Some days it feels like SEO has been boiled down to one simple concept: Buy your way to the top. And you know that gets me all fired up because SEO is what I do. It's who I am and if you reduce it to something as pedestrian as the concept that enough money can get you to the top, I'm liable to drown my sorrows in another beer before I even finish this article.
There is a weird reality though: What I just railed against is exactly how it works. You spend money with SEO experts and you get increased rankings. Maybe. Hopefully.
Sure you can buy a ton of links and maybe beat the system for a little while, but in the end the sites that typically do well long term are sites that deserve to do well. There is a "value-add" that makes them just different enough to warrant some extra attention. These are the sites that an SEO can really work with. We can prospect real links. We can bring a strong social media program into play to add some virility to the site and continue to grow the authority of that site. If your only differentiator is that your crappy articles are slightly different than your competitor's crappy articles, there's not much there for me to work with, and I'm at a point in my career as an SEO that I'm simply not willing to be your paid link broker. Yes I can do that and I'll incorporate it into a larger plan as necessary -- but if that's the only avenue to success, it's not even SEO anymore and it will fail at some point. Maybe not today or next week, but I guarantee it will fail.
So what is the secret to SEO success now? I believe it's the value-add I mentioned earlier. That gives me something to work with. It gives social media a chance for success. It gives natural link building a kick-start. It gives users a reason to bookmark the site. It gives users a reason to share the site with others. It gives you a reason to deserve to rank.
The value-add is wide open. It can be simply great customer service: Zappos. It can be predictive airline pricing: FareCompare. It can be a simple great offer: Woot.com. In SEO we always say to look at what your competitors are doing online and follow the pieces that are working. When it comes to the value-add, you need to look at what your competitors are NOT doing or what they are doing poorly and capitalize on that.
So when I ask you why you think you deserve to be in the top, and you tell me because that's where you need to be to make money but you have nothing new at all on your Web site -- and there are 10 other sites doing what you do and doing it better -- it doesn't mean we're not going to chase it down. It simply means I'm not just going to get you a bunch of links. It means we're going to have a little Come To Jesus chat and I'm going to tell you that SEO isn't just ranking. I'm going to push you toward doing something that is adding value for your users, that will give you a reason to rank and make ranking simply easier for all of us.