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Content Marketing If only SEO were a Science

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Chris Riley

January 29, 2019

For any good practitioner content marketing operation, the stage between complete copy and hitting the Publish button is search engine optimization (SEO). If you are reading this post, chances are you already know what that is. And you, like us, want it to be a science. But it is not.

At Fixate, we do not claim to be SEO experts (not yet, that is). We can spot healthy SEO practices, and we know the basics. After years of encountering SEO companies and seeing the results differ on individual posts, it is indisputable that SEO, unfortunately, is not a science.

Quality first

In practitioner content marketing, you focus on the quality of the content first, and then SEO optimization. That is what Fixate does. We make sure that we abstract, assign, and review technical content to ensure credibility, authenticity, value to target audiences. This is what makes us stand out as a premium technical content marketing agency.

But we also have to consider when the copy meets the road. SEO practices are critical to giving your content a good chance for organic traffic. This is the primary goal of most of our customers. At the very end of our content creation process, we do what we call SEO and Format review. We do not pretend that this is full-blown SEO research and optimization. It’s just the basics — a good title, a focus keyword, keyword density, links, headers, and readability. This basic review builds consistency in what we deliver, and covers the basics for publication.

For our clients, most of the time, there is one more optimization step. Our larger clients will have in-house SEO experts, and smaller organizations will contract with someone. These experts will review the final content and perform additional optimization. They will do more in-depth keyword research, align with other site content, and roll the post into some backlinking and social strategy. We normally do not need to interact with these providers. In some cases we do, but we almost always see the final outcome.

This is where we have been a little shocked.

We had a few opportunities to see a post optimized by two separate SEO experts as separate posts, and to see the same post re-optimized. Each individual expert was unaware that the post had already been optimized, and assumed that nothing had yet been done. What we found was very similar to the nature of technical post reviewers. Each expert found issues, undid, and dismissed work that had already been done. I.e., different keywords, different links, different research, and modified the copy in different ways).

The reason this was so shocking is because all of us (especially the SEO experts) want to believe that SEO is a science. You do x things, and your post is 100% optimized for search engines. This makes sense. Search engines have ranking algorithms. Knowing what boosts a ranking is pretty cut and dry, until you bring in the human element.

The Risk of SEO as a Science

When we observed the re-SEO of several posts in 2018, the final outcome was always still good. We were confident that the SEO expert left the post better optimized compared to the piece before SEO review. But when the same post was re-optimized, we couldn’t point to any edit that made it more search-engine-worthy, even though the edits were distinctly different.

So why does this matter? The issue is perception and distraction.

There is a perception that expert SEO optimization makes your content outrank any content in the same keyword cluster. But this is not possible all the time. If it were, the search engines would modify their algorithms to offset your mastery. And SEO would not work for anyone over the long term.

Too much focus on SEO can become a major distraction for many organizations. So much so that the SEO takes precedence over their content and its value to the market. This can make it come across as less valuable to the reader.

What the Copy Lacks

SEO efforts are not just related to the copy. There are other ways SEO experts make sure content is successful that are just as important. For example, how it’s entered into a CMS like WordPress with Yoast. The post needs to have alt tags, tags, descriptions, etc. And backlinking, a sometimes risky activity, can be very powerful. It requires someone actively working to get relevant backlinks to your content.

The Science of Good Enough

We do not think of SEO as a science. Unless robots are doing the optimization, there is a lot of subjectivity. We look at SEO as content hygiene. You do the basics, and you try to optimize across individual pieces of content and the entire site. But you don’t dwell on SEO or overemphasize the SEO effort.