There’s been plenty written about online marketing convergence recently. It’s easy to find opinions as to whether SEO as a service can survive alone. Indeed, can agencies that provide only SEO keep clients from moving to agencies providing inbound marketing as a holistic solution?
I believe we’re a long way yet from finding out the answer to this question, but I can say that it does depend on what exactly SEO is. In its strictest definition, it’s simply getting keywords on a page of a website to appear near the top end of the SERPs (“improving the visibility”) for that word or phrase. That’s it.
If all that your clients want is high rankings, that’s fine. Just so long as you make it clear that they’re only paying for vanity — what use are rankings alone, other than for pride?
However it may be that you’ve viewed SEO as helping clients to maximize their conversions from their websites. In this respect, you may well have added services such as SEO-friendly copywriting, marketing process advice such as AIDA, or any variation of this that ends up with a call to action. You may have offered advice or services for blogging and social media. You may even have offered opt-in email marketing management, along with analysis and analytics.
It’s easy to brand both of these approaches, or anything in-between, as SEO. One qualifies under the strict definition, while the other gives what can be described as a comprehensive SEO solution. So which one is really SEO?
The first definition gives no value to clients, while the second offers a comprehensive solution that gives plenty of value. It really doesn’t matter what it’s called. But nevertheless, the latter includes all the major elements of what is now called inbound marketing. This is where my company found itself, calling itself a SEO company, which we’ve been doing for nine years, yet providing all the elements of inbound marketing. We just needed a methodology and interface to complete the picture — now we have these and guess what? We’re an inbound marketing company. We still pride ourselves on providing great SEO, however you define it.
So while the definitions are different — SEO is simply one of the many elements of inbound marketing — in practice, it’s likely that many SEO companies have been doing at least some and possibly most of what inbound marketing is.
The difference between this expanded SEO solution that many SEO companies may already be providing, and inbound marketing, is that most inbound marketing solutions are designed for the end user (your clients) to do themselves. Hubspot, for example, sells a subscription to a dashboard (1 year up-front), behind which are a set of tools that end users can use, once they’ve had training, either from Hubspot or a Hubspot partner. It mostly also involves the site’s hosting being moved to one of Hubspot’s servers.
Now that’s fine, and I’m sure it’s a great model for some. Hubspot has a great toolset, an enthusiastic approach, and great people. But maybe, their solution is not for everyone. Not all clients want to take management of such a system in-house. Running it doesn’t mean it’ll do your work for you — it means it’ll tell you what you need to do. But do your clients want you to do this for them while they focus on their own business?
We’ve been calling this SEO for years, despite the changing nature of the tasks involved and areas covered. Now it’s got more structure, and clients can either use it, have their provider do it all, or a combination of both. Now it’s called inbound marketing.
Maybe you think you’ve been doing SEO and your clients are getting inbound marketing. So long as they get great value, as long as it works for them and so long as your prices are good for both parties, it doesn’t matter what you call it. Maybe we should just call it marketing.
REM sang “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” If it’s the end of SEO, then for many it’s only a change of name and with that, I feel fine.
Image: End of the World from Shutterstock