The ghosts of SEO keep haunting both clients and agencies alike. The recent court case in the US against The Rainmaker Institute (a US based SEO agency) highlights some of the challenges faced by the clients and their SEO agencies.
The first trying to grow their click share and alleviate reliance on expensive paid search, with the latter often having to promise top organic rankings on Google in order to get the projects over the line.
There are some serious flaws in approaching the SEO in this way as it sets both parties up for a disappointment. The reality is that unlike before, no one is really able to influence, let alone guarantee, reaching top organic results and doing so is simply irresponsible.
The practice of SEO has been evolving constantly, gradually shifting away from easy to manipulate code and link related factors to often esoteric and difficult to influence "social signals" where consumers and their perceptions of a brand dictate its rank on Google.
The traditional SEO is dead. It has actually been dead for at least three years but no one really wanted to acknowledge this fact – no one turned up at the funeral. Why? The new algorithmic changes signified too big a shift to simply embrace, adjust and move on. The SEO agencies gradually found themselves with a very limited set of tools, which they could use to improve their clients' organic rankings. The measurement of success has become quite complex too. Increased personalisation and organic results pushed below the fold for a lot of auctions highlight fundamental fallacy in the SEO pursuit. There simply isn't such a thing as a universal top rank – it changes depending on auction, location, past behaviour, device, competition etc.
At the same time the clients, especially in the most competitive and recession stricken markets facing escalating click costs and eroding margins, keep increasing the pressure on results asking how quickly they can get to top of the Google page. Consequently, some agencies have continued preaching the quick-win mantra based on technical and code tweaks supported by some easy to execute link-building initiatives like press releases, infographics or blog posts. This often leads to disappointment as highlighted by the lawsuit against Rainmaker Institute.
These days the SEO success depends on a close collaboration between the agencies, clients and all internal stakeholders transcending the traditional remit of contractual client agency relationship, blurring the clear lines of accountability and putting immense pressure on clients to rethink the way in which their businesses are structured and run.
The winners will be those who embrace the social change in digital, accept the risks, streamline their internal departments (IT, brand, product and marketing teams) and work closely and openly with their agencies.
It's time to lay the old SEO to rest and move on.