What is SEO?

When we address SEO as an ability or talent, what exactly are we referring to?

There could be some debate as to whether SEO is an actual skill you can learn, or if it’s merely a symbiotic execution of many other marketing skills and disciplines.

As a SEO specialist for over a decade, I’ve come to suspect it may very well be the latter.

There is no SEO.

Digital marketing is often broken down into a number of categories: pay-per click, conversion rate optimization, user experience, PR & copywriting — but why do we split them up and regard them as though they are independent of each other?

It is my impression that each channel can (and should) be utilized to achieve, retain and capitalize on maximum visibility in search engine results pages. In other words, when you integrate all aspects of digital marketing and connect the dots to form a wholistic strategy, you will have also fostered the building blocks of a near-perfect SEO campaign, completely organically (no pun intended).

Let’s see how this objective can be realized.


For: Keyword Research

Most SEO consultants begin their keyword research efforts with a popular tool such as SEMrush, Keyword Revealer or KW Finder, to name a few. This is the traditional method which is often recommended, and yet, there are a couple of reasons why it is not the optimal way to explore which keywords are the most suitable to target for a page or site:

1. You don’t know which keywords will convert

If you’ve been doing SEO for any period of time, you would have already begun to notice consultants discussing “keyword intent” and how it can influence the SERPs. Make no mistake, the customer frame of mind and intention behind their query is vital. PPC allows us to understand what the user is looking for with greater precision, as opposed to pure assumption and speculation.

As an example, let’s say we have an ecommerce business which sells iPhone XRs. If we were to use a conventional keyword tool, it may return a sample list similar to the following:

iPhone XR60,00060
iPhone XR specs20,00010
iPhone XR for sale5,00030
Buy iPhone XR80040
Buy black iPhone XR online2025

Immediately, the question arises: How would we know which keywords to target?

Do we simply pursue the keywords with most search volume, hoping to have a fraction of visitors make a purchase? Or the ones with the least amount of competition, even though they may not be the most relevant?

We’re all guilty of approaching keyword research this way — many still do. Indeed, it is counter intuitive to target keywords based on anything but intent. When this rule is violated, visitors have a poor user experience since they did not find what they were looking for, search engines eventually notice the low engagement, and your visibility will plummet as a result. Search engines have been hinting at this for a while now, nudging us ever so closer to the concept of matching a keyword to a congruent result.

Can you imagine, working for YEARS to rank for a high-volume, sought-after keyword, only to finally reach your goal and discover that it doesn’t bring in any leads or sales?

That is what we are trying to avoid.

Kill the desire to rank for terms which have yet to be tested or qualified. With paid search, we can veer away from such a vague and problematic path, allowing us to make informed decisions based on real data.

2. There are keywords you will not find in tools

It doesn’t matter which keyword tool you are using. The truth is, the data is always insufficient.

There are over 30+ keyword research tools out there, each with different sets of sources, methodologies and subsequent results from the other. Even if you were to utilize ALL of them to form a mega list of target terms, there would still be groups of keywords missing from such an exhaustive catalog.

In addition, Google has publicly stated that every day, there are new queries being searched which had never been searched before, reinforcing the notion that tools are incomplete and historic in nature.

The best keyword data is fresh and direct from the source, which is all the more reason to use paid search to identify the ideal set of keywords for yourself or your client(s).

Run multiple PPC ads with broad lists and varied ad copy. See which terms perform. These are now your target keywords.


For: Click-Through Rate

Copywriting dovetails seamlessly from paid search, borrowing from the success of split testing multiple ads to understand which copy users seemed to resonate with the most, and applying it to the meta description for each page we are optimizing for with organic search.

Using data we’ve already gathered and organized, we can now enhance our organic listings for more clicks (without necessarily increasing search rankings), hence establishing a greater overall click-through rate.

There is discussion among SEOs as to whether CTR is an indication of quality, thus being a ranking factor. This is yet to be determined — and yet, whether or not you believe CTR plays a role in where you are positioned in the SERPs, you cannot deny the benefits of a higher click-through rate. There are no downsides to a higher CTR. None. It fulfills the objective of SEO and search engine marketing as a whole: more traffic from relevant keywords which concurrently match user intent.

There are many instances where an average ranking result actually receives far greater clicks than those that rank above it! This is not by accident. Copy matters. Users read meta descriptions to determine whether a result is appropriate and aligned with what information they need to access, or transaction they are looking to complete.

With the help of creative, persuasive copy, you can make sure a result is performing at its peak and receiving maximum exposure from the SERPs.


For: Dwell Time

Conversion rate optimization is the process of optimizing a website through various tests and iterations in order to increase the amount of leads, sales or other specified goals a business owner has identified — a form submission, phone call, appointment inquiry, product purchase or email subscription for instance.

We can target the right keywords. We can draft the most compelling copy. We can drive our click-through rate through the roof. But without a continually revised, frequently tested landing page, we are almost certainly throwing away a significant share of opportunity. And not just for conversions.

As we’ve covered prior, dwell time appears to be a signal search engines are paying close attention to. In the past, Bing has suggested that anything more than two minutes is typically a favorable dwell time. As they’ve explained:

If your content does not encourage them to remain with you, they will leave. The search engines can get a sense of this by watching the dwell time. The time between when a user clicks on our search result and when they come back from your website tells a potential story. A minute or two is good as it can easily indicate the visitor consumed your content. Less than a couple of seconds can be viewed as a poor result. And while that’s not the only factor we review when helping to determine quality, it’s a signal we watch.

The head of Google Brain (a deep learning artificial intelligence research project), Nick Frost, also elaborates:

Google is now integrating machine learning into [the process of figuring out what the relationship between a search and the best page for that search is]. So then training models on when someone clicks on a page and stays on that page, when they go back or when they and trying to figure out exactly on that relationship.

Neither quotes outright confirm dwell time is an operational ranking factor, and yet the sentiment is clear: dwell time is an integral detail every website should be experimenting with, at the very least.

With that in mind, CRO has never played such a crucial role in visibility, considering the core premise of CRO is to significantly increase the time spent on a landing page, albeit with a strong enough offer to lead visitors down the customer funnel. Ongoing split tests involving words, colors, elements and variations will ultimately produce pages that are exceedingly engaging.

To put it simply — when executed appropriately, conversion rate optimization is the driving force behind an exemplary dwell time.


For: Link Building

Arguably, the most influential aspect of SEO lies in the ability to acquire links from external sources. The debate of link quantity versus link quality is one that continues to rage on, but the general consensus is: the more of both, the better!

There are many, many ways to build links. But none are quite as scalable, cost-effective, diverse and powerful as public relations.

Public relations, while often confused with press releases, is the deliberate maintenance of a certain image between an organization and the public. Press releases, on the other hand, are mere tools used by public relations to fulfill that purpose.

While PR is typically dismissed by many SEOs as either outdated, irrelevant or simply not worth the effort, they are veritably ignoring a key in their digital marketing strategy that opens large doors. PR is more than just branding and perception — it can be leveraged for exceptionally effective link building.

Journalists need stories. SEOs need links. PR brings these two aspirations together to form an interdependent relationship with mutual benefits. Now more than ever, as cold outreach becomes less complicated and services like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and Journo Requests have emerged, SEOs can readily pitch journalists newsworthy material on a regular basis, which will not only make the job of a journalist less stressful, but also aid the search consultant with publicity opportunities for their client.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though.

Journalists get pitched hundreds of times a day. It’s been stated that most writers receive over 300 emails a day for content pieces and articles. And so, outreach takes a wild combination of research, etiquette and timing for a campaign to pick up some traction. When done correctly, however, it is ever so rewarding.

It only takes one semi-established outlet to pick up a story. Like removing the first olive from a jar, there’s much less friction from then on. Confirmation that a competing publisher has picked you up will pressure others to do so as well. It can also be referenced to when doing follow-up or extended outreach, almost taking on a ripple effect — authority and opportunity snowballing with each new inquiry.

Usually, new links don’t often come with direct traffic since most sites only have a small portion of it themselves. With the reach PR has, though, each placement brings a flood of visitors along with it, inevitably leading to additional links as more people are being exposed to the content in discussion. It’s clear to see why PR is such an impressive mode of marketing and link building for those who engage in it.

Investing time to learn cold outreach, industry jargon, categorical trends, along with corresponding tools/software will pay massive dividends for years to come, not to mention the lateral application for bloggers and influencers alike.


For: Page Speed

User interface design is the presentation of a website and how users interact with it. And it’s just as important for search engines as it is for visitors.

Search engines analyze all aspects of a page, and how fast a page loads has been identified as an influential factor, therefore critical that we build our sites to be remarkably quick.

Since the main purpose behind an ideal interface design is it’s accessibility, user friendliness and overall experience, a well designed UI will naturally load as fast as possible, too!

The quicker a page loads, the better for all.

47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less. Over 40% of visitors abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load, not to mention every second of delay in page response results in a 7% reduction in conversions.

In other words, a slow loading page is a detriment to design, experience and revenue alike.

Every additional animation, style, formatting or font costs the webpage precious milliseconds of loading time. Each line of code added to the JavaScript and CSS to accommodate these designs and user interactions is a step backward for the site and the user.

Complicated, convoluted, unnecessary design is what can separate a great page from a mediocre one.

UI is in a position to influence the amount of page requests, images, flash, gifs, scripts and media the overarching design of a website should contain. A good UI will minimize it as much as possible, promoting a case where visitors can engage with the site efficiently, while search engines can reward its adherence to design and usability with improved visibility.

Bringing It All Together

Each digital marketing channel has individual power and wields its own set of unique advantages and disadvantages. They each bring a distinct depth and value to the table. And yet, when they come together and fuse their strengths, they create a force that is hard to replicate and even harder to outperform.

There is no SEO…until we create it!

About the author


Sebastian is a veteran digital marketing expert with 23+ years of experience across hundreds of brands, and curates a weekly marketing newsletter.