Recently I came across this question in a fairly dramatic fashion. A potential client was weighing a PPC and SEO proposal from a fairly reputable agency. He was kind enough to share the proposal with me so I could have a look. As I was reviewing this proposal I was taken aback by how it illuminates the differences between SEO and inbound marketing. In fact, I was pretty shocked at some of the elements inside this SEO proposal. Naturally, I had write this post!
1) How SEO and inbound marketing are similar. First of all, any good inbound marketing engagement involves a healthy analysis and upgrade of all of the on-page SEO elements for a client’s site. This is a pretty basic piece of an inbound engagement. These are the similar elements between SEO and inbound:
- Keyword research: Identifying target keywords using various tools (Hubspot, SEOMoz, Market Samurai, Google Adwords)
- On page optimization: Updating title tags, meta descriptions, meta keywords (I do this even if Google disregards, but no stuffing here!), H1 and keyword page density.
- Internal linking: Linking target keywords between pages with proper SEO anchor text structure.
- XML Sitemap & Robots.txt: Files on your server that get uploaded to your Google webmaster account that tell Google which pages to search and those not to search.
- Broken link analysis: Using tools such as XENU and XMLSitemaps.com identifying broken links.
Here’s the thing, this should be part of any basic inbound marketing engagement. In fact, if done correctly, this alone can be immensely successful. I’ve been able to get many clients hundreds of keywords ranking in the top 3 on Google with smart tactical on-page SEO.
2) How SEO differs from inbound marketing: Borderline, if not outright black hat SEO tactics that are well documented Google no-no’s:
- Mass Distribution Content Link: Keyword laden content article sent to thousands of websites around the web for the purpose of getting a weak SEO backlink to your site. These are temporary links.
- Targeted Content Link: Articles submitted to the Go article network with backlinks pointing back to your website. These are temporary links.
- Targeted Text Link: Blog postings throughout a large internal and external blog network with backlinks.
- Directory Submission Links: Submitting site to industry specific directories
- Social Media Bookmark Links: Submitting site and links to industry specific social bookmark sites
- Social Media Hubpage, Squidoo Links: Building links through creating a customized hub page (a topic specific page on the Hubpage network) about a topic in client's industry. Basically a mini website.
- Link Exchange The exchange of links form third party domains like Hubpages and Squidoo for highest quality links.
If you’re looking to bring bad SEO juju to ANY site then these tactics will fit the bill. Google has spent that last 2 years building out its algorithm updates to identify and eliminate these tactics. These are in effect fake link building efforts that Google has long identified as bad practice. Moreover, getting caught can seriously diminish your rank and possibly end up in a de-listing. I suppose when laid out to an unsuspecting client, these all sound like pretty good ideas. Yet, the truth is you are playing with proverbial SEO fire that brings ever-diminishing returns, if not outright negative results.
3) Where inbound marketing is outright different from SEO. In addition to the tactics outlined above in section 1, these are ways that inbound marketing is dramatically different from SEO:
- Content creation targeting buyer personas. Thoughtful content written for specific buyer personas. Effective writing that answers buyer's questions in blog posts in an informative and non-sales like manner. Adds indexed pages, done correctly, it includes internal linking for keywords. Why Google like this: Adds indexed pages to your site, increases long tail search keywords and promotes social sharing. Why it works: If your buyers are asking these questions to you directly then they are asking these same questions online.
- Premium Content Creation. Content such as downloads that complements blog content. This is an important differentiation. Even the most effective SEO and PPC campaigns can only increase visits to your website. But if there is no way to convert visits then you’ve really accomplished nothing (except spending a lot of money). This content is valuable enough for a visit to provide and email. Could be a Tip Sheet, whitepaper, infographic, pricing chart, comparison chart, etc. Why this is important: Conversion of site visits to leads.
- Landing Pages & Lead Nurturing: Specialized pages on your site. Optimized for SEO but also for capturing visitor information. In effect, moving an anonymous site visit to a known email address. As the visit converts, they are added to a tailored email campaign intended to move your lead down the sales funnel.
- Social Media Connectivity & Publishing: Connecting social media accounts to your blog and sharing content with followers. Definitely measured by Google as a means of identifying valuable end user content and engagement and in turn, an influenced of SEO page rank.
So, what’s the difference between SEO and inbound marketing? Everything and nothing. Good SEO is a complement to on-site content that is beneficial to your end users. It is the first step in a process to connect with a visitor and convert to an actual sales opportunity. That is where inbound marketing dramatically differs from SEO.