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What’s The Difference Between SEO and Marketing?

Rewind a decade. It’s 2004, and SEO is just starting to really explode. The industry is obsessed with mechanics — everyone is convinced that with a bit of cooperative reverse-engineering, we can ‘solve’ Google’s algorithm and get a website ranked wherever we want it ranked. PageRank dominates everyone’s attention, as do keyword lists and competition comparisons. Everyone is seeking the ‘secret’ that will open up the SEO world for them…and everyone fails.

Google’s algorithm evolves, because Google has a team of exceptionally brilliant individuals working to keep Google at the head of the pack. Backlinking changed over the years from ‘get lots of free backlinks quickly to build rank’ to ‘get a few high-quality banklinks quickly to build rank’ to ‘get social media behind your content and then get backlinks afterwards to secure your rank’ and today, it basically doesn’t exist at all.

That’s because today, Google has finally managed to shift the focus of the SEO crowd. By eliminating the ability to get feedback on your searches (by not telling anyone which keywords brought a given person to your website), they’ve made it impossible to accurately judge which specific keyword is bringing you the traffic. In turn, that makes focusing on keywords at all a rather futile exercise — because there’s really not much actual optimization to be done around them anymore.

So today’s SEO crowd isn’t really optimizing for search engines anymore — they’re optimizing for customers. They’re seeking out ways to create better content, to improve the customer experience, and to inspire more of them to spend money…which, if you think about it, is exactly what a marketer is supposed to be doing.

When SEO began, it was about exactly one part of the customer’s lifecycle: getting the customer’s eyes on your website. Today, an SEOer has to be familiar with the entire process, from getting their initial attention to guiding them toward actually making a sale, to nudging them into coming back for more down the road. (Search engine optimization, conversion rate optimization, and targeted email marketing as examples of each step.) Some even go so far as to take the extra steps necessary to convert the customer from ‘returning customer’ into ‘active fan of the business’ by asking them to do things like review the business online or chat them up in social media.

Of course, the old-school ‘technical’ SEO still exists — there is still a small advantage to be gained by learning and exploiting the quirks of the major search engines — but an SEO guy who focuses exclusively on that area of expertise isn’t going to have much by way of a customer base.

Modern SEO-and-marketing people are much more like Mad Men then they are like the technical types of a decade ago. They have to be aware of and have their fingers in the entire holistic customer acquisition-transaction-satisfaction-followup process so that all aspects of the transaction can be ‘optimized.’ That’s how you turn a prospect into a fan, after all: do everything right, and let them be impressed and do the talking.

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