Different Perspectives: SEO conversation with another Marcus

A couple of months ago, I received an email from another SEO practitioner in Singapore. Coincidentally, his name is also Marcus 😀 (We Marcuses are descended from a secret sect of SEOs dating back to 2000B.C. China.)

Marcus Neo is a (former) SEO consultant in Singapore. (He’s one of the few SEOs who also blogged about SEO too. Very knowledgeable!)

This is an email thread between us that I decided to publish because it highlights some different perspectives about SEO. It started off with a simple question about the importance of keywords, but soon evolved into a deeper discussion.

There is no right or wrong approach in this case, just a difference in philosophy and execution.

Marcus Neo’s emails are in blue.

Hi Marcus,

Big fan of the blog. Just wondering, why do you say keywords aren’t that important?

ME:

Hey Marcus,

Keywords are important! Not sure where you saw that I said keywords arent that important. Can you point it out to me so maybe I can rephrase it better?

Perhaps I meant “tracking keywords” as a key metric for SEO success is not that important. I don’t like it when people put too much stock into tracking specific keywords as a determination of a successful SEO campaign.

Another way to look at it is also because due to Rankbrain and Hummingbird, exact “keywords” that SEOs are used to are not longer as important track. More and more factors go into rank signals, and I find that keywords itself is a very old fashioned and granular way of thinking of SEO, so perhaps that what I *think* I meant as keywords aren’t that important nowadays?

P.s. I still do keyword research and I think it’s still important to have keywords in the document though.

What are your opinions on this?


Heyy,

I don’t really remember the exact article, but I definitely read that somewhere.

How would you track the success of an SEO campaign then for your clients, if you don’t use exact keywords? I know rank brain and hummingbird plays a role, and writing content around 1 keyword may/ may not get you ranked for a similar search query.

I’m asking that because

1) I think keywords in Singapore are limited as compared to our Western counterparts

2) It’s an easy KPI for clients to understand.

Curious to know what you think. I’ll try to browse your site, find the article and send it over.


ME:

Or maybe it’s a social post?

I don’t remember saying keywords aren’t important, though my personal feeling is that focusing too much on keywords for success is not a good thing.

I do track a list of keywords as a secondary metric. More of a vanity metric and a “feel shiok” factor only. Better KPIs are traffic growth, leads generated, revenue growth, and other conversion metrics.

I think focusing too much on exact keywords tracking dilutes the more holistic benefits of well-done SEO though.

I.e. if a client only wants to see keyword rankings rise for one exact keyword, a grey-er SEO might find success by just pumping PBN links with some exact keyword anchor text + some generic keywords anchor-text. Doing SEO this way can work, and probably will lead to keyword ranking rise for that exact keyword. But this only benefits SEO and has some risk involved.

But if I’m the client looking for SEO, I would prefer more holistic business strategies. I would prefer to create one evergreen content that can be re-purposed for social and other marketing channels. Then, I would prefer actual outreach to media outlets and other blogs to cover me. I might get non-optimized backlinks, but I get actual exposure and coverage, not to mention real people knowing about my business.

So I’ll get SEO traffic, referral traffic, social traffic, networking opportunities, etc.

Now, as the SEO guy that executed this strategy, I want to take credit for ALL these benefits, not just the “keyword ranking”.

What about you?

How do you deal and report to clients?


Heyy,

I take a different approach, which is tracking purely keyword rankings.

This is why:

1. Outreach to media outlets can be tiring (unless you’ve account for cost and time involved)
2. If conversions is your KPI, then persuasive copywriting (not just SEO) comes into play (do you do that?)
3. I think evergreen content may be different from social content. What’s shared mostly isn’t informative, but popular.

Here’s the problem:

1. Educating the client that it’s a holistic strategy at the end of the day, and charging the right price for it.
2. I have actually no knowledge when it comes to PBNs, however, I do track my progress using exact match keywords/ Google webmaster/ Google analytics and the usual

Here’s what I think it’s another deeper problem:

1. I think there isn’t much of a back linking culture in Singapore. (I might be wrong, but I’ve done a little bit of outreach, I think so far you’re the only active SEO blogger in Singapore, I’ve also tracked the backlink profiles of most agencies, they largely consist of PBNs)
2. How can you compete against other agencies/ consultants that promise keyword rankings and use a PBN method to go about it

However, I definitely do agree that evergreen, holistic (Western methods) are the way to go. I’m a huge fan of Brian Dean. He’s a world class content marketer/ SEO. However, to take that and practice it in Singapore’s industry, I feel that’s still a far shot.

Here’s my genuine thoughts on SEO clients in Singapore:

I think a lot of them don’t appreciate the value of SEO, having spoken to a few ranking from office furniture suppliers to hedge fund managers.

This might be a limiting belief, but if I were to go up against SEO guys such as impossiblemarketing.sg , who’s ranked for multiple keywords, or SEO agencies that are on the first page of Google, I’m going to lose out. After all, it’s the result that clients are looking for right?

Curious to hear your take on this. 🙂


ME:

1. “Outreach to media outlets can be tiring (unless you’ve account for cost and time involved)”

Yes, that’s why its expensive, and outreach campaigns are expensive, but great for long term ROI.

2. “If conversions is your KPI, then persuasive copywriting (not just SEO) comes into play (do you do that?)”

I don’t track conversion rate. That’s not the role of SEO, but I track number of conversions. That’s why if you track conversions, you can work backwards to estimate the amount of traffic needed. if you rely too heavily on exact keywords and keyword search volumes, you’ll find that even ranking number 1 for exact keywords can’t get you the traffic, and can’t get you the conversions. It’s like ranking number 1 for “seo singapore”. It’s cool, but so much of the search demand came from SEOs searching for those. Intent is not fully there.

Take Singapore for example. Search volumes are low. What’s the point of ranking number 1 for certain keywords if the traffic from getting number 1 can’t even generate the leads required to cover the cost of SEO. (just one scenario that might explain why keyword ranking isn’t that important) Are you going to track 100 keywords for the 100 long tail variations of that core keyword?

3. “I think evergreen content may be different from social content. What’s shared mostly isn’t informative, but popular.”

You are right. But I was using that as an example only; i.e. how certain content can be re-purposed.

4. “I think there isn’t much of a back linking culture in Singapore. (I might be wrong, but I’ve done a little bit of outreach, I think so far you’re the only active SEO blogger in Singapore, I’ve also tracked the backlink profiles of most agencies, they largely consist of PBNs)”

Yes you are right. It’s harder to get backlinks from Singaporeans, but at the same time, generally and relatively speaking, it takes less backlinks to rank in Singapore. (I’m not that active in blogging about SEO already. unlike you! admire your work ethic man!)

5. “How can you compete against other agencies/ consultants that promise keyword rankings and use a PBN method to go about it”

It’s tough, but it’s about client education.

I can choose who I want to work with. I want to work with clients long term, and who appreciates the effort i put in. If they ask for guarantees and only want keyword ranking results, I might not work with them. It’s about finding the fit. Also, the people who approach me for help typically got sick of working with agencies.

It’s really about your SEO philosophy. Is SEO a standalone thing in a business that you try and focus efforts on just to boost SEO? Or is SEO part of a larger marketing thing that you need to make sure all efforts complement one another. (If your client is building a long term business and brand, do they want crappy content all over the net or their blog? Do they want to take the risk of competitors reporting them to Google for buying links?)

You can spend $500 to buy one extremely powerful link from a private seller, so that this $500 link boosts your SEO only; or, spend $500 to contact 10 bloggers and tell them about your exclusive $50 vouchers that they can give to their readers. (just a simple example)

P.s. by the way do I work with some low budget clients that I just focus on traffic and keyword rankings because they are constrained by their budget.


Hey,

To sum it up you’re more like a marketing consultant/ digital marketing consultant as opposed to purely an SEO consultant. That is probably a better angle to come from. From my experience, many clients do not appreciate the hard numbers of traffic/ search volume. As much as I agree with you that it shouldn’t be the only KPI, it’s a good enough KPI to start off, in my opinion.

Tracking/ ensuring conversions is going one step further, which is fine, if you charge accordingly for it.

Thanks for the lengthy reply and insight. Feel free to repurpose our email conversation for content. I’m cool with it.


ME:

I really think I’m more of a SEO guy with a more macro and holistic approach to SEO. The other agencies I work with know me more as a SEO specialist, but I think as I “matured”, I believe I have come to think of marketing in a broader perspective. Though my true passion is always the nerdy side of SEO.

I’ve got a few clients in the past where I ranked top 1-5 for them for extremely competitive and high volume keywords. Spending thousands of dollars to get the top rankings, but end up the client didn’t get the number of leads they expected. I got them the ranking results, but I didn’t feel happy with myself. That was when I was so focused on the SEO side, that I neglected the other marketing side. Some lessons learnt.

Yeah so now I do quite a lot of expectation management before the client works with me. Set realistic goals and metrics to track based on their resources.

By the way, how many keywords do you track for clients? What’s the range like?

And if you do technical SEO or content marketing, do you also track keywords rankings as the main KPI?


Hey,

I think it largely depends on your SEO strategy. People like Brian Dean take a content approach towards SEO whilst others (Mattdiggity) use PBNs.

You mentioned you spent thousands of dollars, on content/ links? Or was it the cost of your service? I personally think things can be tweaked as the campaign goes along.

For example: when you’re ranked, you get traffic right. However, if there’s no conversion, then the sales page/ landing page can be adjusted and tweaked along the way to increase conversion.

I think this is highly dependent on that individual’s SEO strategy. Whether it’s based on the purchase of links, page rank sculpting/ persuasive content.

“Yeah so now I do quite a lot of expectation management before the client works with me. Set realistic goals and metrics to track based on their resources.”

This is super important. However, I think it hurts sales to a huge extent. People want the magic bullet (marketing lesson I learned recently). This is why a lot of agencies/ consultants promise Google page 1 rank 1 rankings. To make the sale.

“By the way, how many keywords do you track for clients? What’s the range like?

And if you do technical SEO or content marketing, do you also track keywords rankings as the main KPI?”

I personally track for medium tail keywords. For Eg: Hedge Fund Singapore. Beauty Academy Singapore. Dating Coach Singapore. Office Furniture Singapore.

Yes, I use keywords as the main KPI because I cannot be responsible for all areas of their digital marketing campaign. However, if the client truly understand that digital marketing compromises of copywriting, SEO, content, positioning etc, and are willing to pay for it, then I think it’s a worthwhile project undertaking.


And that was where we ended our conversation. (My bad. I forgot to follow up.)

TL;DR

Here are some summarized takeaways:

  1. Understand that SEO can be executed in different ways, and is usually dependent on budget and goals.
  2. There are different benefits and risks to using different SEO strategies.
  3. There are different ways to define SEO success and ways of tracking SEO successes.
  4. Clients need to get a better understanding about the complexities and nuances of SEO before choosing an agency

Anyway, big thanks to Marcus Neo for having this great discussion with me and allowing me to reproduce this conversation.

marcus neo

Marcus Neo has embarked on a new venture. Check it out here. (Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Marcus)

Marcus Wong

I've been nerding out on SEO since 2011. I mainly help Singapore SMEs with traffic and revenue growth. Also founded Neetclick, a digital growth platform.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Your article is much informative.The article helps the beginners a lot to learn.I like your post always.I humbly thank you for your kind information.

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