Marketing December 2, 2013 Last updated September 18th, 2018 893 Reads share

Why Viral Marketing Can Never, Ever Replace Well-Done SEO

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Writers that could master SEO techniques were once held in pretty high regard. This was especially true if the stories we created contained a dense amount of keywords in glistening sentences that seemed natural, rather than in stilted blocks that screamed of technique with no heart.

But now, SEO seems to have fallen out of favor. In fact, many clients have been saying things like, “I need to control the conversation online, but I don’t want you to do anything underhanded, like using SEO. Instead, I want a guaranteed viral campaign that can fix everything and seem totally natural.”

When did this shift happen? I’m not sure. But I do know that I don’t agree with it. In fact, I still think that SEO is the best technique to use when clients need to take charge of their online lives and reputations, and that viral campaigns can compliment the work, without ever really replacing it. Here’s why.

The Case Against SEO

As we all know, SEO techniques are designed to help a specific set of content rise to the top of the pile when users run a search on Google or Bing. By selecting the proper keywords, and placing them properly throughout an article, we can help to drive down content we don’t agree with and ensure that our message is the first one consumers interact with.

Companies have been using SEO techniques for a long time because, put plainly, they work. Use the right keywords and your pieces will be found. Use the wrong keywords or no keywords at all, and you’re invisible.

For example, if I wrote a piece about the wonders of coffee made from lima beans, but my article didn’t contain either the words “coffee” or “lima beans,” how in the world would anyone find it? And conversely, if I used words like “java” and “joe” and “beverage,” people might be yet more likely to find my story, because these words might also be used in a search.

This kind of thing is just reasonable, and that’s why I’m surprised to see backlash coming from some very mainstream sources. In Forbes, for example, the author suggests that SEO techniques we use might be best considered “tricks” as they’re designed to game the system and push stories farther up the line, when they really should be at the bottom of the list.

The implication is that real marketing teams, faced with the goal of controlling the conversation, would craft some sort of viral campaign that would flood the internet like a tidal wave and overwhelm any negative content that might possibly be available. Viral, not SEO, is the way to go, these writers suggest.

The Problem with Viral

On the one hand, I understand the appeal of asking a team to create a viral campaign. We’d all love to see a blog post we write or a picture we post dominate the Internet mere hours later, boosting our clients into international fame. But I just don’t think that it’s realistic to suggest that anyone can create a viral campaign on cue. There’s just too much competition.

At the moment, there are an estimated 2 million online pages of content, and there are more than 216,000 people who work in marketing on a full-time basis. Any one of these pages and any one of these marketers could hold a viral-worthy idea, but without keywords, how would you find them? It’s a bit like lightening. When it strikes, it’s amazing. But it’s difficult to tell when and where it might strike. For clients with reputation problems, asking them to bet on lightening seems disingenuous at best.

The Middle Way

For me, the best way to serve clients involves finding a balance between SEO keyword usage and valuable, viral-worthy content. It really can be done.

Finding keywords that are applicable to the problem at hand is vital, and weaving them into headlines and subheads is likely to remain important as long as I’ll be working as a writer. Clients with reputation problems, in particular, need articles that contain the same sets of words found in the negative articles they find online. It’s a way of outshouting the haters.

But really valuable content should also both inform and entertain. It’s not enough to stuff an article full of keywords with a few connecting words like “and,” especially since the Google Hummingbird algorithm specifically penalizes content that has no intrinsic value. Quality is key.

The keywords should drive the technical aspects of the writing, but writers are still responsible for finding an angle that resonates with readers. We’re also responsible for using a writing voice that’s authentic and entertaining, so our readers will stick with us to the end of the piece and then share our words with the wider world.

That’s how things go viral, and how SEO can make it happen, I think. If you can think of something I’ve missed, however, I’d love to hear it. Please jot a note in the comments section.

Images:  ”viral marketing or internet branding/Shutterstock.com

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Jean Dion

Jean Dion

Jean Dion is a senior journalist with InternetReputation.com, and writes frequently on the intersection of private indiscretion and public embarrassment. She's also a writer, editor, avid blogger and obsessed pet owner.

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