What’s the Difference Between SEO for Inbound and Traditional Search Optimization?

Jen Saunders
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Search engine optimization has always been, and always will be, a vital service necessary to organically ranking content. When comparing traditional search optimization to SEO for inbound marketing the main difference lies in the level of thoroughness used to help businesses reach their goals. Ultimately a brand is not going to get in bed with a top digital marketing agency because they want to be found on page one of Google; they want to expand their online visibility so the right buyers will find them and convert into paying customers.

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What is SEO, does it Still Work?

SEO is the go-to service for companies that want to increase their online visibility. It’s execution relies on a number of tasks that help make a website look attractive to the search engines. The higher quality the SEO services are, the more likely a website will organically rank without being penalized by Google, Bing or Yahoo (though Google is by far the primary search engine marketers focus on). The idea is that if a website ranks well, potential customers will find it and a certain percentage will make a purchase (wishful thinking of course). In order for SEO to work, search marketers must have an advanced grasp on how Google’s algorithm reads and favors web content. Then a strategy must be put together that incorporates the following in light of Google’s climate:

  • Managing on-site and off site links
  • Webpage designs that are responsive for all device types
  • Optimizing page load speeds
  • Keywords
  • Content strategy
  • Technical SEO audits
  • Page descriptions, titles, tags and image ALTs

SEO experts must approach these tactics in an agile manner; Google is constantly evolving and so too must a winning search strategy if it is to prove successful. SEO still works, but the real question businesses should be asking is this: is SEO enough?

inbound marketing automation

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing focuses on converting search traffic into leads that go through a nurturing process where they become buyers. This is achieved by offering topic-focused content to precise targeted buyers using a combination of holistic strategies. In this process customers are educated; they identify what their true pains and needs are, how a brand can offer the ideal solution through it’s products and services, and then make a purchase thus becoming a delighted buyer who spreads the word. Inbound marketing workflows rely on:

  • Social media management
  • Content creation
  • Lead nurturing
  • Website optimization

There are a number of marketing automation software platforms that help digital marketers manage each engagement in a time-productive manner ensuring no lead slips through the cracks.

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How does SEO Play Into Inbound Strategies?

SEO as a stand-alone service simply ranks content based on search terms and keywords. SEO in an inbound marketing strategy ranks content for segmented audience cohorts using buyer personas to ensure that each message received is personalized to the individual buying experience. This means that keyword strategies, from a standard SEO perspective, are meaningless. Instead, ranking content based on semantic queries reflecting the deeper pains fueling a buyer’s need to make a purchase is what matters. That said, keyword research specific to buyer persona pains, in conjunction with all the other accouterments of SEO, bare the foundation needed to bringing the right people to the right content.

SEO for inbound gets more complex; it’s execution requires an understanding of psychology, advanced marketing tactics, and content produced by skilled writers with marketing and creative chops. This is not an arena for the guy living in his mom’s garage running SEO services for $1000 a month. Now search engine optimization has greater responsibilities and more demands in order to prove productive.

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Investment VS. Expense

One of the biggest challenges faced by digital marketers offering SEO à la carte is this: their clients view it as an expense rather than an investment. SEO alone does not provide concrete data revealing whether or not search optimization services resulted in buyer conversions. Using call tracking software was one way of actually showing where invested dollars paid off, but as a solo entity SEO only gave opaque glimpses at ROI.

When SEO is performed within an inbound marketing strategy, clients have the ability to view reporting that shows exactly where traffic came from, and where individual engagements converted in specific stages of the workflow. Because one can see a clear snapshot showing just where their dollars garnered sales, SEO  within an inbound framework is viewed as an investment as opposed to an expense that may or may not be working.

inbound investment

SEO for Inbound Focuses on on People, Not Keywords

As mentioned, traditional SEO revolves around ranking for keywords. SEO within an inbound marketing strategy focuses on optimizing content for buyer personas. Though keywords still matter for the latter, context and semantic search considerations are the focal point of a strategy.

Here is something interesting to think about: With the addition of RankBrain two years ago, Google’s algorithm uses AI and machine learning to understand the emotional needs behind every search query and award ranking to web pages that provide the best solutions. This means content, from an SEO perspective alone, needs to rank for specific buyer cohorts if in fact it is to see the light of day at the top of the SERPs. The inbound marketing methodology has, since its conception, taken content and crafted it to resonate with specific buyer personas at precise moments in the buyer’s journey. This is content that puts people first. As Google has historically made updates to award ranking to content that does the same, and RankBrain helps the bots identify textual content at topic-specific levels, it doesn’t take a genius to see the powerful capabilities savvy marketers have who bridge SEO with an agile inbound strategy.

your business bottom line

Let Your Bottom Line Dictate Your SEO

If you want to rank your content for the sake of ranking, traditional SEO will suffice. But if your bottom line depends on drawing in the right buyers, engaging them with content that educates and speaks to their needs, and leads them to make a purchase, you will need an inbound marketing strategy driven by SEO targeted at audience-specific groups and their unique pains. Your content must rank with solutions to their needs, and lead readers into workflows that nurture them into becoming loyal clients. SEO alone is only one piece to your growth strategy; SEO driving inbound marketing strategies offer the entire solution for increasing brand awareness, sales, and satisfied customers.

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