Why SEO is NOT just about backlinks

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Most SEOs will probably be thinking…well…duhh.  Yes, it might seem like an obvious remark to make but one must consider that the SEO world tends to run on trends.  Everybody likes to get up in arms about something, or as history has shown us, they like to overuse certain methods.  As such, one can only assume that SEOs have a tendency to focus on one or two main factors when running an SEO campaign.  I am here to tell you that this is completely wrong.

Yes, in days gone past focussing on the most effective method brought great results.  For instance, prior to Google a simple exercise of keyword stuffing would deliver fantastic results.  In the mid 2000’s paying someone to ‘build’ 10,000 backlinks in a week would also work (resulting in Penguin).  The latest of these scams has been what you might call the ‘guest blogging era’.  Simply an evolution of link spam, Google was seemingly slow to respond to such an obvious manipulation.  My previous assumption is only further backed up by these black hat trends.

Over the past 16 years Google has done quite the opposite of focussing on one part of their algorithm (although it might not look like they have to some).  They were forced to take action against spam by releasing their most infamous updates Panda and Penguin, but these two seemingly colossal updates are merely the tip of the iceberg.  Updates are released on a far more regular basis shown in this infographic by Hubspot…

My point is that search engines are forever growing in complexity.  In Rand Fishkin’s commentary on the power of links below, he talks about how potentially as more factors are added to the Google algorithm the more influence has to be taken away from other factors.  Whether this is true or not, I find it hard to believe that Google would put all of its ‘eggs in one basket’.  Over the last few years their activity appears to be quite the opposite.  If anything they seem to be taking drastic action to prepare for the future (most notably the Hummingbird and Venice updates) which requires increased complexity from their algorithm.  Don’t even get me started on how much social media will continue to grow!  Cynics might say that humans tend to stick to one or two methods and therefore Google will stick to one or two methods for determining quality.  However, this would involve search engines changing their algorithm in line with trends instead of analyzing the more constant methodologies used.

What should SEOs be doing?

In a phrase….SEOs should be approaching the subject from a broader marketing view.   The danger with SEO is that it is all too easy to become fixated with rankings and what steps you need to go through to gain those rankings.  As a result, SEOs tend to look at things in a far too linear fashion:

For instance they might identify what the most powerful tool to rank for a given search term is.  For arguments sake let us take links.  They then spend months infatuated with link building, whilst all of this time, their site loads slowly, they do not have strategic placement of keywords, they have a high bounce rate resulting in pogo sticking and other search related issues.

As a result of all this, too many other avenues for success are neglected.  Onsite optimisation and keyword strategies should be regularly revisited in line with the current state of the SEO campaign and also any shifts in the market.  Very few successful SEO campaigns require no adaptation.  Therefore it is prudent to make sure that your website is tailored according to the changes made during the course of the campaign.  Time should also be spent making sure that your content is as intriguing and interesting as it can possibly be, and that you make as much noise across the web about your very best content; this is a great way to ‘earn’ natural links.  Google places accounts should be created or updated, rich snippets should be used, duplicate content issues resolved, the list goes on and on.

In addition to this, and more in line with taking a more general marketing view, SEOs are all too content with gaining rankings purely through traditional SEO methods.  When in actual fact they are an intrinsic link in the whole marketing process and should treat themselves as such.  Liaising with creative teams to see how to make the best use of news updates or videos that have been created is a must.  More questions should be asked over and above “what keywords are you looking to target?” like finding out what they want to gain from their entire marketing strategy (usually sales), what other avenues are they exploring?  Different facets of marketing tend to operate independently when in actual fact they would all benefit from a little chit chat.  Have a read about our view on the future of social media in SEO for more information on how these two departments can be more effective when working together.  Research teams can collaborate to come up with content that can be used cross platform, or come up with something that will catch the eye better than if just one team were working on it. Different opinions should be listened to and given the time of day.  SEOs can tend to be rather snobby about their industry and knowledge, but if we fail to adapt and integrate we will punished for our hubris.


The online world has grown far too complex to think that great results will come through just building loads of mediocre links.  For all of you who have got this far and are already running more comprehensive SEO campaigns then my apologies for any wasted time, but for all those who are still concentrating their efforts on pure link building the time is now to revisit your strategy before your competitors do.  Time is of the essence….you do not want to play catch up.

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