The world got into a tizzy back in January when Matt Cutts sounded his warning
about the “decay and fall of guest-blogging and SEO.”
Search engine blogs have been relentlessly relaying opinions about whether to guest-blog—there have been guest blogs about the death of guest blogging. As happens with every other announcement of this nature, futurists started predicting the death of SEO. Similar things were said when Google rolled out its Penguin and Panda updates and after the Florida update of 2003.
So, what do you do with your search strategy? A year back, guest blogging was OK; now it is not. Today it is OK to publish keyword targeted YouTube videos for links—tomorrow this strategy might backfire if your videos do not conform.
How do you chart a strategy without any idea of how Google might take it up in the future? The search engine has long insisted on building links naturally, but it is extremely difficult to tread this path when your competition is doing well with shadier tactics.
It is not your SEO team’s fault
Most startups do fine with their onsite strategy. Few businesses engage in cloaking or keyword spam. Ever since the Panda update rolled out, SEOs have vehemently advocated useful content over shortcuts.
Where they fall behind is in their offsite strategy. Building “natural” links is extremely hard work, and for a startup it’s especially difficult. Given the weekly targets and low bandwidth at most startups, it is no surprise that SEO consultants revert to shady strategies. Management has no patience for an organic backlink strategy that may take a year or more to show results.
Reorganize your team
How do you fix this problem? My proposal is to stop viewing your SEO team as one entity. SEO includes onsite and offsite components, and their respective skill sets are distinct.
Onsite strategy requires someone with a good understanding of back-end functions an eye for distinguishing good content from bad. Most SEO managers fit the bill here.
You must, however, redefine how your offsite strategy is handled. This is a hard-core marketing role that most SEO teams do not execute well.
The ideal person to take charge of this is the public relations manager. A good PR manager looks at small things in the company that make it interesting and buzz-worthy. This is then packaged and sold to news media outlets for brand mentions.
Take the example of BufferApp. In December, the social media app company made public the salaries of all team members
. You might dismiss this as a PR stunt—but Buffer gained lots of backlinks and social media mentions. Each of these links is natural and should help their organic search. PR buzz could be done via various techniques—startups are known to talk about their growth strategies
, publicly challenge competitors
, or find creative ways to get linked by users
None of this is new. Link-baiting has existed for a long time. However, the impact is higher when this is executed by an experienced PR manager rather than by an SEO.
My point is not that SEOs make bad link strategists. There are hundreds of great search engine strategists around the world. Similarly, there are a number of PR managers who do little more than mass-emailing press releases.
However, I believe natural link building from authority link sources can be handled better by a PR agency than an SEO company. In this way, not only can startups ensure that their links are natural and derive from authoritative sources, but they also can optimize resources by integrating media buzz and the associated link building.
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Why should this work?
A typical PR agency would consider a brand mention on a major blog a success, but for an SEO executive, metrics such as PageRank, Domain Authority, etc. matter most today. Google now puts less emphasis on PageRank in favor of factors such as brand mentions. Therefore, SEOs must evolve, too.
Ultimately, Google search algorithms will make it important for link building to be a PR activity rather than an SEO function. Reassign your offsite SEO to your PR team to ensure your search strategy stays robust in the long run.
Anand Srinivasan is a digital media consultant who works with small and medium businesses on their digital strategy. He also runs a newsletter for entrepreneurs at EntrepreneurshipDaily.com. Email him at email@example.com. A version of this story originally appeared on NextBigWhat.com.