Re-thinking Hybrid SEO: Add Expertise not Services

SEO is insulted as transactional. But you can learn more about your market through SEO research than through any other medium

A few days ago, I wrote about hybrid expertise firms, where I argued that small firms need to acquire, contract, or hire talent in multiple expertise areas even while they offer a narrow range of services to a narrow range of clients.

That got me thinking about blending not just expertise areas but services, too. Whereas that post was directed at agency principals, this post is for anyone in the digital professional services world thinking about expanding their skills.

One of the most powerful types of expertise hybrids are those that involve SEO.

But writings about this subject generally known as “hybrid SEO services” have to do with hybrid services within the realm of Marketing Expertise: SEO and copywriting, SEO and email marketing, and the granddaddy of them all, SEO and Paid search, ie., search advertising as on Google AdWords.

Unfortunately though, it’s when services come from two different expertise areas that they acquire the most problem-solving value and thinking.

Previously, I’ve defined the four key expertise areas for a digital firm as follows:

  1. Creative Expertise
  2. Technical Expertise
  3. Sales & Marketing Expertise
  4. Business Expertise

I think there’s a right way and wrong way to do this; like building a hybrid expertise firm, the right way is based on drawing from multiple expertise areas. I

Each of us inherits inclinations towards one or more of these areas. But there’s being inclined and there’s developing expertise that allows you to think about solving problems in a different way.

Some people have said: everyone should learn to program. Or, everyone should practice design thinking. And not to become an expert, necessarily but to improve one’s ability to solve problems.

It had nothing to do with anything practical, it had to do with using them [software programs] to be a mirror of your thought process, to actually learn how to think … I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer … I view computer science as a liberal art.
– Steve Jobs

I don’t disagree with the specific point and I completely agree with the larger point.

It pays to understand the technologies you use in your daily work, as well as those that comprise whatever solution you put in your clients’ hand.

For example, if you work in either design and branding or in UX design, all of the your creative output will be delivered through the medium of Content Delivery Networks, the now-ubiquitous technical methodology for making apps and websites load fast.

Meanwhile, most of your output will be delivered through the web using a CMS product such as WordPress. For both visual and UX designers, understanding the constraints of CMS from a business, marketing, and technology perspective will vastly improve the quality your work.

Being Expertise Multi-Lingual

Which is exactly the point: understanding your expertise area from the perspective of the other ones that are most important to digital services

Not because you’ll comply with the another system’s requirements. It’s not about compliance; it’s about blending your way of solving business problems with other ways of doing the same. That’s where the sum-greater-than-parts effect kicks in. What better way of blending thinking than understanding that thinking.

Everyone on a digital team should have an understanding of the four pillars of digital services: creative expertise, technical expertise, sales & marketing expertise, and business expertise.

Examples of Hybrid Expertise

But I’m not talking about just understanding for the perspective of organizating your thinking, which is the excellent point Steve Jobs makes in the video above. I’m talking about actually acquiring another concrete skill – from area of expertise outside the one you have already mastered (and if you haven’t mastered any, this doesn’t apply to you yet) and joining it together.

Many SEOs make the mistake that they are stronger for focusing on SEO to the exclusion of all other forms of marketing, let alone other service areas. Not Sara does SEO and Volacci.

Sara does SEO

There is a woman named Sara Dunn whose YouTube series “Specializing a Web Agency” is terrific. And by the way, if you’re thinking about taking the specialization journey like the comprehensive and structured workshops on specialization offered by Philip Morgan. Philip’s target customers are self-employed software developers (ie freelance consultants or small agency owners) but in my opinion anyone who fits into digital services world can benefit from his approach.

Anyway, Sara’s specializations are web design and SEO, a perfect example of hybrid horizontal expertise

In the world of digital services, web design falls dead in the center of Creative Expertise and SEO is a fundamental skill (well, a large collection of related skills, actually) to Sales and Marketing Expertise.

By blending those two disciplines, she provides customers in her target niche (the wedding industry) with two very different, yet very complementery skills and expertise areas with which to solve problems. For a wedding planner or someone else in the wedding industry asking themselves, “how do I get more wedding clients?“, Sara’s form awnswers that question.


Volacci is another small agency that marries SEO, a form of Marketing Expertise, to another expertise area, Technical Expertise. In Volacci’s case the particular form of technical expertise is Philip Morgan calls a “Platform Specialization”: Drupal.

Drupal, as you may know, is not as simple to use and understand as its CMS counterpart, the more popular WordPress. Nor does it have the built-in on-page SEO optimization tools that WordPress comes with (or are easy to add on as plugins).

Yet it’s a much more flexibile product, meaning that with the right customizations, it’s possible to automate scaled-up SEO optimization, for the kind of large scale sites (1000+ pages) that Drupal is so good at supporting.

For example, I built and SEO-optimized a 10,000+ page Drupal site in 2006 that, despite never being optimized or redesigned since, now gets 30,000 unique visits a month.

So in a nutshell, SEO for Drupal represents a huge missed opportunity. And by specializing in both, Volacci solves that problem much more effectively than if it only dealt in either SEO or Drupal.

The elusive business-SEO hybrid expertise

So far we’ve looked at the following SEO hybrids:

  • Sales & Marketing Expertise (SEO) <-.> Creative Expertise (Web Design)
  • Sales & MarketingExpertise (SEO) <-> Technical Expertise (Drupal)

What’s missing? An “SEO-marriage” of Marketing and Business Expertise. For example:

  • Sales & Marketing (SEO) <-.> Business Expertise (Market research)

Unfortunately, I have no specific recommendation for a firm or consultant that marries these two expertise areas. And when I say marries these two areas, I mean someone who really understands business planning and strategy, such as an MBA, a business owner, or a seasoned veteran of complex consultative sales & marketing who has transcended an implementation deal and become a strategic advisor to her business.

That hybrid-expert person understand:

  • Whether SEO should be pursued as an inbound marketing strategy, in the first place. This is a form of market research and validation that only be performed by that rare individual with both specializations
  • How and why to re-engineer the DNA of the business model itself to lend itself to SEO marketing opportunities.
  • How to pursue and maintain a position of market advantage by leveraging SEO

In theory, a good “pure SEO” will advise on some of this. But in practice? Not so much. Most good SEOs are scienticists, deeply immersed in their craft, toiling at away at decoding a complex algorithm, and ranking thousands of webpages at a time for high-value keywords.

One you master something, you have two paths:

  • Keep mastering it and double-down on learning your craft
  • Sacrifice a little bit of that continued learning to bring a new discipline into the fold.

What’s your path? And what’s your expertise? Let me know, I’d love to think about this from your perspective!