Understanding the Inbound Model: An Alternative to the Traditional SEO Pyramid

In an earlier post on my blog, and in an upcoming Think Visibility talk, I talk about the use of models to explain SEO process. Currently, the SeoMoz SEO fundamentals Pyramid is the standard model:

SEO Pyramid

This model was created in 2008, and I’ve used it for a long time to consider the SEO process. However, I think it is now somewhat out of date. Inbound Marketing was coined in 2009, and things have changed significantly since then. Additionally, I feel there are three key flaws in the SEO Pyramid:

  • It fragments departments such as social media and link building, which are now really one of the same thing.
  • The pyramid only explains that the next step up is dependent on the one below. It does not visualise importance of the step or cost.
  • Analytics is not present, even though it is crucial in SEO & Inbound Marketing.

Enter the Inbound Model

With that in mind, I created a new model called the Inbound Model which better comprehends the demands of inbound marketing on the digital marketer.

Outside of agencies, digital marketers are in a time famine as they ‘battle’ for resource against traditional departments (PR, Marketing etc). This is time poorly spent. Instead, they should look towards integrating. What the inbound model proposes is integration so time is more effectively spent, and various departments become the SEO process. In this approach, the role of the SEO is simply to oversee that the process is working smoothly. Technically, they will have to do very little of the execution.

The model comprises of four key ‘departments’, stacked on top of each other as follows:

Inbound Structure

If the departments were simple blocks stacked on top of each other, then this would suggest that you can take blocks out and the model wouldn’t suffer. However, this is not the case – the upward arrows show the dependencies of different departments.

The Importance of Analytics

Every department is reliant on analysis for efficiency. Without analysis, you cannot improve. Development requires analysis to ensure their changes have created better user behaviour, content requires analysis to see if anyone is engaging with the content and outreach needs analysis to measure the effectiveness of outward communication and link building.

Content is reliant on development for efficiency. Without development, a CMS system may become inefficient or be rendered obsolete. Content workers may also be reliant on certain technical skills to create web content such as apps.

Outreach is reliant on content, because you effectively can’t do outreach without content. If you have no content, what can you outreach?

Disciplines within Departments

Within each department, there are a number of ‘disciplines’ which should work in unison rather than being separated. These are explained below:

Inbound Disciplines

Exterior Department Integration

We can then consider which departments could possibly be effected by those outside of a central team or SEO remit, and how they could be integrated into the model to contribute. Once these are identified, these ‘exterior’ departments can be trained to become integrated. This drives central digital costs down, and creates a more joined up strategy. Below are some examples of job roles that can be integrated – development requires specialist skills, so it is usually not a candidate for ‘exterior’ integration.

Inbound Jobs

Cost of Departments

Working out the cost of departments is the next step. You can work out the comparative spend on each department, and then visualise this through the size of the block. You could also do this through staff headcount in each department.

If there is weak spend in one department compared to one above it, the likelihood is your strategy will fall over. So it is imperative to measure comparative cost and effectiveness of each department.

Strong SEO Architecture Model

Imagine that you have completed the basic development phase of an SEO project. You have paid for contractors to come in and redeveloped the site and the job is complete. You will now want to lose some of the contractors, but scale up in content and outreach. The below is an example of a site with strong architecture that is in a content ‘phase’ – cutting costs on development but spending much more on content:

Inbound Costs

A Simpler and More Advanced Alternative

This is both a simplification and advance on the traditional SEO Pyramid.

A digital marketer’s activity should become more simplified if they think in departments covered, and they can get people from the wider business involved rather than SEO ‘specialists’ – although SEOs are well positioned to managed the process. If departments don’t score well in terms of cost/headcount, there is a business case for investment.

It is an advancement on the traditional model, because it more accurately outlines the dependencies that departments have, and also visualises cost.

I’ve also used it effectively to make investment cases in my own business – so it does have practical uses. Let me know what you think.

James Carson is co-founder of Made From Media Twitter