What SEO Isn’t

The Misconception

It’s a common occurrence to see folks who are new to SEO speaking of search engine optimization as the end all, be all of Internet marketing. They will get together in SEO forums mocking those webmasters who don’t participate in SEO, calling them stupid webmasters and patting each other on the back.

The fact is, SEO is not the end-all, be-all of Internet marketing. In fact, SEO is not even suitable for a large number of websites. In many cases, SEO would be counter-productive and/or a waste of money.

While these SEO’s focus on getting top ranking on one search term which will only drive a few thousand unique visitors daily, real marketing strategists will be using non-SEO tactics to drive a hundred times more traffic to their websites, and to ad insult to injury the quality of the marketing strategist’s traffic is much higher than the quality of the SEO’s traffic.

What SEO Is

In order to understand what SEO isn’t, let’s first make clear exactly what SEO is.

First there is on-page SEO. This encompasses the elements of SEO Copywriting. SEO copywriting, along with some other things like internal link architecture and URL optimization have the total net value of voodoo chanting when compared to the other kind of SEO.

The other kind of SEO consists of anchor text and inbound links. Compared to content SEO, the link mongering SEO is supremely effectively. But I’d rather not get into that here. I addressed filthy SEO tactics before, and declared content SEO dead years ago.

One distinction I would like you to keep in mind is that on-page SEO diminishes the marketing value of web pages by sacrificing the artistic and marketing integrity of the web page to increase keyword density, keyword proximity, keyword prominence, keyword inclusive heading tags and keyword inclusive page titles.

Anchor text link SEO does not sacrifice marketing integrity insofar as it is done off site.

SEO vs Viral

Many SEO’s would like you to think that SEO is responsible for 99% of the traffic any website receives. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Recently an SEO suggested that using contests for publicity and traffic was a lame idea. This is a condition that affects many amateur SEO’s. For some reason they think that search engines are more apt to deliver traffic than viral marketing.

One of my sites has been up since 2003. I haven’t spent a dime promoting it. No pay per click. No bought links. No bought ads. I spend no time on the site at all, and go for months without even visiting the site.

It has a somewhat search engine friendly design, and does receive a thousand-plus referrals from search engines every day, but that is not the bulk of its traffic.

The bulk of it’s traffic comes from over 15,000 off site links. Links I did not ask for. On it’s record day, the site received over 60,000 unique visitors, of which less than 2,000 were from search engines.

That, my friend, is called viral traffic.

On the topic of contests, my own v7ndotcom elursrebmem contest has made Google News several times. It has added thousands of unique visitors to the traffic logs and is responsible for tens of thousands of additional pageviews. The contest has resulted in hundreds of additional links to V7N, and at this time the contest is less than a week old.

Currently over 300,000 pages carry the words v7ndotcom elursrebmem, effectively raising the brand awareness of V7N.

As one SEO put it, “I realised that John Scott wasn’t simply running a SEO contest – he’d unleashed a viral marketing campaign. That creates new respect.”

How is it that SEO’s can be so close to marketing and yet remain entirely oblivious of it?

The simple truth that many an SEO will refuse to accept is that if they spent the same amount of energy in viral marketing that they spend in SEO, they’d reap a hundred times more uniques visitors.

SEO vs Marketing

On one SEO forum I frequent a member used the word moronic is connection with Wide Group’s use of Flash. Why would the world’s leading Flash design firm use Flash on their site? The idea is ridiculous. It is moronic. Right up there with other lame brain ideas like restaurants having food and CD stores playing music.

And the destruction wrought by Wide Group’s use of Flash is obvious, too. Their undeniable lack of marketing expertise has resulted in a client list that reads like the Who’s Who of no-name companies. America Online, Bank of America, Carl’s Jr, Dreamworks SKG. Who the hell ever heard of those guys?

Obviously their marketing sucks. They should have put up static, search engine friendly web pages with “Flash Web Design” in heading tags, in bold font, in italics, and repeated several times thought-out the copy. They should have put up copy so keyword dense that only an SEO would bother reading it.

SEO vs Brand

Quite a few SEO’s believe that SEO should be forced on the large majority of websites. The point they are missing is that SEO is not always compatible with the desired brand image, and SEO will never be as important as brand.

Google is currently #9 on Google for the search term Search Engine. Give that to an SEO and he’ll probably tell Google to add the words search engine to the page titles and put it on the index page in heading tags.

Of course that would unthinkably devalue Google’s brand. But that is exactly what SEO’s do to thousands of websites every month.

Is it so odd that none of the most successful sites on the Internet participate in SEO? Is it so odd that the highest trafficked and most profitable websites on the Internet rely on branding and affiliate marketing instead of on-page SEO?


I’m not saying SEO isn’t of any value. I mean, sure if you’ve got a website that is so damn worthless that it can’t earn traffic and linkage on its own, what other hope do you have? (Think “Affiliate Program”)

If you are a web host, competing against 275,000,000 other pages for the search term Web Hosting, you’re not going to get it without some very poor investment of financial resources.

In the big scheme of things, SEO must take a back seat to brand building marketing activities and profitability. SEO is a tool unto a means, and nothing more. The design of the website must first build the brand and present a viable marketing strategy which results in higher conversion rates and profitability. Any on-page optimization which would sacrifice the brand integrity or profitability of the website must be avoided.

Having said that, I will say that search engine optimization has the potential to extract large amounts of traffic from the search engines, and further build brands and create profitability. Just keep in mind that SEO is not the end-all, be-all of traffic generation. Viral marketing and brand building are the primary activities of the successful Internet business.

The mistake is in overestimating the value of SEO to the point that marketing effectivenmess is lost and more effective means of traffic generation are overlooked.

Related Reading

Brand & Generic Dot Com Business Models

The Effect of Price on Brand Value

SEO’s Failure to Convert

  1. cpayscom2cpayscom210-22-2006

    well put, I also believe that it is better to be a good webmaster than to be a good seo.
    The fact is even youtube didn’t spend any time in SEO, just built a good website and found clever ways to keep their visitors from leaving….

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