Digital Inbound Marketing - They're Your Organization's Assets and You Must Build and Guard Them Dearly

Are the days of SEO service providers numbered? I think so and I'll explain why.

Two articles hit my inbox last week that I think help better explain why I think the end of SEO firms is in sight.  Why so I think this? Because clients of all kinds will soon realize (if they haven't already) that outsourcing their SEO, Search Engine Marketing and Social Media Marketing is dangerous to the future of their businesses. Not only dangerous but counter-productive and absolutely the wrong thing to do. The issue is that what we now call "Inbound Marketing" must become a core competency in every organization regardless of scope or size.

 One article pertains to a lawsuit filed against the SEO company "The Rainmaker Institute" and it's President Stephen Fairley individually by the law firm of "Seikaly & Stewart". First a little background.

Phoenix based Rainmaker "specializes in helping small and solo law firms generate more clients and increase revenue fast" has been sued by one of their clients. The law firm of Seikaly & Stewart claim, amongst other things, that Rainmaker and Fairley engaged in racketeering under the RICO statutes. These are serious charges. While some have written that Rainmaker has been sued for "under-performance" the law suit goes much further than that.

According to Search Engine Watch "There are mentions of auto-generated links, and the links from what appears to be blog spam, as well as links that were poor quality, with the vast majority of them created through link farming techniques. It seems to have been hit by the Google Penguin updates."

The suit alleges that "The RICO scheme was based in part upon a series of fraudulent representations and misrepresentations about the defendants' experience and skills in the use of what is known as Search Engine Optimization ('SEO'); and in part on the execution of scheme to perpetrate an ongoing fraud upon various attorneys and small firms after they had purchased the worthless marketing services." The suit goes on to claim that Rainmaker and Fairley did not follow Google Webmaster Guidelines. These are serious charges and the point that they raise has serious ramifications for any organization. What's worse in my opinion is that Seikaly & Stewart allege that Rainmaker and it's President Fairley sold the same content to several law firms for republication by each of them. Several firms are mentioned in the suit.

 This certainly wasn't an isolated case. Organizations of all kinds have been affected by Google's algorithm updates and as the Google bot gets smarter and smarter more will be in the future.

Here is a clear case of the client not knowing whether they were receiving backlinks from reputable sources for the right reasons and what appears to be an unscrupulous provider selling duplicate content. Had the client been doing their own content creation and earning links from other sites interested in linking to quality content it's a safe bet that Rainmaker and Fairley wouldn't be facing a Federal Lawsuit and the client site would not have been penalized by Google.

The second article comes from the renowned consulting firm McKinsey & Co and is titled "Measuring the full impact of digital capital". In it McKinsey makes the case that organizations can increase their worth by creating "the brand equity organizations create through digital engagement".

Taken together these two articles show us why organizations can no longer afford to outsource SEO services. On the one hand many organizations have not been earning high quality backlinks through the creation of high quality content and they risk the wrath of the "Google bot" because they are outsourcing functions that they don't understand. Two, they are not gaining the knowledge they would by investing in their own organizations and most importantly not building the customer centric knowledge they need to prosper in the 21st century and retain their own digital capital.

Now, I've been a big proponent of outsourcing for over four decades. I have always believed that if it's not a core competency - if it's not core function of what your organizations does, then that task or group of tasks should be considered an outsourcable function - a function that should be given to outside experts who can do it most effectively and economically. A few years ago I would have categorized SEO and its related functions as something that should be outsourced (through the creation of smart, educated vendor agreements), but no longer. I believe that the way Internet Marketing has developed and because it's replacing most forms of marketing and advertising organizations of all kinds must bring these functions "in-house" and make the investments necessary to build the core competencies required for long-term success and capital formation.

McKinsey makes the point clearly and compellingly. "Most companies rely on digital agencies for things like optimizing search marketing. In such cases, they may be ceding digital capital, since they never develop a full understanding of consumer segments or what inspires a customer who searches for their products. Seeing such capability building as an investment may change the logic of using third parties. Similarly, when companies look to established tech players for partnerships shoring up weaknesses, they should be cautious: some seemingly high performers may be on the wrong path and could burden you with outmoded standards and platforms. Alternatively, if you deal with strong players, you may be leaving yourself vulnerable by letting them lead."

Last year two articles by Ken Krogue, (writing for Forbes) titled "The Death Of SEO: The Rise Of Social, PR, And Real Content" and his follow up piece titled "The Death Of SEO (Part 2): Generating Real Content" stirred a lot of conversation. As a matter of fact the first article ranked the most popular on the Forbes site for four consecutive days after it was published.  The point of Ken's articles was, in his words, "The bottom line is that all external SEO efforts are counterfeit other than one: Writing, designing, recording, or videoing real and relevant content that benefits those who search."

When I speak I frequently tell my audiences that "you must all become content producers now, you must all become media companies now". The why of that is simple, if you're not creating your own audience engagement others will. If you're outsourcing your audience engagement you're giving away vital assets. That's what organization after organization has been doing now for years and that era is over. No one knows (or should know) your customers better than you do and if they do you are going to lose them. I think that in today's digital marketing environment, an environment in which consumers have never been empowered the way powerful search technologies empower them now organizations must become customer centric through customer discovery, engagement, conversion and retention methodology that must become core to the organizational culture.

If you outsource the processes of listening to your customers, if you outsource the process of speaking to your customers you're not building your own digital assets - you're building the net worth of the firm you outsource to. No smart organization is going to allow that to happen and the ones that do will be defeated by those that don't.

The ultimate promise of Inbound Marketing is true customer centricity. When organizations bring these functions in-house and learn to discover, engage, convert and retain customers by gaining the knowledge of what those customers really want from them, by providing them with knowledge and by building trust by providing them the education they seek then they will build digital assets that contribute to the worth of the organization and be able to focus their attention on those people who matter most - customers.

That's why I think the day of the SEO service provider is over.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your opinions and welcome your comments and feedback.