When talking about SEO as a product, Fathom’s founder, the late Bill Fox, was fond of an analogy back in the early days of the company. In his best CEO voice, I remember him telling me in my first week on the job:
“Selling SEO is like selling beer: you’ve got the 6-pack, you’ve got the 12-pack, and you’ve got the case.”
What did this mean? At the time (2006), SEO consisted largely of keywords and rankings, and Fathom (along with the industry in general) priced its services accordingly: by volume. If you wanted the 6-pack, we’d focus our SEO on 25 keywords. If you wanted the 12-pack, it was 50 words, and so on. Companies appreciated the cut-and-dry pricing, knowing we were accountable for getting results (i.e. rankings) for a specific number and type of keywords.
As time went on, the nature of SEO changed (see 2009 to 2011 alone), and hence our approach to practicing it, along with the concept of results and associated pricing structures. Today, it’s all about the revenue and value we can drive through your website (and the profitability of that revenue). Whether it’s helping improve your sales cycle, grow your business, boost your e-commerce transactions, or any other company goal, your marketing vendors (and/or your marketing department itself) should be helping you try to meet it.
You’ll hear many in the industry correctly talk about how SEO is not a turnkey fix or a short-term operation. This argument stems from a “big-tent” definition of SEO (as opposed to what Rand Fiskin calls pure SEO—see “associated pricing” link above) that includes many accompanying sub-disciplines in the digital marketing school: usability, conversion, research & analytics, social media, Web design & development, to name a few. In other words, SEO isn’t done in isolation. It requires coordination of many elements to be truly sustainable with a desirable ROI. And yes, you’re right, another fashionable term to use for these marketing elements is inbound marketing.
Here’s one more word for you: Sustainability. This word captures the ethos of Fathom’s approach to marketing. We don’t care as much about your business’s one-off campaigns or random isolated successes as about driving long-term results in line with your marketing strategy. SEO today should be more about your business objectives than any single list of keywords or set of ranking reports. Rankings are in flux all the time and also vary wildly based on factors like user location, past history, and social connections (and whether a person is signed in).
There are still ways to obtain (and maintain) great search-engine rankings, but the real question is, How well does your website meet your business objectives? When you get visitors, do you have well defined paths for them, or are they left to guess and flounder? Are your company mission and offerings clearly stated? Do you leave a positive first impression and build credibility with each step or repeat visit? Do you reward loyalty or offer ways for your audience to keep in touch (email, social channels, blog posts, podcasts, other RSS content)?
Beware the door-to-door sales approach to SEO, and pose these questions to your marketing department (or vendor) before you spring for that set of Ginsu knives.