest in SEO while you don’t, they’re going to see gains that you’re missing out on. SEO and PPC often work hand-in-hand, and you can make use of both while still erring on the side of caution.
For example, I no longer believe it makes sense for any company to roll out an international SEO programme to multiple countries without also having a PPC campaign in place. In some cases, we would recommend leading with PPC and landing pages first, rather than full blown (and relatively expensive) international SEO.
There are a number of reasons why we recommend this, but one is that user satisfaction on your site can be measured much more quickly with PPC than with SEO. Behavior really matters — so if you can study it first and quickly with PPC, your SEO efforts later will work out to be much more successful. I do worry that the association of search engine warnings with SEO being “bad” are beginning to stick with people who are newer to the industry, and therefore, SEO is having a health warning attached.
There is no doubt that not looking after your SEO health could potentially have even bigger commercial consequences for your organization — but if you walk away, you’ll never actually know what you lost until a competitor shows you the way (which they surely will).
The Power of Language — Is International Marketing Now More Significant?
A conversation with a translation agency this last week also made me chuckle. Because translation agencies have seen an opportunity to sell more services from their existing resource networks, they’ve created terms to cover the services they’re adding to their websites.
This has given rise to terms like “MSEO” (supposed to stand for “multilingual SEO”) and “transcreation,” another invented term meaning that a team of translators can create semi-original content based on the original text, but with a significant degree of latitude. If you see either of these terms, run a mile. In fact, run ten!
In 15 years, I’ve never heard these terms coming from the mouth of a client (though it’s possible they’re being used by the localization teams). We prefer “SEO Localization,” which we see as a very specific but different process involving both SEO teams (including SEO linguists and translators). However, the conversation added to the feeling of disquiet I have about the terms we use ourselves.
On the other hand, sometimes language can make a huge difference. For example, we recently decided to change the name of our International SEO School in Barcelona to “International Marketing School.” This means we’re up against some big-name competition, but it definitely doesn’t mean we’ll no longer be offering international SEO courses (which have, to date, been the most successful).
I came to the conclusion, after feedback from delegates, customers and others in the industry, that an international SEO course from an international marketing school was more acceptable than one from the equivalent “SEO School.”
Maybe “Culture” & “Multilingual” Are Winning Terms For The Future
There are some important lessons I’ve learned over the years. When someone says that there’s no real difference between “SEO” and “international” or “multilingual SEO,” they probably have never had their hands dirty in running a serious international SEO campaign. If they focus solely on geo-targeting, then they’ve probably have never had a large client. And, if they have “translation partners” to deliver the language element, or they talk about “translating keywords,” run a mile (or several hundred).
Essentially, the word “multilingual,” or even “multicultural,” should become a much more significant part of everyone’s thinking — more important, in fact, than the “SEO” or “PPC” part. In this case, you really need to put the cart before the horse. What that means in practical terms is:
- Understand who your customers are first
- Decide how best to reach out to them
- Then implement PPC, SEO, Social Media in whatever appropriate mix makes sense.
The point is that the “multilingual”/cultural bit is really important. It’s actually an integrated part of every step you take on your international site — not something that you can relegate to “later.”
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.