The old adage in marketing, made famous by Elmer Wheeler, is; Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle. This is great, except that if the client wants a steak, at some point they are going to expect more than just sizzle. This is the distinct difference between marketing and search engine optimization. There has been no greater medium invented than the search engine for connecting people with things they want (whether that is knowledge, entertainment, ideas, shoes, gold clubs, or a used 2007 Golf GTI.) When presenting search strategy to a client, I feel that it is very important to present a realistic and achievable scenario. If the client wants Wagyu a5 steak results but has rump steak budget — and you want the relationship to last beyond the initial engagement, the presented strategy should fit within some reasonably achievable set of goals given the clients budget.
Good SEO is based in reality – not in imagined scenarios. This is why search engine optimization is not marketing. Marketing sells the sizzle, whereas search engine optimization connects users with things. Once a user is connected to a website then it is marketing that takes over — and can convert and interested prospect into a confirmed consumer.
In many instances there is a need for a marketing mechanisms to sell something, but the medium of choice to attract prospects is search. If the marketing is put before the search — then you have a recipe that is big on sizzle that quickly turns in nothing but vapor. An example that springs to my mind (with the names withheld to protect the innocent) is o a brand that want to execute a competitive landing page for consumers to compare brand x with brands y and z. The landing page was built with all the sizzle you can imagine — it looked slick, it was shiny, and it was expensive. When it was pushed out to market it sunk like a lead balloon. Different tactics were tried — with big paid search and display investments to drive traffic to the sizzling landing page but nothing worked. The client was left hungry with the long forgotten sizzle and zero steak. But what went wrong…? Search traffic is (normally) looking for something — and you only have a very short amount of time to give them what they want. If I am looking for information on brand x and instead I get a heavy marketing message without the information then I will bounce. Aligning the role of a landing page with the expectations of the traffic will immediately improve things. Search engines don’t care about sizzle – or rather they have a different idea of what sizzle is. For a search engine indexation bot sizzle is relevancy and authority. If you have relevant content it can understand, and a respectable level of authority then you have sizzle and steak.
Ultimately – consumers, brands, and search engines bots all want the same thing; Steak. Consumers want relevancy to what they are looking for, brands want to be relevant to consumers, and search engines want to reward relevancy (and authority). In search — no one wants the sizzle, so stop selling it.