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The Case For The Status Quo: Why Doing Everything Is Flawed

Mike Essex

by Mike Essex on 22nd August 2013

Building BlocksThe status quo is boring. It’s presumably been done hundreds of times and everyone knows all about it. People are constantly trying to get rid of it and redesign everything until the status quo is unrecognisable.

They want you to believe that change is the only way to elevate your career and your business. Yet I think it’s important that we take a look back and appreciate that the status quo is a very, very important thing.

Whilst I can’t deny there are times when businesses need to change – Kodak, Blockbuster, HMV and Jessops to name a few – there are just as many times where businesses have made colossal mistakes as a result of trying to change too much; New Coke, Windows 8, Qwikster, Xbox One etc.

In those examples it was their core business that saved them (twice at least in Microsoft’s case). Rapid change cannot happen overnight and that’s often where businesses fail. They try to make quick shifts and establish a new way of working in one go and that’s a very hard thing to do. Changes should be made gradually and over time until it becomes impossible to tell the change from the status quo. That’s how successful businesses reinvent themselves – not by waking up one morning and changing everything about them (that’s only true in very rare cases).

Yet in our industry, and many others, we are fascinated with trying to absorb as many things as possible. There’s such a rush to create an “inbound marketing” industry that what was once SEO is quickly becoming about Content Marketing, CRO, PR, Analytics, Social Media and much, much more. We want to do it all and we want to do it well.

All of those extra parts are great of course, and we do offer those services but we’ve tried our hardest not to forget the basics at the expense of new techniques. We have built teams devoted to those new areas and yes whilst we’d love to make an amazing piece of content for a client, if their site is riddled with technical errors that won’t allow it to rank well  then working on that is priority number one.

You see what worries me is that when people start to rave about trying new things, they can forget to even consider the basics. The new stuff is fun and it’ll get you out of bed in the morning sure, but there’s also less certainly of results.

Take a post this week about whether or not +1’s help improve rankings. It was widely discussed and even Matt Cutts said that +1’s do not impact rankings. Despite his assurances, people loved talking about it and this potential new way to do SEO was dissected with vigour. At the end of it all everyone probably came away with the view they had at the start; some thought they worked, others didn’t.

Yet would this time have been better spent discussing how to make the status quo better? The reason things like technical SEO checks, keyword research and site audits are even classed as “status quo” is because they are the things we have to do. They’re a vital part of every project that you’d find very few people in the industry debunking.

It’s not like the web has suddenly achieved a moment of zen where all the basics are sorted on every website. Even now I see website redesigns that have done away with years of SEO work and the process of optimisation begins again; back to the task list and back to basics because that’s what is needed. At that point there’s no point trying to get lots of +1’s because there are more important factors.

New Coke“Bring back new Coke!” Said no one ever.

The thing is the status quo doesn’t sell conference tickets, fill business books or generate blog views. It’s less likely to win you an award and won’t make you an industry rockstar. Your peers won’t care if you just completed your 100th audit but it’s crazy how much praise you can get for a single “protip”.

Thankfully one group who will care when you do the status quo well are your clients. They’ll certainly notice when it gets results and aren’t they the only people we are trying to please?

It’s not about how many awards you win or how many people share your blog posts on Twitter, it’s about how happy your clients are. That’s all that matters.

Of course you could argue that we don’t talk about the status quo because often there’s little to talk about. It’s presumed that everyone knows it already and therefore it’s not worthy of discussion.

If that were true then two of our most popular SEO posts of all time would not be guides to Robots.txt files and an SEO Health Check.

Robots.txtThere are still people who want to read about the basics.

These two essential posts look at key parts of the process that industry veterans could somewhat take for granted. We’ve actually run pieces for beginners before and had people complain that they aren’t advanced enough or repeat something they already know. But here’s the thing – other people share them, comment on them and enjoy them. If the status quo was known by everyone then this wouldn’t happen; those posts would fail to gain traction.

Despite the fact I’ve written countless Robots.txt files I still learnt new things on the above blog post and there’s no shame in reading up on the basics or trying to find a way to do them better. It’s why people love lists of tools; because they hope they’ll make an existing process faster or better. Maybe they are even trying to inject a bit more fun into a task they’ve done countless times.

Likewise at the conferences I’ve been to this year I’ve learnt less “new stuff” than in prior years and yet I’ve come away feeling energised by them every time. Paying to hear something you already know doesn’t sound like a very good idea and yet being reminded of the basics, especially new ways to do them, can be very powerful.

Sure the “out-there” tactics at conferences are the ones people tweet and include in their roundups but day by day at work it’s the things that slot into the status quo that get actioned and provide results. We shouldn’t be ashamed of getting the basics right, far from it.

So in our world of Inbound marketing and endless new opportunities, the most effective route can actually be spent in pursuit of the status quo:

  • Fix the basics.
  • Solve the problems.
  • Build on what’s there.

Only when that’s done can you start to shift towards new ideas and ways of thinking. The status quo can be built on one piece at a time until you make it stronger.

How many company blogs have been abandoned after a few entries? How many social media profiles contain a few messages before they were stopped? How many YouTube channels sit vacant? These are examples of people who’ve tried to implement a big change and not tied it into the status quo.

They’ve tried to chase the latest cool thing and given up. They tried to “just ship it” without really thinking about how they would tie it into the status quo.

That’s why every new change should be made as if you’ll be doing it till the end of time. It’s why we didn’t just do one whitepaper for Koozai.com; we committed to doing one every month. We film a video a week and launch a blog post every day. Consistency is our friend.

Creating all of that content was a large scale shift for the company. As Ben highlighted here it costs the equivalent of a Lamborghini every year and yet we very quickly made this vital shift into a new part of our status quo. We committed to something new, we tied it into the company vision and we’ve seen great results as a company.

LamborghiniWant to change? This is what it will cost you.

The status quo for us now is vitally different to the status quo years ago and yet we’ve made changes in ways that felt logical through small steps at a time. It’s always felt natural and that’s why I think we’ve been able to stick to it. You have to make changes and try new things but you have to fit them into the business or they’ll fizzle out and you’ll just be left with something that is frankly embarrassing.

Yes you should do Content Marketing, CRO, PR, Analytics, Social Media and more but only where it makes sense and where you can commit to using it to build on the business.

So the next time you wake up and want to do something new, I suggest you do something old. Master an existing process and make the status quo the best you can. It’s the backbone on which your company is built and it’s the best way to secure your future.

Whether you agree or disagree, love change or hate change I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Image Credits

Build New Business from BigStock
Bottle Caps Of Coca-Cola
from BigStock
Yellow Lamborghini on Exhibition Parking from BigStock

Mike Essex

Mike Essex

Mike Essex specialises in digital marketing and everything search. A recent project of Mike’s was featured on BBC News, Radio 5Live and the Times here in the UK, whilst also featuring on USA Today and ABC News in the US. He will be writing throughout the month about digital marketing and much more...

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4 Comments

  • Jim Seward 22nd August 2013

    What a great article, as an industry, we’re so quick to jump on the next big thing, that next protip that’ll bring the slew of traffic.

    However you lose a point for use of the term “industry rockstar” – awful term…up there with ninja, hacker and all the rest of the monikers people ascribe themselves.

    I think it was @searchmartin who tweeted that the best SEOs don’t tweet, or blog….we never know they’re there, they just get on with getting great results for their clients, and I tend to agree with him.

    Reply to this comment

  • Robert Deans 22nd August 2013

    Mike I couldn’t agree with you more.

    I think that our industry can all too often be taken in by what everybody else is talking about and let the latest ‘must do’ buzz words dictate strategy. This takes us away from our moral obligation to clients of delivering the best results in the most cost effective way.

    Reply to this comment

  • Ross Chapman 22nd August 2013

    Little and often is how I like to look at SEO. Measurement, small tweaks, experiments, reading articles (like this one), and just taking it one day at a time.

    Build on what’s there.

    Reply to this comment

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