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A Shift to Online Business Management Consulting – Thoughts on Rebranding in 2010

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 4 years and 110 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

I haven’t spent a lot of 2009 posting for my little marketing blog, and I miss taking the time to sit down and write about what I’m learning. 2009 has been a whirlwind of projects outside the scope of just SEO, and I’ve realized that talking isn’t doing.  It’s made me realize that over-simplifying what I do on the web to purely SEO is doing myself a disservice due to a variety of factors discussed below. Those of you with years of experience building and improving ever aspect of a website deserve more credit than you sometimes receive. I’ve watched many of my friends and peers write books, develop large communities on the subject, and take jobs at some of the most prestigious companies in the world. Despite all this, I doubt I will continue to pitch myself as “an SEO” for much longer. I know I will always truly “be an SEO” at heart, but I think it’s time to move on (for real this time). I will most likely focus on online business management consulting, and improving business’s overall online profits through refining processes and strategies. What will that look like? Probably something very similar to the services I’ve been providing clients for years, with a more generic label that doesn’t elicit the same negative connotations. Really, how different can our marketing services be from the likes of Mckinsey , Accenture, ECGMC, OliverWyman, or others in the management consulting association?

Through the reflection of writing this post, and months of pondering the subject, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been doing online business management consulting for years anyhow. SEO impacts every aspect of a company’s marketing strategy, and we’ve all seen it make or break many company’s success in the past. How a site is developed will impact the rankings, and the rankings will very strongly impact the bottom line profit on a company’s balance sheet. Good search marketing comes from teams working together on a project cohesively. I’ve always agreed with Tedster, that SEO is really just good project management.

Over the last few years through self-taught trial and error, I’ve learned to run my own successful consultancy, develop several of my own web properties, and help to create a full blown SEO training curriculum with the help of the fine gents at MarketMotive. During this tenure at MarketMotive, I’ve realized that despite having a different starting perspective on creating websites than Bryan Eisenberg, John Marshall, Michael Stebbins, Greg Jarboe, Matt Bailey and Avinash Kaushik, we all had very similar priorities on what was important in the execution of a site strategy, and the end goals (Avinash and I have a video coming up discussing using analytics data to backup your “gut feel” SEO recommendations with tangible analytics information that I think should be REALLY awesome) . None of them ever claimed to be optimizers, but our actionable recommendations seem to always come out looking pretty similar.

 “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” — Ferris Bueller

At the end of any year, we have a nice opportunity to reflect on the year before us, and the year that has passed.  I would like to encourage other SEO folks to consider that now is the time to start rebranding yourselves, if you haven’t started already.  SEO is definitely not dead, but it is changing, and becoming a mainstream skillset quite quickly. You don’t want your skills to become a commodity.

Personalized and realtime search aren’t helping matters any. Anyone informed can’t claim they didn’t see it coming. No longer will there be such an awesome opportunity for a single person to “make it rain” in a few months time with amazing returns on investment through top search rankings.  In a few years time, most good developers worth their salt will have their mind completely wrapped around the fundamental aspects of SEO for web developers (or they too will be out of a job).  Even the Scobelizer is trying to rename SEO to “OM”, (and in proving his points also demonstrates the sustainable nature of SEO) to which Danny responds in his normal eloquent and rational style.

“I came away from this conversations thinking that SEO is getting dramatically less important and that SEM should be renamed to “OM” for “Online Marketing” since small businesses need to take a much more holistic approach to marketing than just worrying about search results.”

The Oilman 5% Rule
There will always be an additional 5% advantage that true SEO’s bring to the table. This advantage, however, is better used in creating your own sites or helping clients than it is being blogged about for your 5MB of pseudo-internet fame.  This 5% is your unique advantage in a dynamic information based economy that is constantly pitching and rolling like a hatteras hunting halibut in a hurricane.  It’s tough to stay on board, and keep up on the scholarly aspects of search algos. It’s even tougher to create sites that succeed in a timely and budget conscience fashion, and take advantage of an understanding of the extra 5%.   This won’t die, but it won’t likely get any easier as the winds of change bear down upon those of us who try to do all three.

So what’s changed in the last few years, and what will continue to change?

Here’s a brief snapshot of the History.

Barriers to entry
I talked about the rising barriers to entry several years ago, and I think the barriers continue to rise.  Large corporations are becoming more competitive with their understanding of search marketing, and are executing real live strategies that work now.  Link popularity is becoming more difficult to increase with fickle webmasters who are now all aware of the true value of link popularity.  The importance of link popularity is constantly decreasing now that user data can be incorporated into algorithms with much less likelihood of being manipulated (the argument that google won’t incorporate user data because it didn’t work for directhit no longer holds any water).

The sum total of these barriers results in a wall that will take world-class mountain climbers to scale (or just millions of dollars to market).  The glory days of creating sites from scratch by work-at-homers is being replaced by corporate budgets, long-term timelines, spreadsheets, timelines, and large scale data mining of keyword data.  Everyone is quickly figuring out what the keywords are worth, and more and more people are now all trying to rank for credit cards and online education, because they see the giant revenues these terms can bring in. 

While we maintain competitive advantages for ranking in the search results due to years of hands on experience with the algorithms, this experience only goes so far against giant budgets when corporations start to execute on the understanding of these same concepts (and here we thought they’d never listen!). There will always be opportunities for those grass roots marketers who do things faster and smarter, but I doubt these opportunities will be large enough to drive large dumptrucks full of cash through like the opportunists of the last decade have been doing.

The Algorithm is a Capitalist (and I think it’s from Mountain View and not Jersey)
According to the SEOMoz.org Search Ranking Factors:

·  24% Trust/Authority of the Host Domain
·  22% Link Popularity of the Specific Page
·  20% Anchor Text of External Links
·  15% On-Page Keyword Usage
·  7% Traffic and Click-Through Data
·  6% Social Graph Metrics
·  5% Registration and Hosting Data

If you’ve followed the algorithms over the years, you can already see how they’ve changed.  In the near years ahead, I think the distribution of importance will look a little something more like this:

·  25% Trust/Authority of the Host Domain
·  24% Traffic and Click-Through Data
·  20% Social Graph Metrics
·  12% Link Popularity of the Specific Page
·  10% Anchor Text of External Links
·  7% On-Page Keyword Usage
·  2% Registration and Hosting Data

These variables become a whole lot harder to game for small operation, and therefore are ultimately much more effective with creating search relevance (aka reducing search “spam”)  It’s a whole lot more difficult to create a successful viral marketing campaign for improving your social graph metrics than it is to go and buy a bunch of text links. I don’t know if this is good or bad for those who have been doing it for years (if you evolve with change it is neither), but it certainly changes the expectations and strategy that you will need to employ for success. Taking a site from nothing to top ten rankings for highly competitive phrases will become much less of a reality.  That being said, the game will switch to taking sites in the top 100 (or 1000) for a competitive phrase to the top of the charts.  Let the land grab for sites in the top 1000 begin! Since I’m a big fan of hunting for sites, website appraisal and valuation, and negotiating acquisitions, I’m really looking forward to the rush:)

Ad Agencies
My favorite SEO liars. The ad agencies that were complete morons that hated and didn’t understand SEO’s throughout this decade, have now fully adopted search marketing as an important school of thought, and have the budgets at their disposal to buy the last 5% FTW!    They also have the credibility of having impressive large client rosters to use as case studies and dispel the myths of “SEO Voodoo” to properly set expectations during the sales process.  Ad agencies have always known how to market themselves, and charge top dollar for outsourced services.  Marketing professionals have always optimized media, and are fully embracing anything that will deliver value add to the rest of the services (print, media, etc.) that are declining in value. SEO complements traditional media extremely well when it is adopted into marketing company culture, and this adoption is now well under way.

Large Corporations
The corporations finally get it (well some at least), and are fully embracing search.  My friends and search industry veterans Marshall Simmonds and Matthew Brown (the most patient SEOs on the planet), even talked the New York Times into dropping the guarded wall to enjoy the benefits of search traffic! Now that everyone finally has analytics incorporated, and understands exactly what the traffic is worth, the land grab can commence.  The discrepancy between spends on PPC and SEO must balance out at some point, likely with the top ad agencies getting the budgets for the top corporations as they always have.  Despite only understanding 2 or 3% of the fabled 5% of SEO, ad agencies have a whole lot more resources to delegate on the execution of SEO strategies, and can consider optimization best practices in their other endeavors. One bit of great news for 2010 is the very high likelihood that spending on SEO services will increase (See prediction #6 from Mr. Moz)

Google
Oh the Goog.  I remember when you were just a little search spider with grandiose ideals forming your little garage band.  Now you are a super-group on an epic multi-country tour trying to rule the world with your siren’s song promising access to the world’s knowledgebase in less than milliseconds.  You have assimilated even the most paranoid anti-google tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorists into google gospel preaching fanboys, or at minimum, ambivalent late-adopters who can’t resist the lure of your free and wonderful web applications that save us all thousands of dollars per year. I really hope I’m around to see the “behind the music” special one day after John Connor sees to your demise. 

Unfortunately I don’t think “Don’t be evil” holds up against billion dollar market caps, foreign policy, privacy issues, data mining, stock prices, and investor pressures.  While most folks I’ve met that work at google are absolutely wonderful people with very strongly held ideals, I don’t think the corporation is always the sum of its parts.  The algorithm and the need for more ad dollars and growth have set google on an inevitable path based on the capitalist model that demands growth and more money.  As arguably the most influential company of all time, it could also easily become the most destructive (I hope my googler friends understand the important responsibilities of their roles in organizing aka controlling the world’s information). I haven’t decided who I will root for when the Goog squares off against the government, and it is a commonly held belief that G probably IS better than uncle sam. When the algorithm becomes self aware, I for one, welcome our new silicon based intelligence multi-colored "don’t be evil" overlords. Your logic is undeniable like that of VIKI from I, Robot.

Public opinion
The public opinion of both google and of SEO’s will continue to affect our craft.  Search is “good enough”, and I doubt bing will be swinging huge market shares anytime soon in the US. 
I think the public pretty much despises SEO.  We get blamed for nearly as much as email spammers by the mainstream media.  Even my own brothers halfway joke that I’m busy ruining the web all the time. I suppose with some of the things that go on with negative billing, malware, blog spam, and other shady tactics they’re probably quite right (*note, I’ve never partaken in any of these things)  It’s very unfortunate.  The SEO folks I know are wonderful people, and work hard to make an honest living.  Most of them have really awesome success stories of how they fell into the rabbit hole that is SEO, and how it changed their life for the better. Sure, some should probably be set out to sea never to return, but it’s a shame that their the ones who have gotten the credit for "being SEO’s"

What Will Change?
I am with Rand on this one — probably not much. Nothing earth shifting is going to destroy your career unless you don’t keep up with the changes.  The skillsets you’ve developed as SEO’s will lead you into a career that few will get to enjoy. Unfortunately, you are doing yourself a disservice if you brand yourself as an SEO. Whatever you call it, the process stays the same, and stems from an understanding of the top ranking factors:

  1. Make pages accessible
  2. Target with keywords that searchers employ
  3. Build content that users will find useful and valuable
  4. Earn editorial links from good sources

So What Do We Do?
I think the answer is different for everyone.  For myself, I will move towards offering online business management consulting services that will be remarkably similar to the SEO services I’ve always provided.  If we can learn anything from the marketers that have come before us, it is that packaging and perception is hugely important.
I tend to look to guys like Lee Odden, Neil Patel, Chris Winfield, Brent Csutoras, and others like them who (at least in my mind) are SEO’s at heart, but have branded themselves as much more than that to create very successful companies and careers through using an “optimizer’s mentality” towards everything they do. 

There are only a few folks (Rand Fishkin, Aaron Wall, Danny Sullivan) who have fully embraced being SEO’s and have really had great success with it.  I’ve always found it odd how many SEO’s (who are excellent marketers) have faced this branding challenge of being SEO’s.  As a group, I doubt it’s something that will be solved, due to the parasitic nature of those jumping on the bandwagon to offer shady services with the same name that we hold so dear. To all my respectable SEO brethren, I hope you have a wonderful 2010, and find new and exciting ways to adapt to the changes this wonderful career will throw at us.

A few more links (just in case you didn’t get your fill):

See who was right about the predictions from last year:
http://searchengineland.com/big-list-2009-marketing-predictions-16009

How have I done on my predictions?

 

More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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  • http://steveplunkett.com steveplunkett

    Good article…

    being one of the “big ad agency types that have the resources to dedicate employees to best practices”

    and billable hours for SEO testing and experimentation..

    i’m thinking the credibility/authority is going to be a bit more (than 2%) and part of the social media chunk (20%) as google integrates these two “pieces of the pie”,… as in domain name in correlation with twitter and facebook credibility.

  • http://www.reactorr.com/blog/ reactorr

    I’ve had similar thoughts regarding this lately.
    Considering all of the different tasks an seo might be expected to manage these days, calling yourself an online business management consultant makes more sense.

    Hope you’ll be posting more in 2010.

  • http://www.scottpolk.com scott polk

    Todd – I think this was an incredibly well written post and I do agree with you on your points! Great Read

  • http://seoaware.com Melissa – SEO Aware

    Todd, great post. Hope to see you at IMSB in May. I think this was a great post. Things have changed and now to be a good “SEO” I think you need a heck of a lot more than just SEO knowledge. I have also done quite a bit of consulting this year, it pays well :-).

    I think things always change, but it how much it changes needs to be determined and what will change needs to be considered.

    As far as Google, I have always loved Google (even if they ticked me off at times), but I am not happy with recent changes. I loved your iRobot reference because they are beginning to scare me a bit (Plus I love the movie).

  • http://www.bgtheory.com brad

    Todd,

    Welcome to my world :)

    While many know me for PPC; it all starts by defining your goals and business model before even worrying about traffic.

    I think its a great move, even if its more for branding than services available – just don’t lose the SEO edge as that’s a good inroad for consulting.

    As usual – if you ever need anything just let me know.

    Happy New Year!
    brad

  • http://www.googleandblog.com/ Michael Martin

    Todd,

    This is pretty spot on for the SEO environment going forward.

    Surprised you didn’t touch on the mobile phone effect of 2010 onward.

    ,Michael Martin

  • http://www.twitter.com/khawe Kieran Hawe

    great post and one that should be read by anyone in the industry.

  • http://www.darrinward.com Darrin Ward

    Fantastic read. Thanks for taking the time to put the proverbial pen to paper.

  • http://www.findandconvert.com/blog/ Bernie Borges

    Todd – I enjoyed your summary of the state of SEO and appreciate your links to resources. I totally agree with the direction you predict. I’ve been attempting to gain acceptance of the term “SO” rather than “SEO.” Search optimization is broader than just search engines. If you agree, please join me in this quest.

    Happy New Year!

    Bernie Borges
    @berniebay

  • Donovan Roddy

    One of the best post I’ve read written in 2009 Todd, thanks.

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  • Student

    It’s been 5+ years since I first starting taking this man’s advice, and anyone working in any aspect of online marketing should take this advice and understand that SEO is so intertwined in so many other things.

    SEO has turned into a “methodology” for me:

    http://evolvor.com/2009/12/28/the-evolvor-methodology/

  • http://www.realoasis.com Richard Boyd

    Good luck with your rebranding bud. I’m not an SEO but do enjoy reading what you write. Here’s hoping that you have a stunning 2010 and thanks for sharing your knowledge!!!

    Rich

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  • http://www.onsitelocal.com Linda

    Oh so true your article is, internet marketing and a business consultant is what I offer also, consulting businesses to expand from the old age advert, to the ever changing marketing system the world wide web has to offer, my motto is that I’m never to old to learn something new.

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