The Great SEO Social Media PR Bubble

  • PR
  • Social Media

If you work in the SEO, PR or social media industry, this tale is probably being played out in your city, wherever you are in the UK.

It goes something like this: SEO agency grows at exponential rate. Growth fuelled by companies looking to get their brands to page 1 of Google. The bigger the bun fight for the top positions, the bigger the battle and the more money is being thrown at it.

Let’s face it, there aren’t many sectors where there’s ten or fewer competing brands. In general where demand (the brands in a sector) exceeds supply (the top ten organic spots on Google page 1), prices rise.

In this case, it’s not so much prices as agency revenues. Those ten page 1 Google places are a rare commodity being chased by a large – and ever increasing – number of brands. And while the number of companies using SEO agencies has only ever increased over the years, the number of organic page 1 places on Google has remained at an even ten.

Even if an SEO agency fails to fulfil its clients objectives – and not meeting client objectives happens in every marketing industry – they will may switch agencies, yet fees still pour into the SEO industry.

I have huge respect for SEO agencies [disclaimer: I know a few of the bigger Leeds SEO agency owners] and how they have grown their businesses. Take this chart, which shows the growth of three random SEO agencies.

It’s hardly the South Sea Bubble or Dotcom Bubble, but will something eventually give?

In such high growth times people – and businesses – start to do irrational things (‘unaccountable frenzy’ and ‘irrational exhuberance’ are two phrases synonymous with those two aforementioned bubbles).

In other words, things businesses would have never dreamt of doing under normal trading conditions. People get hired who would have never been hired. People get fired who would have never been fired. Erstwhile junior staff find themselves promoted faster than they could have ever imagined. Investments are made in projects that contradict earlier long-term business strategies.

I’m hearing a lot of this at the moment.

That all aside, one growing trend that has been impossible to miss in the SEO world is the shift in business strategy. Take Leeds as a microcosm of the UK SEO industry. SEO agencies here that, three years ago, would have had about as many dedicated inhouse staff looking at Proportional Representation as they had Public Relations, are all investing in PR.

Not just the odd one or two staff, but fully-fledged, revenue-earning cost centres. One, Epiphany Search, has just launched a dedicated, standalone PR agency.

The same is true, but perhaps to a lesser extent, of social media. Those same SEO agencies are all investing in social media. The reason, as we all know, is back to Google. The search engine’s various algorithmic changes is demanding more from a website than a keyword-optimised domain name, appropriate title tags, some knocked-up copy and a bunch of paid-for links. Five years ago, that might have been enough.

Now I’m no SEO expert, but quality, trusted links, unique, fresh content and heavy cues from social media, seem to be – from a common sense perspective alone – the order of the day.

In particular, those authoratative ‘free’ links (think national news and newspaper websites) driven from a PR campaign amplified by social (or, in fact, vice-versa) is a potent mix.

A current Umpf campaign for a national brand has – as an entirely natural, unplanned but happy consequence (ie it wasn’t a specified client objective at the start of the PR campaign) – lifted our client from position nowhere to position two on page 1 of Google for a sought-after search term.

Given the influence of PR and social media on SEO, it’s no wonder that a number of social media agencies have recently been acquired – Simply Zesty  and Yomego spring to mind. The former acquired by UTV to “create a diversified multi-media business”. I’ve had two approaches from SEO agencies to acquire Umpf and know of other agencies in a similar position.

So back to the point. Somewhere in all of this it feels like there’s a bubble growing.

The question is perhaps not will it burst, but when.