Challenges of SEO: 9 hardest issues for brands of all sizes

SEO must be one of the hardest things to “do-it-yourself” for many brand marketers. The sands of SEO are shifting all the time. And to make matters worse, no two “experts” ever agree on exactly what Google includes in its ranking factors. A lot of businesses I know have recently become extremely tired of waiting to get onto the Google first page for search rankings – and have all but given up after seeing Wikipedia at the head of every Google results page. And now there’s mobile search to figure out as well? Phew!

Challenges of SEO: 9 hardest issues for brands of all sizes

I remember a discussion I once had with an SEO “specialist/consultant” whose website said they did “SEO simplified” … and then had a drop down list of at least 43 different things! So I said “Where do I begin …?”


Promptly he said: “Keyword research, on-page optimization and backlinking … these are the big three.” I said “Okay, so let’s get started on the big three?” He looked at the floor for a bit and then said “Well … to tell you the truth, you could do keyword research, but some people have done no keyword research at all, and they just write as they think and they also rank (extraordinarily well, in fact). They also do no on-page optimization and that also helps because their copy sounds “natural” and Google loves that. And as for backlinking, better link back to your own old posts and beware of getting bad links from others that are “unnatural” that demote you”.


I said “Hmmm … then why do I need you?”. I haven’t heard back since!


Anyway, after talking to my own clients and peers, here’s a list of nine things that I found perplexes me and a lot of marketers (and SEO gurus themselves) about SEO. See if your pet peeves are on this list or if they are not, please add them to the comments below this post!

Challenge #1: Finding trustworthy sources of information you can rely on

This is a really tough one. In fact, this is the biggest hurdle in my book. There are many very high quality sources for SEO advice, but sadly, there are also many places that will mislead you. With such a variety of online resources signposting marketers in a hundred different SEO directions, sifting out information that can be trusted isn’t always easy.


Challenge #2: Getting the comprehensive integrated picture of SEO

Why is SEO advice always so disjointed, in bits and pieces, and so very incoherent? Unlike most other disciplines of online marketing, that are either linear or have a definite strategic planning pattern, SEO seems composed of a whole lot of “small things” that you have to experiment with to find out what “your own whole” looks like. It’s a lot like eating at a buffet. You serve yourself everything on the counter, and with your plate looking satisfyingly full, you head back to your table. And lo and behold, another guy near you is eating something else very appetizing that you never even noticed was part of the spread!


Challenge #3: SEO is very difficult to explain to a client or a boss and get a buy in

You have to go through a slow and deliberate educational process to help people who matter understand why things work as they do in SEO. I think your best bet is to distil an SEO concept down to something that you can explain in five minutes or less. If it takes longer, either you’re not sure of things yourself or the other person is tuning out. A lot of money rides on “rankings achieved”, but these days you have to ask “Which rank … Page Rank, Site Rank, Author Rank, Domain Authority, Alexa Rank … or something else someone “Big in SEO” decides is the only rank to go after?”


Challenge #4: Copying others seldom works for you. There’s no formula, it seems, that works twice!

One person’s roaring SEO success does not mean that their strategy and tactics should become your plan. It’s absolutely possible that you could copy another person’s methodology, link for link, keyword for keyword, and it wouldn’t work for you at all (what’s worse, you might get penalized for it but they wont!) I have heard advice like “Spy on the other successful guy’s backlinks and get them all to link to you” … or “Take his writing formula, but make yours twelve stories higher” … or even “Steal his keywords” … but don’t even try all this. Such spying and stealing takes a lot of precious time … and the next time you look, that other guy you’re tailing is no longer your competitor, someone else now is!


Challenge #5: There seems no room left for innovation. Someone somewhere has tried everything!

It’s been a really long time since I read a blog post or article where a genuinely interesting new way of succeeding at SEO has been written about. For years now the articles that scream “I increased my Google traffic by 9500% with this neat SEO trick” end up making the same six points beginning with keyword research, on-page optimization and backlinking! The only departure I’ve seen from this of late has been the departure of people frustrated with SEO now heading for SMO (social media optimization).


Challenge #6: It doesn’t help to blame fickle Google, even if it is the epicentre of all quakes with its algorithm changes

With Google you are always left feeling like you aren’t getting the whole picture, or are not doing the “right things right now”, or are “behind the boys”. Even if you do manage to follow one of the many changes Google makes at every sneeze, by the time you’ve got some kind of makeshift plan together, Google changes its logic … and crash, bang, you’re back to rebuilding from scratch! Not to mention the truckloads of posts that then appear trying to explain what this new quake was all about, which you have to quickly bone up on. It’s all made worse by pundits who gaze into crystal balls and try to forecast what is churning next at Google (after decoding Matt Cutts latest video and trying to “read” his body language). Believe all this at your own peril.


Challenge #7: You dig deep, and then you dig deeper and deeper … and all you get is data

For those who find Google Analytics difficult to comprehend, have a heart guys, there are some of us who haven’t even got past setting it up. And then comes the part where you have to figure out what all that data and metrics mean for your site? Are you doing well or not? Why is it that the one piece of data you do understand and want to know (i.e. “Where are the people coming from to my site from, what keywords did they use?”) … that’s the one that’s always labelled as “not provided”?


Incidentally, for those who don’t get the hang of Google Analytics there are now tools that help digest Google Analytics and give you the same stuff in a supposedly more “edible format” – at a price.


Challenge #8: SEO can be a nightmare for a large brand with seasonal trend changes

Imagine the sheer scale of the job for large retailers and their SEO efforts. Tens of thousands of products with hundreds of categories may exist, for all of which zillions of keywords need to be found (and all of this will be practically worthless as the next season rolls in in three months). Reams of optimized content based on keywords need to be created and feverishly promoted socially, not much of which can be evergreen content either. PPC campaigns have to be set up and managed on thousands of keyword sets … and all of this has to be run simultaneously by a battalion of in-house and outsourced SEO teams trying not to duplicate each other’s efforts. And as the season ends, logs and logs and logs and logs of SEO performance data has to be chewed and spitted to make ROI sense. Phew, phew and phew!


Challenge #9: You do all the SEO you can and then you get something nasty called the “bounce rate”

What was all that SEO hullabaloo for, if people who somehow find their way to my site after much SEO won’t even stay to read two pages of content? I stand in awe of marketers who have conquered the depression caused by “bounce rate”. I am also perplexed by how Google Analytics decides that someone read 1.3 pages of my site. If they read that one whole page … congratulations. But then what about the .3 of the second page? What about that .3 of the page was so offensive that they had to leave my site? With all the sophistication in SEO, we may even figure out vaguely why they come, but we’ll never know why they go!

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