In education you’ll constantly hear the critical phrase, “teaching to the test” – the idea that a teacher might find themselves obliged to train a pupil to appear good at it in a specific exam situation, rather than actually to teach them to understand it (particularly as a scaffolding element to a greater level of knowledge).
There’s an element of this in the direction that some approaches to search marketing will lead you. Take articles like this or this, for example, and the message is clear – keep playing the game but just do it better than you used to; learn the techniques to pass the test and you don’t need to concern yourself with understanding.
However, as with the educative analogy, this means that your foundational understanding can end up weak, meaning you cannot react effectively to changes in the industry when a technique becomes outdated or is superseded. Essentially, it infantilises the marketer.
Surely, it’s more fruitful to understand what Google wants, conceptually, and pursue that aim through all developing means, rather than focus blindly on individual elements.
The risk is that, rapidly, those individual elements become passé and, worst still, deleterious over time. Historically, there have been any number of techniques that have, for limited period, provided significant SEO results – none, however, will establish long-term success unless there is a critical understanding of how search marketing sits within a broader marketing approach, focused on brand development and how that rests, indisputably on the nurturing of credibility and customer loyalty.
It’s not about ticking algorithmic boxes, it’s attitudinal (as expressed compellingly here) – be the best brand that you can be all the time, making valid decisions on your message (and in what format and medium you should articulate it), based on a clear understanding of what your customers value most (which in itself comes from a clear understanding of what you want your brand to do).
That’s why I’m not buying the death of Google Authorship as some are trying to tout (such as here and here) because at the heart of the Authorship drive was (is) the need to be a trusted site that provides the best answers for specific questions or requests that we can manage. These elements are essentially to the success of your website, irrespective of the weight Google attributes to a “rel=author” code.
All this is not to say we should ignore all articles regarding techniques that will help us achieve those aims effectively and efficiently – we are all standing on the shoulders of giants, as they say – all it means is that we need to know why we’re doing the things we’re doing if we want to do them as well as possible. Don’t learn to the test, everyone.