SEO Needs a New Name

Posted by Mark Figart on April 17, 2013

Digett has made known our opinion on the subject of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) before. Until I ran across this presentation on Slideshare, I had been perpetually bothered by a lack of clarity around just about any way SEO gets explained. Turns out it’s not the explanations of SEO that fall short of truth, but rather the term SEO itself.

Kevin Gibbons is right. We need to stop calling it SEO. The term is almost meaningless or, worse, completely misleading.

Let’s agree, first, that SEO refers loosely to a basket of tactics intended to positively impact the position a given web page occupies in the SERPs (search engine results pages). The more effective the SEO, so goes the theory, the more likely a page ranks highly in the SERPs, and the more traffic can be expected for that page. Sounds like a worthwhile goal to me. So why, then, should we stop calling it SEO?

SEO is associated with tactics now obsolete

Most tactics considered to be “SEO” more than a couple years ago have little, no, or even negative impact on your website’s performance in the context of search engine results.

I met just last week with a company whose website’s search performance has plummeted over the past few months. Some investigation reveals a tangle of geographic-specific URLs that probably don’t do a good enough job at avoiding duplicate content and which too closely resemble a link farm. Someone expended too much effort focused on fooling search engines and not enough on serving up good content.

Now the company is back at square one trying to figure out how to become a publisher. When we continue to throw around the term “SEO” we lead many to think that old tactics still deserve consideration.

SEO implies influence we don’t really have

SEO implies that we can influence search engines, or possibly even deceive them. Sorry, but popular search engines have become too smart to be influenced. They have more data than marketers will ever have, so there’s little hope that we can manipulate the system given its inherent intelligence.

Yes, we still have some responsibility to facilitate proper indexing, but those things are relatively trivial in the overall scope of traffic optimization, and honestly I’ve seen Google overlook significant “technical” mistakes by site owners when the content itself is found useful by an audience.

SEO suggests we should focus on search engines

The term SEO implies that we should be doing something to “please” search engines. However, the most fruitful results related to improving the quantity and quality of traffic will come from developing high-quality content that prospects find valuable.

Note that search engines have an incentive to match their audience with the content they are seeking. The best thing you can do, then, is to be the publisher of that magic content. Good performance in the SERPs is a natural outcome.

The goals are still the same

The goals have not changed, but the tactics we used to achieve visibility in search engines have. In some cases it’s hard, if not impossible, to break through the competition and score a top three entry for a particular search. This is a good thing for marketers, as it not only enables us to focus on delivering quality communication to our audience, it actually rewards us based on how well we do it.

So maybe it’s not “search engine optimization,” but “audience optimization” on which we should be focused. Let’s optimize our websites for our ideal audience and stop optimizing for the search engine.

If we must use the term “SEO,” let’s limit its meaning to those things we do architecturally to ensure pages can be indexed. Let’s acknowledge, at the same time, that as perfect as we may consider our website’s search engine index-ability, in the end that just won’t be enough if our goal is to compete on Google.

Mark Figart

Founder and President
Meet Mark, Digett's founder and president, and a professional services practicioner since 1992.


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Submitted by Sidney on Thu, 05/02/2013 - 7:15am

I am not a technical person and as such, get overwhelmed by the use of lexicon to confuse and separate. I really connected to your explanation; furthermore, audience optimization sounds honest and more concerned about others than trying to game and manipulate.

Submitted by Mark Figart on Mon, 05/06/2013 - 10:12am

Sid, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, and a thoughtful one at that. Am glad we're on the same wavelength here, because this topic is one of many that gets at the heart of what the web has changed (in a positive way) about marketing and society. Access to information leads to transparency and a more level playing field than ever, and that's exciting all the way around.

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