The Beautiful Marriage of SEO and Data Science

September 28, 2021

Adam Audette, SVP SEO

The Beautiful Marriage of SEO and Data Science

SEO and data science were always secret lovers, they just didn't know it.

Have you ever been in a quarterly business review (QBR) when SEO was one of the channels covered, and observed the insightful commentary an experienced practitioner can extract from seasonal trends and comparisons in organic search traffic? I hope you've been lucky enough to witness this kind of story telling, which is more akin to business intelligence (BI) than it is SEO with the latter's sometimes myopic considerations of meta tags and response headers.

SEO can sometimes get a hard knock (and rightly so, in our opinion) when it comes across as a passive inventory of menial tasks and hygienic fixes that aren't connected to the business. The key to a successful SEO project typically isn’t about any of the specific little tasks, it’s how they connect into the larger strategy and in aggregate contribute to the performance increases on a site. Because it's never about any one task, it’s always critical to view the big picture, just like data science and BI.

The most valuable kind of SEO strategy isn't much different than data science and BI: aggregating multiple different data sets, cleaning and consolidating the data, and gleaning insights by imparting recommendations from the outcome.

How SEOs Use Data to Tell Stories

In my opinion, the best SEOs in the world are really great marketers who have strong technical skills and are focused on the user experience. Word salad, you say? I think not. Let's break it down:

The best SEOs are:

  1. Great marketers. Great marketers think about the value proposition, the competitive advantage, the key differentiators, the way to move early and quickly on an opportunity and the channel with the most effective ROI. Can't beat SEO in all these areas.
  2. Technical skills. SEO being a largely technical discipline, the person with the most knowledge about web development and search with data skills to boot, wins. Hands down.
  3. Focused on users. Search engines follow users. Search engines exist to give users answers to their questions. The search that best matches the users intent in the shortest time possible using the largest available data set with the most relevant result, wins. SEOs follow users, too. Bad SEOs follow algorithms and try to chase the machine that's being built by smart human beings to chase the users. Forget the machine, go directly to the user.

Great SEOs use data to pull out insights that will form actions, tactical and strategic actions, that will drive the performance of the website and business forward. Crawl data, what's the action? Otherwise it's pointless. Log files, is there any action? Otherwise ignore. Competitive insights, what action can be performed? That action may only be sizing an opportunity, but is always resultant in translating to web performance and action for the brand. If your team is undergoing an SEO audit, it better answer questions and create actionable insights, because "audits" at face value are largely inventories of problems organized without any connection to a strategy. SEO audits need to evolve.

How BI Experts Visualize Stories Brilliantly

When I watch great BI people do their stuff, I get fired up and downright excited by the opportunities that come alive in the data. It's visually stimulating and easy to digest. It's liquid beauty for the eyes. And that visual story overlays a rich, complex and nearly boundless data set. BI pulls value out of disparate data sources and visualizes it so that we can easily pull out what's important and what matters. There is a slick sense of making the complex simple and using incredible intelligence to do it. Thank you, BI experts!

When SEO and BI Go On a Date

You see where I'm going with this? When SEO and BI get together harmonious music is the result. Brands and marketers get to visualize complex narratives in stories easy on the eyes and mind. They can use those stories to create action plans, such as content roadmaps, technical roadmaps, competitive landscape analyses, and the list goes on.

I'll go so far as to say, that cutting edge (modern) SEO must have a strong BI component to actually be valuable. It's an essential.

The Children SEO and BI Could Produce (The Future Looks Bright)

I leave this section to marketers smarter than me. But, I could see a lot of little scampering children in the future from this beautiful combination, such as:


The marriage of data science, business intelligence and SEO represents a bright future of possibilities for digital marketers. SEO needs to evolve in the enterprise from a small budget area to one of the primary digital performance marketing channels a brand needs to grow online. Rich and informed data stories are the way to get there.

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