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SEO Is An Art, Not A Science

SEO professionals have access to numerous tools that can define keywords, the volume of search, search placement, gap analysis, and search opportunities.  These tools include SEMRush, Ahrefs, Google Search Console and others. All of the information that we can access can serve to deceive us into thinking that SEO is a science.  SEO is not a science because it requires that this data be interpreted and analyzed in the context of the client’s branding goals, marketing objectives, and specific sales goals.

The SEO industry is by nature a “can do” group of folks who are not afraid to take on Google, Bing and the internet as a whole each and every day.   There are some things that we really cannot do, and I think that outlining these things is important to set realistic expectations for SEO clients.

1. Setting Goals: What Is Success?

Keyword research has become sophisticated but is still an art.  Different keyword research can render different results on search volume and how competitive the keyword is in rankings.  These are key data in establishing goals.

The real goal should be conversions.  Not just any conversions, but the customers and products that provide the best chance for the client to make a profit.  Higher profit items should be prioritized, as well as keywords that fit the profiles of your ideal customers. 

Success should be defined as increasing profitable business with the customers that provide the best long term fit for the client.  Unfortunately, none of our SEO tools measure these factors.  The only measure of this factor is growth in sales and customer base and these metrics need to be tracked by the client.

2. Projected Performance

Clients often ask what they may expect from a successful SEO engagement.  Frankly, I would ask the same question if I were in their shoes.  Because we are “can do” folks, we take data from different sources to try to predict how an SEO campaign will increase traffic, SERP (search engine results page) placement and revenues for the client.

The fact is that the tools that are currently at our disposal are not sophisticated enough to accurately tell us how our SEO campaign will perform.   We can make predictions based on the tools and data we have available, but these are “best guess” projections, and should be treated as such when planning revenue goals, etc.

3. Wait, Someone Changed The Game

The tools we have are based on the search algorithms that are in place right now. Data on keywords are tied to the past, and cannot be predicted to the future with high accuracy.  Ranking factors are constantly changing. Machine learning is already taking over the Google algorithm.  Innovations in products and the resulting changes in search patterns and competitor sales and marketing strategies also affect future strategies and rankings.

The only constant in SEO is change.  The best way to combat that change is to have regular and transparent communication with your SEO team.  Tell them what you know about your business so that they can get ahead of, or at least react to, changes in the market.

4. Tracking Conversions

SEO tracking tools generally stop short of being able to provide actual reported ROI numbers unless the client is a 100% ecommerce seller. SEO campaigns are generally only able to report on SEO-specific stats like rankings, impressions, traffic, and conversions.

Many clients tag conversion by sourcing leads as best as they can and attributing leads to call tracking numbers that are kept on the content pages for various keywords.  This has allowed some conversions to be tracked, although comprehensive tracking is time-consuming.

5. Content Strategy And Branding

Content is the key to successful SEO.  Writing SEO content in brand voice is one of the keys to high conversion and lasting digital presence.  We have tools at our disposal to evaluate content that is ranking well on our sites and our competitors and to compare the readability index of content, which is starting to appear as a significant SEO ranking factor, especially in voice search.

A proper content strategy utilizes the insights on the types of content, format, engagement triggers, calls to action, and how to make it meaningful to the user in a style and voice that is consistent with the client’s brand.  We can measure traffic and conversions (to a point) but content strategy and branding are definitely the art that sets the distinctive companies apart from the competition.


I do not miss the “old days” (like what, 2009?) of SEO where most of the work was done by hand.  Even with the sophisticated SEO tools designed to help with tracking, analysis, and strategy, you still need an experienced SEO Professional to see beyond the data and create the overall digital strategy for a client.  This is the “art” of a successful SEO campaign.

Eric Van Cleave is the CEO and Digital Marketing Director for TIV Branding


TIV Branding is a boutique branding firm in Sonoma County, California. We specialize in building brands by using traditional, social and digital channels in unison. If you would like to discuss a project or find out more about how we do what we do, please email us at info@TIVbranding.com.