Cause-Related SEO Puts Mission Before Math


There’s a strategy in search engine optimization called the Skyscraper technique that basically says if you want to rank high for a search phrase like “best pinot noir”, “production music licensing” or “cybersecurity firms”, you just search those terms, check out the top results and write a better, more comprehensive article then the top-ranking ones.

So now you have a ton of these obnoxious 10,000-word Skyscraper posts that rank well in search for high-purchase intent, bottom-of-the-funnel search phrases.

But they aren’t really that useful cause you have to search through a long article for a simple answer, which is typically what you’re looking for before you dig deeper.

Now, artificial intelligence is beginning to neuter that approach. Which is a good thing.

Because if you search “what is doublespeak”, you don’t want 10,000 words. One of the ways Google improved the user experience in this regard was with rich snippets, those expandable Q&A kiosks that appear in search results, and cull short answers from longer articles.

A rich snippet kiosk for the phrase “SEO” in Google search results.

Nigel Stevens — who was on our sister program the B2B Lead Gen Podcast — is an SEO specialist who does for major players like Hotjar, Intercom, Unsplash, and Big Commerce says he’s starting to outrank skyscrapers ranking for shorter posts, that are more concise and succinct.

And Joe Romm, an MIT Ph.D. of Physics, argues stories are more compelling than facts, it’s all about the headlines. And if you want to master headlines study Shakespeare, the Greek philosophers, and Jesus Christ.

Dale Bertrand (@dbertrand), President at Fire&Spark, a Boston-based digital marketing agency specializing in SEO strategies for e-commerce companies, is a man on a mission, at the nexus of SEO and story.

His presentation at INBOUND was one of the most talked-about sessions. And he’s one of the rare birds who’s good at both arts and science.

I say that because marketing and PR people are overwhelmingly math haters, which is why so many are scared away from search engine optimization.

He runs a performance marketing agency called Fire&Spark in Cambridge, Mass that approaches SEO from a more purpose-driven, than technical standpoint.

But Dale devised a novel strategy that puts a brand’s mission front and center as a way of differentiating itself in the eyes of Google, essentially putting the message before the math, or the more technical aspects, of SEO.

What is Mission-Driven SEO?

What you’re doing to optimize canonical tags, sitemaps, crawl budgets is not going to get you the bang for the buck that it used to.

Google’s getting a lot better at finding the most useful content for a query.

Why is it established brands out rank emerging brands?

It’s because they have authority from backlinks. People are linking to them from their websites. And Google sees those backlinks and treats them like endorsements. Backlinks are how Google measures authority.

SEO is so competitive nowadays that you need the authority to rank well in most markets. It used to be that you could just optimize for a keyword and you would rank but now you need to optimize for keyword and have some authority from backlinks.

Mission-driven SEO is about building authority. Mission-driven is a term that should resonate with cause related marketing professionals. By mission, Dale means cause.

So brands with a cause or purpose centered around their products, or a mission behind the company just naturally do better. Because their purpose gives them a reason to create content that resonates with their customers and influencers.

Brands that have a mission that is purposeful are going to get noticed more, and strike a chord with customers and influencers who are more likely to write about and link to them. And since Google measures those links, the brand builds rank through authority.

“We really want people to understand that in order to leverage this purpose-driven SEO strategy, you do need a purpose. And it does need to be authentic,” says Dale, whose approach fuses SEO with digital PR.

“It’s really best if it’s central to your branding, but it doesn’t need to be a social mission. It can the purpose can be something like the craftsmanship of your products, or the quality of your products, or the backstory of the founders,” he continues.

Dale Bertrand on Mission-Driven SEO

Technical SEO is Dead

Dale studied brands that are doing really well with organic traffic and SEO, but that aren’t doing any formal SEO.

These are brands that are doing great with organic visibility, but they’re not actively optimizing for Google at all.

He found a lot of brands out there that aren’t doing B2C or B2B SEO, but they still rank high and get a ton of traffic through organic search. And he found is it’s because they’re generating the right content.

These are brands that are ranking for keywords that are relevant to problems they solve, that prospective customers are searching for answers to.

“If you stop and think about that for a second, like, there aren’t a lot of fields out there where you can get the end result without doing the work, says Dale. “Google doesn’t live to reward technical people for the correctness of their HTML code. That’s not what Google is looking for. They’re looking for the most useful content,” says Dale.

Dale Bertrand on why message-driven SEO beats technical SEO every time.

SEO through Thought Leadership

Dale’s concept of “mission-driven SEO” is novel.

When you offer a new idea and back it up with substance, you’re leading with thought. You’re the first person to put this idea out there.

That’s what thought leadership is all about.

You’re not repeating existing thoughts, or jumping on someone else’s bandwagon. You’re not a thought repeater. You’re a thought leader.

It’s like skating to where the puck is going to be, as opposed to skating to where it already it.

In mission-driven search engine optimization, thought leadership definitely helps, because you have a chance to rank for a unique concept or idea.

“We’ve partnered with law firms advocating for a position that relates to our purpose, and built content around that. The law, firm contributes to the content, links to it and helps us promote it,” says Dale, who advises clients to reach beyond the world of social media influencers and blogger’s for inbound links.

By creating mission-driven content that dovetails with the positions of other organizations, it’s possible to build authority by engaging with subject matter experts from outside the digital domain.

Dale Bertrand on the advantage thought leaders have over technical SEOs.


If you’re spending more than 20% of your time on the technical aspects of search engine optimization, it’s time to reassess how you’re allocating your energy.

Yes, the basic aspects of technical SEO still matter. But if you’re using a modern content management system like WordPress, HubSpot, or Shopify, and you have a website with less than 10,000 pages, you don’t necessarily need an SEO consultant to agonize over performance optimization. most of the technical stuff is handled automatically.

Rather than worry about minifying code or increasing load time a fraction of a second, you focused on creating mission-driven content.

The easiest way to get noticed is by creating purposeful content that resonates with people who are passionate about your cause.

And your cause need not be a social cause. It can be a business cause, a productivity cause or a customer service cause. Any of those are valid.

For the complete interview with Dale Bertrand on mission-driven SEO, subscribe to the Earned Media Hour or watch the full interview on my YouTube channel.

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