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Why SEO is Now More Like Internal Medicine Than Plastic Surgery

While Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has changed dramatically in recent years, a misperception lingers that it is a nip and tuck treatment that can be done separately from website development.

SEO Plastic Surgery resized 600

When I have the opportunity to give marketing presentations and meet with business owners, I am often reminded that the perception of SEO remains what it was ten years ago: tinkering with a website's code to improve its search engine rankings. Essentially, the term SEO is still widely associated with only on-page optimization.

In presentations, I often include a slide from a webinar by SEOMoz CEO Rand Fishkin explaining that only 15 percent of search engine rankings are attributable to on-page factors. This always seems to surprise the audience. At that point, I introduce the concept of off-page SEO, including content marketing, inbound links and social sharing.

As Rand Fishkin explains in the video below, in the early days of SEO, much of the activity was devoted to outsmarting the search engine algorithms. Gaming the system. Buying links. Keyword stuffing. Or as Fishkins says "learning the algorithm and bludgeoning the algorithm."

Over time, the search engines have improved their algorithms and have foiled and punished this type of trickery (often derisively refered to as "black hat" SEO).

Successful search engine optimization is now much more holistic, and involves things that the site owner doesn't have as much control over such as gaining inbound links and getting your content shared through social media.

Fishkin explains: "there is so much of the SEO field today that is user experience, usability, web page speed, beautiful design, building content that people actually want to consume and want to share, audience targeting -- it's become much more broad marketing. Everything that touches the website's experience is today part of SEO."


Recently when I was speaking with a company about a new website, they asked about having an SEO firm do a one-time project to "make sure it ranks high on Google."

I then related how SEO has changed in recent years and what's necessary for effective search engine results. I followed that up with a medical analogy, explaining that the "new" SEO best practices are more like internal medicine than plastic surgery.

That medical analogy helped them quickly understand how SEO has changed. I've begun to use that analogy when the subject of SEO comes up and it seems to be working. If that analogy works for you when you are explaining SEO, I hope you can use it, too.

photo credit: Robotclaw666 via photopin cc
Douglas Burdett
Douglas Burdett
The Principal and Founder of Artillery, Douglas Burdett is a former artillery officer and Madison Avenue ad man. He also hosts The Marketing Book Podcast, where he interviews authors every week about the latest in modern marketing and sales.

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