The Tropes of SEO – Storytelling to improve communication

Author: Hannah Thorpe


The reluctant hero saves the day. The wallflower becomes a beauty queen and gets the guy. The grumpy older person learns their lesson and is inspired by someone younger. Sound familiar? All of these are story tropes which appear frequently through literature and film. Whilst the nuances of character and how well the story is told may disguise that this is a tale we’ve all heard before, ultimately much of the entertainment media we engage with on a daily basis is repetitive and “safe” for our brains. We enjoy the predictability and rational sequence of these stories.

So what the fudge has this got to do with SEO? 

I’d like to put it out there that we need to acknowledge that the rationale and explanation we give to clients is really just a story. Whilst the story is non-fiction (hopefully!) it still needs a beginning, middle and an end – the better the structure and writing of the story, the more the client/others in your team will understand. From doing my 6 years in various agencies, I’ve noticed that there are some common themes in the narratives we tell our clients and how we frame an SEO issue that are more successful than others. 

I’d urge you to embrace these tropes and rhythms that work for communicating SEO problems and strategies, rather than to shy away from them. Frequently the SEO industry as a whole is described as smoke and mirrors, thanks to our less than transparent communication and the nature of optimisation for an unknown algorithm. If we can work together to make our narratives more consistent and recognised amongst marketing generalists, it will help SEO to become a more widely understood language. So let me introduce to you, the three main tropes of SEO: 

Trope 1: Technical Foundations Matter Most

Have you got a site that looks good to users and is filled with rich content, but still no performance? Ultimately a website which is poorly built for robots to crawl and understand the content on site will nearly always struggle to perform in organic search.

To make this relatable we need to talk about a house with poor foundations that comes tumbling down, a hero who found their success through taking credit for someone else’s work or the lazy teenager cutting corners to complete their chores. These more widely recognised tropes are telling the same story as a website which has not got the correct technical best practice in place.

Trope 2: It’s All About Trust

There are certain intangible elements of SEO which can be complex to explain to a client, and often are based on gut feel and experience. In the industry we frequently point to Google’s terminology as a means of explaining that ‘you just don’t deserve to rank first’  feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach as an SEO consultant. More commonly we talk about a website having a lack of Expertise, Authority and Trust (E-A-T) signals point into it.

But what does this actually mean? E-A-T signals are almost impossible to quantify, whilst you can look into elements like semantic keywords, relevancy of links and assure that the quality of your content produced is high, this doesn’t always translate into good organic rankings.

E-A-T in itself has been the trope that many specialists use to explain a notion that they can’t quite put into words. To have the strongest E-A-T signals, your site just needs to be the best. It needs to provide the best information, in the clearest way possible, to as many people as it can reach. With a tendency to be biased towards our own websites and our own solutions, it’s often easier to reference these mysterious ‘E-A-T signals’ than it is to simply tell a website owner that their site just isn’t good enough. 

Trope 3: Links are Everything/Nothing

Links have a value in SEO that is difficult to describe. For some websites they will be the key thing that changes how a site performs almost overnight. For others, there may be close to no impact of new links built and a quality link profile will do nothing for performance. Why? Well, it’s a nuanced story.

Links are valuable to a point then there is a diminishing return in the effort put into building links versus the impact upon rankings is the short answer. The long answer involves understanding that each vertical and set of search results has slightly different criteria for what makes a site rank, and overall it depends which sites you’re being compared against to truly know how to rank the highest. 

Take yourself away from SEO and what would this story be in real life? Links are like a performance enhancer for an athlete; if they have no foundation of fitness in place then the impact will be significant. But the same results can be achieved naturally through hard work and more time – and then will last longer. Telling the story of links as an injection to your success that may only be short-term, it will help non-SEOs to understand if that’s something they want to invest in and the impact they may have. 

The element that all of these tropes have in common is that they’re allowing us to tell a very nuanced story in a way that keeps non-specialists engaged, without pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes or distracting them with a shiny content campaign to detract from poor results. The key here is understanding that how we communicate is an important factor in how likely we’ll get work implemented on a client’s website, and therefore how successful our SEO work will be. Being able to filter out the nuance and the noise from our story and provide businesses with clarity in a complicated world is a crucial skill for any successful SEO. 

It is time to accept that as passionate as you may be about SEO, as much as you may want a client to understand the level of complexity in your analysis, as uncertain you may be of the exact impact SEO will have – often people don’t care. They want to understand the simplest way to get to their final goal. As a good consultant or specialist, you’ll help them to get there through decoding the jargon and simplifying the story to provide a clear narrative to success. 


This article was written by Hannah Thorpe, Head of SEO at Found. We hope you found it interesting. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Alternatively, browse our categories here.

Technical SEO

It’s the foundation that all SEO is built on, and can be a pretty useful extension too. Read our latest & greatest technical SEO articles here.

Content Marketing

If you want to diversify the entry points to your site, you’ll need to create and maintain great content. Check out our tips & techniques.

Strategy

Catch up on strategy advice. However advanced your tactics are, without strategy your SEO won’t get you where you need to go.


Behind the Site

I’m Jack Telford, an Owned Strategy Director at Publicis Media. I’ve been in the SEO industry for the last 6 years and love the collaborative nature of the space. This site is my little contribution to the community.

Got any Good Ideas?

Always looking for new contributors to the site – and for feedback too. Feel free to get in touch if you’re interested in writing or have anything to share.

jack.et@hotmail.co.uk

London, SW4 (or I will be again after lockdown)

About 100 SEO Ideas

The place to explore quick, easily digestible SEO and wider marketing tips and techniques. Sharing knowledge from professionals across the field, we aim to help each other achieve greater success.

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