Some clients may imagine that SEO is the panacea to all problems and is the greatest thing to fix all the problems a company or its brands face. But, seriously?

Back in the old days of the mid-1990s, we embarked on the greatest adventure of our business lives – we became the early pioneers of the Internet.

Before the Internet became commercialized in the mid-1990s, my friend and I (now the head of PR consulting at the firm) used CompuServe, and I set up bulletin boards and used analog modems for connectivity with people. Before the Web became a commercial reality, we were dabbling with content on our bulletin board. It is the geek in me. After all, I have been a programmer since I was a kid, dabbling with BASIC, then FORTRAN, before I got on to the Java, Javascript, HTML, Perl, and PHP tracks.

So as soon as the Internet became available to us, we immediately set up a part of our training and public relations business to cater to communicating on the Internet. We immediately saw that the Internet is an important medium and will be pivotal in the future. We collaborated with a friend in Melbourne, and set out to help clients set up Web presence, providing domain registration, DNS hosting, Web hosting, Email hosting, and even custom email security. We used handcoded HTML for all our websites, and even wrote some interesting interactive Shockwave content in the early years. We served clients in government, large multinational corporations, and emerging companies enlightened to the potential of the Web.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was a concept we also caught on, as search engines such as AltaVista, Infoseek, Excite, Lycos, and so on, became important tools to help leverage a Web presence. There were many ways to help a website improve its outreach through search engines, all of which we tried and employed when possible.

Fast forward to today, and the idea of SEO has changed a great deal. First, there are not too many of those early search engines around, and many have evolved beyond search. A new giant has emerged from nowhere – Google. And more importantly, SEO can no longer be employed the same way before, as old approaches are either totally useless, or even detrimental to the outreach of a website.

Let us consider some important things when thinking about SEO of a website today.

First, there is no shortcut (anymore) in improving your Web presence and its outreach. It takes effort, a lot of effort, in building a Web presence that provides useful and perhaps even entertaining content, and in a manner that engages and interacts with your users, and ultimately, convert to customers. The idea of a “brochureware” website is prehistoric. Content is key, and yet, it is one of the hardest things to build. You cannot simply populate boring technical specifications or inch-thick manuals and call it content. The content has to be properly thought out, crafted, illustrated with charts, infographics, photographic images, animation, and even video. Content is not easy to do, contrary to the imagination of some clients. And, don’t believe the idea that there are tricks to employ in SEO. Those tricks existed before, but are no longer advised. We would never advise clients to try those tricks.

Second, if a company has lousy products and services, no SEO will help the company rise to the top, or for long. If anything, go back to the drawing board and improve the products or services, or even change tracks. SEO is a supplemental tool to marketing, and it is not the be-all and end-all to anything. Make good products, serve customers professionally and equitably, and people will start talking, and your products will go social, in real life and on the Web.

Third, just because you see others doing something weird, don’t do it. For example, one of the common things some clients imagine is that if their competitors are running contests that run foul of a particular social media platform’s policies, they could do that too. All it takes is a single complaint and an action from the social media, and a painstakingly built social media channel would be removed. It is not worth the risk. If you emigrate to a country, you would conform strictly to the rules of your new country, won’t you? If you play soccer or baseball, you would abide by the rules, won’t you? In the same manner, when participating on a social media platform, play strictly by its rules.

Marketing is a vast landscape that employs many channels and tactics. SEO is but a tiny, tiny slice of what great marketing can do. Don’t rely on SEO as if it is the only thing available. There are many wonderful tactics and areas that can be used to first, build a brand; second, engage prospects and customers, and third, improve profitability through a tightly closed loop from product creation to product support.

Never get carried away by a single tactic, or the “flavor of the month”. The rules of marketing stays contact – build a brand slowly and steadily, and make good products that help people.