Give Up the SEO Dream?

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It’s time to give up the SEO dream. You know, the one where you rank in the first position on Google and Bing for every conceivable keyword and phrase related to your product, service or published material. But if search engines didn’t exist, would your enterprise? Yes. And here’s how.

SEO isn’t dead, but it is dying. The trouble with SEO is that there are no rules – and if you’ve ever played a game without rules (or a game with vague and ever-changing rules, just like those put forth by the search engines) then you know how futile any attempt at “winning” can be. One minute you’re in – the next you’re out (sigh). Your business should not exist in a commercial landscape like that. The SEO Dream, frequently postulated by those with worse rankings than you in many instances, leads us to believe that with a little planning and commitment – and of course, one more tweak here and there – SEO is easy. In some instances, it is, but as you likely know, there’s often a whole lot more involved.

Struggling? You’re Not Alone.
You’ve performed the keyword research, written thought-provoking content on numerous topics related to your website and even earned a few links in the process, with little more than a trickle of users coming in to show for all of it. It’s discouraging, disheartening and downright displeasing to see all of your work sit idle and provide no benefit to your business. It does not have to be that way. 

First, Some Bubble Bursting
Here comes a cold, harsh reality: the years you’ve spent “optimizing” your website have been wasted, and it’s time to admit it. There’s no hope for your website (particularly in competitive verticals), so stop your SEO campaign/efforts right now because there’s a much better way to raise awareness, increase website traffic and, finally, start improving the bottom line. In what some might call a “back to basics” approach, let’s explore the three C’s of digital marketing today – content, community and collaboration.

If you’re finally ready to give up the SEO dream, you’ll need a plan of action, right? Of course you do, and the following provides just that. When “SEO” is effectively dropped from your marketing vocabulary and your energy is refocused on being useful, helpful and supportive, you’ll be impressed just how quickly your digital marketing fortunes change.

Content, Community & Collaboration

Search engine optimization boils down to but a handful of essential components, particularly content and links. While links (in all their various forms, from directory links to authoritative citations from other websites) likely matter most to search engines (there’s little supporting evidence to show otherwise), it is content that garners those coveted links/citations your website needs to move up the search results. But that’s not all; if search engines didn’t exist, you would also need a community around the content developed to consume it and a dedication to collaborate with others to make sure your enterprise enjoys the awareness necessary to stay top of mind.

Using these three C's, you can give up the SEO dream without giving up on your website entirely, because you can circumvent the traditional practice of SEO (and the dastardly regulations implemented – and frequently changed – by Google and Bing) and still bring traffic to your website. You could even increase it, if you play your cards right and work hard.

Enterprises the Web over recognize that content is the most important element of search engine optimization because it is what is consumed by readers. But creating content with high “find-ability,” “share-ability,” and “respectability” is no easy feat. To make sure that you're meeting the needs and demands of both website visitors and the search engines, there are some fundamentals to address in every piece of content produced.

Any writing project for the purpose of increasing awareness and, ultimately, sales should of course begin with a keyword research session, but there’s much more to consider. The title of articles (arguably the most important SEO element), the length of articles (more in-depth is better), the use of headers and font bolding (in order to guide users through the article), image use (same reason) and, lest we forget, a call to action, are all mandatory in essence. But, it's mostly about the structure of content and how users interact with a website on the SERPs. Developing content should also address the needs of users. Content should satisfy a user's need to be educated, informed and entertained.

If you’re looking for some guidance related to content development and marketing, here it is: create more “evergreen” content. Evergreen content is content that stands the test of time – epic sized resources for example (such as our collection of master lists of various software solutions, from SEO to CRM) that can’t and won’t be ignored by your potential audience. They attract links by their very nature and will be shared (and found) more often.

Community: If the social media phenomenon has taught us anything, it’s that community most certainly matters to the success of a digital enterprise. We have collectively moved from a push-based marketing style to a push-and-pull style where the audiences’ participation is as important as our own (as a website owner/marketer). When you analyze the most popular digital destinations in your vertical, it will be common to find a few things, such as robust, highly active forums and email lists. Let that be your first step.

The reason that forums and email are vital components to your website success is relatively straightforward. Forums enable users to produce content on your behalf (which relates directly to their own needs), and email provides a measurable way to bring your audience to content published on your site. Fostering a community isn’t easy, but when done well, the rewards can be immense.

If you’re looking to ramp up your community efforts, explore your existing content management system or weblog platform to determine if there is a forum component that can be enabled. Email marketing, which WM has dedicated an entire channel to with Email Experience, is another valuable tactic/technique in the Three C’s of digital marketing, and fortunately there is no shortage of vendors from which to choose.

Collaboration: The final element of our replacement for SEO is collaboration – it’s also the most complicated.

On today’s Web, the opportunities to participate in conversations and contribute to the success of others (while simultaneously helping ourselves) have never been greater. There are social networks (of a professional nature, such as LinkedIn, and a hybrids like Twitter, Facebook and Google+) on which you can engage your existing audience and potential visitors. There is both an art and a science to social collaboration, but in the end it boils down to contributing something meaningful to the conversation.

Collaboration, however, extends far beyond social networks. For example, the millions of weblogs on the ‘Net are often in great demand for content (perfect for contributed articles/guest posts) and welcome comments on the content they produce. Not collaborating by guest posting and commenting in this fashion could be the reason you're not yet achieving the results you are likely expecting. 

The End Result
Very few Web professionals I speak with regularly would ever dare giving up their SEO dreams. The promises made (and mind you they are attractive) are simply too appealing. But what if Google and Bing didn’t exist? How would you gain the website traffic you need to keep your website afloat? I think you’ll find that you’ll still need to create content, definitely need to foster a community and work to collaborate with others.

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Larry Chrzan 09-04-2012 5:03 PM

Love it, another "SEO is dead" article. Must be the cool new way to get people's attention, particularly SEO professionals like me. Hey, guess it worked!

Thanks for the good tips on the 3 C’s of digital marketing - Content, Community & Collaboration - which are not SEO-related at all... ~wink~

JasonO 09-04-2012 5:06 PM

Well said, and you are dead on about trying to figure out Google it can be a losing battle as the last Penguin update reminded us of.

The best you can do is keep it simple high quality content that can also be used as link bate, link only to high quality websites, and do not over omptimize your sites ( keyword stuffing )

But like you said it is better to have a game plan that utilizies a bunch of good internet marketing strategies then to rely on 1 and be disappointed in the end.

Never keepall your eggs in one basket, and well said Website magazine.

PodcastSteve 09-05-2012 9:40 AM

You just now figured this out? OMG!

Repeat aloud three times: I will never win a game in which my opponent hires Ph.D. mathematicians by the boatload.

Get over yourselves and start hiring professional podcasters like me to help you produce really great audio and video content. Forget about that Quixotic quest for the viral video that gets 20 million views and doesn't move the needle a millimeter on sales.

Businesses need to reach prospective customers who have a business problem that can be solved with your product or service. Use audio and video content strategies to educate these prospects about how effectively and expertly you can solve their problem. That is what matters, folks. Not trying to win some crazy arms race about keywords and pageranks.


Steve "@PodcastSteve" Lubetkin

Managing Partner, Lubetkin Global Communications LLC

Professional Podcasts LLC

Named one of the Philadelphia Business Journal's "2012 Social Media Stars"

AliciaS 09-05-2012 9:51 AM

Chasing a search engine algorithm will not get you anywhere which is the point here...the SEO you claim is dead is simply "black hat" SEO...that which is done to "fool" the search engines you should be at the top.  What you described above, however, IS SEO...doing the things you described will keep you at the top of the search engines.

ToddT 09-05-2012 9:51 AM

Thanks for an intelligently argued position.

ChrisH 09-05-2012 10:05 AM

This was interesting timing as I am actually doing an SEO audit for one of my clients. She is a very competitive market and has stalled out about the 3rd page even though all basic procedures have been followed. I just submitted a two month action plan that includes a wide range of other internet marketing strategies. Just like  Jason said, never keep you eggs in one basket.

RitaM 09-05-2012 11:31 AM

I've spent years learning and implementing various SEO methods with some success. It's obviously now time to work on the 3 C's.

Thanks for the post.

Chris Dawkins 09-08-2012 11:52 AM

This sounds like a very closed-minded perspective to me.  

Obviously the statement, "the years you’ve spent “optimizing” your website have been wasted, and it’s time to admit it. There’s no hope for your website..." is ridiculous.  

The years I've spent optimizing my own website have paid off far beyond my expectations.  I've had clients grow startup businesses to dozens of employees via Search. It would difficult to convince them it has all been a waste.

Second, the assumption that Social Media and SEO are separate efforts is naive and uninformed.  The two are tightly integrated and becoming more so every day.  

If you have a internet marketing campaign, how could you ignore the biggest aspect of internet usage?  That would be a big mistake.  A social presence without a Search presence (or vice versa) would be unlikely to perform very well at all.

Third, I wonder how the argument, "what if Google did not exist?" is useful.

But should that affect your business decisions in a world where search engines DO exist?  

What if telephones didn't exist?  Or how about computers?  What if pens and paper didn't exist? I guess you better start building your business around those ideas, too.  

I think a better argument would be that SEO is not going to place you at #1 on Google for every single keyword you dream of.  It's not going to take a month to be #1. It's not going to be something you do once and never worry about again.  It's not like winning the lottery.

SEO is an ongoing process, as is your website, your business in general and every single other aspect of your life.  

Your competitors are constantly improving their SEO, conversion rates, social campaigns, etc. etc. etc.

The companies I have seen who "gave up" on SEO realized soon after that they gave a significant advantage to competitors and restarting an SEO campaign after 6 months or a year of neglect is difficult and expensive.

After building my own business almost exclusively with SEO (no other efforts have paid off as well) I wonder who would have the opinion that "SEO is a waste of time."  In my experience, it would be someone who has tried to reach the top of search engines quickly, cheaply and with little effort.

Guess what.  That doesn't work.  

I've seen many people try SEO with companies that "guarantee #1 ranking in 3 months or your money back!" and of course, they all think that SEO is a "waste of time" just as this article suggests.  

I also have clients who have experience such success with SEO that they "gave up" other portions of their marketing and have doubled and tripled the size of their business.

JohnV 09-12-2012 2:52 AM

Great article about SEO. Personally I disagree that the years we've spent optimizing our websites for are waisted. It has brought us lot's of attention and users. I agree however that a new approach is needed for many sites. I run a company ( where we create our own content. This is expensive but in the long run a better model then investing in models of which the rules are set (and changed) by Google and Bing. Creating unique content get us in the driving seat. More companies should consider doing this.

Tommy Landry 09-13-2012 5:44 PM

SEO is not dead, just evolving. Social interactions are now part of the equation. It's not a full scale replacement, just an integration between the two disciplines.

But you make a valid point - any business owner would be a fool to hope they can grow a lucrative website on SEO alone. If SEO is responsible for over 50% of your site traffic, you need a hedge plan in case Google comes along and changes the rules again. That hedge is included in the 3 "C"s mentioned.

Kudos on sparking an interesting discussion on here. Cheers!

Christopher Skyi 01-22-2013 10:14 AM

Everything is dead-on, hits the nail on the head, accurate. But one thing is NOT right: there ARE RULES when it comes to SEO.

Two critically important documents all website owners should know and have near at hand is 1) Google's SEO Beginners Guide: SEO is NOT about ranking higher and higher w/more and more SEO. It is simply about making your site "optimal" so the search engines can find, understand and index it. Once indexed, they can rank you appropriately.

The other important "rule" book is 2) Google's Webmaster & Search Quality Guidelines: This document is also NOT about how to rank higher and higher. It's about what to do create and maintain a quality site and link profile so that, again, you'll rank optimally, i.e., you won't get hit with Panda and/or Penguin, algorithms that hold your site down from where it would be otherwise.

So how do you rank higher and higher? Read the article above!

Web Design Firm 03-12-2013 5:59 AM

SEO works just don't rely on it 100% Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

Fix Windows Always Restarting 05-06-2015 7:33 PM

SEO has got a lot more difficult and as a result many people have gave up on it, but for me, I prefer the new changes, as it rewards quality over quantity. This means, you average webmaster can have an edge if he/she decides to put in the neccessary work to produce something of a high standard.

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