Years ago, when I first started with SEO, there was a lot of uncertainty about how to classify the function SEO served. Was it marketing? Was it technology? Was it something else entirely? Contributing to this uncertainty was the mystery that originally shrouded SEO. Over the years as SEO became mainstream and the SEO process became better understood, so few would argue against bucketing SEO within marketing. And yet, SEO plans are rarely described using traditional marketing terms.
At its simplest, an SEO plan may segment activities as those that are on-site vs. off-site. Maybe some go into more detail and talk about content vs. technical on-site activities or perhaps they blow out off-site into a couple of different main components. What I haven’t seen is anyone that presents SEO using more traditional marketing terminology and yet it would take just a little more effort. Restating SEO in terms that are more likely to be understood by other marketers could increase comprehension, gain stronger buy-in, and even lead to larger budgets. Emphasizing your activities as marketing might even lead to job growth opportunities since your function won’t be seen as so siloed.
One way to get started down this path is to reframe your efforts as involving different types of media:
- Owned media. Perhaps the easiest media type to understand and also likely to be where an SEO effort focuses first. Owned media includes your website including text, images, and video. If there are other digital assets that aren’t published on the website, they too would be considered owned media. So when you talk about optimizing a website, you could instead talk about optimizing owned media.
- Paid media. I’m sure your first thought here was that paid media = paid links. Yes, if your plan includes buying links, then they would be considered paid media. This category also includes things like press releases, directory submission fees, and commissioned blog posts. I’d also consider any media that results from any sort of compensation and not just monetary, e.g., if the media is created as a result of a coupon or discount, then that would also be paid media.
- Earned media. The Holy Grail for all SEOs. There’s nothing more valuable than having other sites mention your brand (and linking to your site of course). Things like viral content (once it goes viral on other sites) is earned media – you “earn” this coverage by providing something valuable (e.g., informative, funny, visually appealing).
- Shared media. Relatively new compared to the other three, shared media includes anything (usually owned media) that has been shared with followers – e.g., on Facebook or Twitter. Sharing can be actively done by brand owners, but can also include the passive technique of placing sharing buttons on the site and allowing others to share via those buttons. Note that the line between shared media as it relates directly to SEO and a more comprehensive social effort is blurry.
The four types of media discussed above may imply that there are barriers between them that can’t be crossed. That isn’t so. In fact, actions of one type can easily result in actions of another type. For example, shared media, at its most effective, results in earned media. Paid media can be used to increase awareness, which in turn can lead to earned media. Both of these situations are desirable and with enough foresight and planning, an SEO can even take advantage of another team’s budget to support the SEO effort by looking for these overlapping opportunities.
Retooling your language isn’t, on its own, going to change the impression others have about you, but it could serve as the first step in demystifying what you do. While some might argue that SEO jargon is part of your job security, I think that, in the right environment, removing the language barrier would actually be more beneficial. After all, just because others know what you’re talking about, doesn’t mean they actually know how to do any of the things you do.