The short and long games of SEO

SEO

I was listening with interest to episode 3 of the Marketing Companion featuring Tom Webster and Mark Schaefer, and the debate that formed the core of the episode was: is quality or quantity better when it comes to content marketing for the purposes of winning at SEO? The example given was a self-appointed social media guru who did a 9 minute interview with a local business and generated 63 pieces of content from it, helping the client win the local search game.

Is mass content marketing, where quantity and freshness wins out over quality, the way to go? The answer depends on which Google game you are playing; Google offers two of them.

The short game is the game that most SEO folks tend to play. This focuses on impactful, fast wins that leverage gaps or flaws in the search algorithms, things that can artificially inflate the importance of a site.

The long game is the quality game that more content marketers and writers tend to play. This focuses on evergreen or high quality content that isn’t necessarily going to win in the algorithm of the day, but will continue to be relevant for years to come.

Google would like you to play the long game, and in terms of effort and returns on that effort, the long game definitely has the better ratio of effort to return. However – and this is distasteful to many marketers – both games can win if you play them well enough. I used to play the short game almost exclusively back in the days when I was marketing financial services products because I worked for an underdog startup that would have been obliterated if we had gone toe to toe with our competitors on their playing field. I did all of the short game wins at the time very successfully:

  • Making a copy of the Wikipedia database file and posting that in a more optimized, easier to navigate PHP framework
  • Repurposing and republishing US government databases
  • Buying up dozens and dozens of exact match domains and cross linking them to each other

Google has, over the years, devalued each of those techniques, each of those tactics, and in order to remain relevant in SEO, you’ve had to adapt to new short game techniques. This, incidentally, is why most SEO firms really suck – they get into the game at a certain point in time but never evolve their techniques, so they are effective at the short game for only a little while. That said, if you’re good at it, the short game can net you some big wins – big risk giving big reward.

I’ve also played the long game, where it’s all about the quality of the content that you publish, and being effective at capturing and converting the audience you do reap. Most of what I do on my blog here is the long game. A good chunk of what I do for clients today is long game because it serves their interests best in the long term. The long game also requires significantly more expertise in the field you’re working in – high quality content comes from high value, and if you’re not proficient at what you’re creating content about, you won’t deliver high value.

The best strategy is the one that fits the risk you’re willing to take, the time you’re willing to invest learning and staying up to date on techniques, the knowledge you have of the field, and the other marketing resources you can bring to bear.


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  • http://www.twitter.com/unmarketing unmarketing

    “The best strategy is the one that fits the risk you’re willing to take,
    the time you’re willing to invest learning and staying up to date on
    techniques, the knowledge you have of the field, and the other marketing
    resources you can bring to bear.”

    Best thing I’ve read in a long time. Thanks for this.

  • Rob_Berman

    I agree that we should play both the short and long game. Get an impact now while working on the longer term impact as well.