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My quick thoughts on this:

  • SEO is hard because the feedback loops are long, and by that time things have changed.
  • For that reason, intuition and expertise is very important with SEO.
  • SEO testing is possible with tools like SearchPilot if you have the right scale, and you should always be testing.
  • In competitive scenarios, you have to know what to do, when to do it, how to implement, secure the right budget
  • In short windows of arbitrage, those who move fastest will win. For the right personalities this is the best implementation of SEO for them, when they need those quick feedback loops.
  • Enterprise SEO has the power to have a lot of traffic data to work with, and their natural enterprise longer cycles can be a good fit for the patience of SEO.
  • Likewise, on the flipside, upstart startups with VC money to spend and move as quick as possible to the next funding round often need to use ads and growth playbooks to get them to the next stage the fastest, and SEO isn’t fast enough until post-series B, and often not until series C or E.
  • Many don’t do SEO because the feedback loop is too long and they have to hit quarterly and monthly budgets
  • SEO is kind of the opposite of sales. But you know what, there may be power in merging the two.
  • Create SEO as sales-support content first, especially for B2B companies, and then build backwards from there up the marketing funnel.

Mid-length Version: Feedback Loops & SEO

What does the Brazilian soccer game of futsol have to do with Google Analytics data?

How is your bathtub a system just like the flow of traffic in and out of your website?

In the book Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows, she illustrates a fundamental concept of how systems work – in the natural and human world.

The book moves on to explain the role of feedback loops in the system, and this is a key concept that’s especially troubling in SEO work. We’ll touch on why it’s so frustrating in SEO and what we can do about it later on, but the concept of systems and feedback loops are critical to learning, adjusting, implementing, and improving the traffic-generation systems that we supercharge with our SEO skills.

To build consistent growth we need to constantly learn and innovate on tactics. By ”learn”, we don’t mean the broad concept of learning in an elementary school sense, but more along the lines of how machine learning works. Taking a variety of inputs and learning from them over time and volume to create satisfactory outputs.

In A Mind for Numbers, Barbara Oakley talks about the concept of chunks as building blocks for knowledge. You must learn the foundational concepts to build chunks of knowledge to then apply those learnings in a creative way. Without the foundational learning we obtain by reading Google Analytics, for example, you don’t have the atomic bits to be more creative in

In The Talent Code, author highlights the importance of feedback loops for learning and the different types. With quicker, more rapid feedback you adjust and iterate your activity to get closer to the desired result.

When working on SEO projects, it often takes 3-6 months to see convincing results. This feedback loop is really long for humans to endure, and hence why so many get frustrated in the process.

The solution? Track better KPIs that will eventually lead to the results you want and allow you to see metrics earlier on.

Or better yet, use AdWords and quicker channels to get quicker feedback loops until you believe so strongly in the work that you don’t need to rely on the loops anymore.

Longform version:

Navigating the Labyrinth: The Power of Feedback Loops in SEO

The world is a complex assembly of systems. Every field of human endeavor, including SEO, can be seen as a part of this vast interconnected web. Feedback loops, a critical element within systems theory, provide insight into how we can more effectively approach SEO strategy.

The concept of feedback loops is beautifully captured in Donella H. Meadows’ “Thinking in Systems.” A feedback loop, in essence, is a cycle of cause-and-effect events. It describes the transformative journey from input to output and back again, enabling learning and improvement.

Let’s visualize SEO as one such system. The feedback loop here is not instantaneous – and therein lies a substantial challenge. SEO often demands a patience-testing timeline of 3-6 months to exhibit tangible results. It’s akin to planting a seed and waiting for it to bear fruit. Many become disenchanted by the seemingly prolonged silence before the fruits of their labor materialize.

This SEO feedback loop’s languid pace can be especially grueling for fast-moving startups. These entities, bolstered by VC funds and racing against time to the next funding round, require rapid results. The drawn-out SEO timeline might seem an ill fit for them, nudging them to prefer faster channels like paid ads and growth playbooks.

However, that’s not to say SEO is without its champions. Enterprise SEO, for instance, flourishes in companies where longer operational cycles align harmoniously with the patient nature of SEO. With access to abundant traffic data, these enterprises can perform continuous SEO testing using tools like SearchPilot, refining their strategies based on insights gleaned.

The quick feedback loop adherents aren’t left in the lurch either. Opportunities for short windows of arbitrage present themselves frequently in competitive scenarios. Those with the intuition to recognize them and the agility to act swiftly stand to reap significant benefits. Speed is the key here – a nimble response to changes can secure a triumphant position in these high-stakes scenarios.

Even B2B companies can leverage SEO’s potential by creatively integrating it with their sales initiatives. They can generate SEO content that supports sales efforts first and then progressively build it up the marketing funnel.

As Daniel Coyle elucidates in “The Talent Code,” rapid feedback loops play a vital role in learning. Applied to SEO, this idea suggests tracking KPIs that reflect early indicators of success. This approach allows for faster adjustments, making the learning process more efficient.

Alternatively, businesses can employ quicker channels like AdWords until they develop strong conviction in their SEO work. The key is to use faster feedback loops in the early stages, gradually transitioning to slower, more robust SEO strategies as confidence builds.

Ultimately, the SEO landscape isn’t for the faint-hearted. It demands grit, adaptability, and an unwavering belief in the process. The inherent challenge lies in navigating the long feedback loops and continuously refining the strategy based on the insights gathered.

Key Summary of Concluding Thoughts:

  1. Understanding and effectively leveraging feedback loops in SEO can pave the way for more innovative strategies and sustained growth.
  2. The length of the SEO feedback loop can be a double-edged sword, posing challenges for fast-paced startups while providing unique advantages for enterprises with longer operational cycles.
  3. The integration of SEO with other business functions, like sales and marketing, can create a more robust and impactful overall strategy.

Joe Robison

Founder & Consultant
Joe Robison is the founder of Green Flag Digital. He founded the agency in 2015 and has been heads-down scaling content marketing and SEO services for clients ever since. He is an occasional surfer, fledgling yogi, and sucker for organized travel tours.
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