What's Next for SEO? Just Ask Seth Rand

11/14/2016 11:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Image credit: Rand Marketing

Penguin, Panda, and Pigeon.

The much hyped Mobilegeddon.

The rise (and meteoric fall) of Google Authorship.

The importance of local SEO.

Keeping pace with Google's constant SEO updates for just one year is enough to give anyone whiplash. Then there's Seth Rand, who has been at the forefront of search engine marketing for over 13 years. Since Seth first founded Rand Internet Marketing, he's seen it all: the good, the bad, the ugly and the downright crazy side of search marketing. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Seth as he reflected on what he's learned over the years- and what's next for SEO. Here's what Seth had to say:

What are the three biggest changes that have impacted your approach to SEM, ecommerce, and digital marketing strategy?

The first one would have to be the changes to link building and off-site SEO. What was once a volume game - focused around link exchanges and later three-way linking - has evolved into generating one-way high-quality industry-related links that look and feel natural to Google.

The second one would be the expansion and use of mobile including smartphones and tablets. First, we had to build mobile sites. Then we had to rebuild them as mobile responsive sites. Now, the focus is on tracking the phone calls and conversions from those mobile sites.

The third would probably be the expansion of social media and its use for business. When I opened a Myspace account a decade ago, or a Facebook profile eight years ago, who thought that social media including Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, and Instagram would be where it is today? Social media is now a digital marketing imperative for many businesses. It's hard to imagine that when I think about my old Myspace account!

Rand Internet Marketing was Named to South Florida Business Journal's Top 25 Advertising Agencies List. What strategies have been most successful for growing your client base? Are the majority of your client's repeat/referrals or new business acquired via inbound lead generation?

The majority of our business comes from referrals from existing or former clients and from referral partners in other B2B industries serving a similar clientele. While we invest time and energy into identifying our SEO, social media, remarketing, and content marketing, we still find that we get our best leads through happy clients. It's a piece of advice I give to my clients in their businesses, too: don't ignore the power of word-of-mouth marketing!

You have a well-earned reputation as an SEM industry leader. Do you follow an intentional brand building strategy (thought leadership articles, speeches, etc.) or has this happened organically?

Initially, it happened organically. I truly enjoy sharing my experience and insights into our industry, but as a digital marketer, I certainly understand the value in following a more intentional approach to thought leadership. Over the past year, I have embraced the opportunity be more active in our industry. I strongly encourage my clients to do the same through genuine engagement and dialog. It's easy to get trapped in our echo chambers. Let's get out, share what's working (and not working, as the case may be), and start a conversation!

What are the two biggest changes you see coming down the pipeline for ecommerce and digital marketing this year?

One of the biggest challenges is multi-channel and cross-device tracking from the initial click on a phone or tablets into a conversion on a future device such as a desktop or laptop.

Secondly, businesses increasingly need to connect brick-and-mortar software, such as accounting, inventory, and fulfillment systems, with E-commerce websites, and online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay. That allows them to cut down on data entry and errors, and sell more efficiently and cost effectively through all of their sales channels.

If you could go back six years to when you opened your agency, what would you do differently? Any advice you wish you'd been given (or listened to) then that you'd share with other digital marketing agencies today?

I would have saved up some more money and budgeted better for startup expenses. I know now how important it is to hire and retain the right team members, even if they cost a little more.

There are also some specific things that I would not try again in hindsight, such as developing an in-house affiliate marketing department, or taking on partners in related business opportunities such Top 10 SEO and Rand Merchant Services, but overall I am proud of what we have accomplished as a team. There's always a bit of trial and error in every business. I'm happy to say that despite the challenges we've faced along the way, we've come out stronger.

Bottom line:

Keeping up with SEO changes isn't easy, which is why it's even more impressive that Seth continues to stay ahead of the curve. Seth is spot-on when he says talks about the importance of multi-channel and cross-device tracking and the continued integration of bricks-and-mortar software with ecommerce. We'll be keeping a close eye on both of these developments.