Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from Adam Audette, SVP of SEO, Merkle.
In this modern and rapidly changing period in digital marketing, it's unfortunate that so many marketers still misunderstand the role of search engine optimization (SEO). The name itself is largely irrelevant and inaccurate: the "SEO" label has stuck, but the work involved has greatly changed from the late '90s when it was invented.
While some of the same tactics that worked in the early days are still in use e.g., meta tags (some, anyway) and title tags, bucketing the organic SEO discipline into such basic tactics misses the bulk of what it's truly about. Rather than attempt to 'optimize' search engines, quality SEO work is actually focused on the user, not the search engine. It's designed to help build relevant traffic and improve the user experience for people searching across multiple devices and behaviors, from Google, Baidu and Bing, to Siri, Alexa and Cortana. A better term for the work is searcher experience optimization, and the acronym "SEO" will refer to this more accurate term in this article.
Don't take SEO for granted
When viewing the share of traffic across online channels, organic search represents a large slice. Approximately 30% of traffic on the web arises from organic search, and this figure increases when slicing into specific industries (such as travel and entertainment) and when accounting for other owned sources (such as referral sites, direct and organic social). As one of the largest sources of traffic online, SEO is also unique in the value of the traffic: it remains one of the highest converting channels.
And yet we continue to discount or take SEO for granted, either by reducing it to a common set of rote tactics (isn't SEO all about meta tags?), or placing it in a black box of gurus and magicians and hackers. In practice, all SEO work is based on known factors and best practices and can be understood in the context of two major pieces of work: technical SEO and content strategy. Across the entire discipline sits analytics and data-driven rigor.
An increasingly complex web
Because the web is fundamentally a digital network, SEO at its core is built on optimizing these technical platforms for discovery. Search engines and social sites still must crawl the web to discover content, which means before a website can rank in Google, for example, its content must be crawlable.
Rounding out your content approach
Once content is discoverable, the basic entry fee for competing in organic search is paid. Only then can the focus be placed on content strategy, which is an entirely distinct area of expertise. It's also essential to truly competing for traffic. Today's content strategist must be knowledgeable about SEO in order to design and build compelling digital experiences that can be found online. Content created without the basic knowledge of how people are searching, who they are, what their motivations and tasks are and what final conversion the business is hoping to drive, will ultimately fail.
SEO should not drive content experience alone, but it's critical that it has a voice in the final product so a business can optimally reach the greatest amount of people looking for that specific thing. Structured data and personalization are further components of a well-rounded content approach that will aid in reaching the end goal: helping the right person find what your brand offers at the time they want to find it. Today's content strategy must go across multiple stakeholders and teams, making SEO a cross-channel discipline.
Clearing up confusion
Given the complexity of SEO, it's not surprising that so much confusion still persists. However, that overstates the problem in light of today's reality in digital marketing: it's more accepted and adopted within the enterprise than ever before.
More brand teams have their own SEO departments. The agency landscape is more consolidated, and I dare say more professional. There's a large network of conferences dedicated to the advancement of SEO. And the industry is taking shape to resemble the adoption of other channels, such as paid search, display email, and the basic digital departments so common today.