Daniel Burstein

7 Signs That You’re Overvaluing Search Engine Optimization

April 3rd, 2012

Search engine optimization (SEO) has become such a giant buzzword, that even my non-marketing friends and family members discuss it. It seems that every person I interview for one of our job openings is an “SEO expert.” And I now see Danny Seo all over TV.

Jokes aside, let’s take a look at some research …


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According to Jen Doyle’s research for the MarketingSherpa 2012 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report, 29% of B2B marketers consider search engine optimization to be very effective — more than email marketing, content marketing, and most noticeably, paid search.

But could that be a problem? It is human nature to overemphasize something that we think works well. (The minute someone tells me I’m funny – watch out! I’ll come up with every joke I can think of, and they’ll just keep getting worse.) And also, if we overvalue our investment in any one tactic, of course it will be more effective than the ones we’ve shunned.

With so much focus on SEO from every marketing blog on the Google-powered Web, I thought it might be worth your while to question if you’re overvaluing SEO.

So put the Google Keyword Tool down for just a minute, and for a contrarian viewpoint, see if any of these seven reasons that you’re a little too obsessed with search engine optimization / SEO / organic search / natural search / search marketing resonate with you:

1. You focus on SEO, not reader value

Blogs have a lot going for them:

  • They’re “inbound marketing,” a way to pull customers in with no media spend.
  • They’re a way to show that real people (not just stock photo people) work at your company, and after all, people buy from people.
  • They help with your site’s SEO (partly because you’re constantly adding new content, partly because that new content can contain lots keywords, and partly because you’re giving reasons for others to link to your site).
  • And to remix the old billboard advertising self-promo — Does anyone read blogs? Well, you’re reading this now, aren’t you?

But if you focus on just one minor benefit of blogs above — the keywords — I would argue that you’re shooting yourself in the foot. We’ve all seen the obvious keyword-stuffed blog post. Ask yourself this:

  • Did that blog post make you want to engage in business with the person (assuming it was a person and not a robot) who wrote it?
  • Did that blog post make you want to link to it? (So how much is it really helping with SEO to begin with?)
  • Heck, was the thing even readable?

It doesn’t hurt to follow some key SEO best practices with your blog, just remember, there is more to a blog post than a list of target keywords.


2. Even worse, you overlook conversion

The point of landing pages, even ones that are focused on gaining organic traffic, is to convince the visitor to take an action — perhaps buy a product or fill out a lead generation form.

If you’re so scared of conducting some landing page optimization with A/B split testing to help improve that conversion rate because you’re worried any changes you make will hurt your search ranking, you may be overvaluing SEO.

After all, if you get a lot of organic traffic but do a poor job of converting it, that top rank isn’t going to do your business a whole lot of good.


3. You think SEO is the only way to get a relevant audience from search marketing

The reason search marketing is so powerful is that it gives marketers an unprecedented ability to tap into customer’s motivations at the time they are most motivated.

As the president of the first ad agency I worked at used to say, “The reason they have to run a refrigerator ad on Page 3 of the newspaper every day is because one day your refrigerator is going to break and they don’t know what day that will be. But they do know that, while you’ll ignore that ad every other day, the one day your refrigerator breaks, they’ll get you.”

With search marketing, I’ll just type in “refrigerator repair” when my fridge breaks, followed three frustrating days later by “refrigerator reviews.”

But, the reason Google is valued at $210 billion is because not all of that traffic can be scooped up with organic search results.

In fact, according to recent research from Google entitled, “Impact Of Ranking Of Organic Search Results On The Incrementality Of Search Ads,” by David X. Chan, Deepak Kumar, Sheng Ma and Jim Koehler, “On average, 50% of the ad clicks that occur with a top rank organic result are incremental” (the emphasis is mine).

So even if you’ve captured the Boardwalk of search marketing, the prime real estate in Google’s little game of Monopoly, that #1 organic ranking, you can still gain additional clicks from a paid search ad (obvious conflict of interest alert: this study is, after all, from the people trying to sell you paid search ads).


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4. You ask people to link specific keywords to specific pages on your site

You know what makes me not want to link to your site? You asking me to link specific keywords to specific pages on your site.

There are many successful strategies for link building; however, when you’re trying to build organic links with quality content, focus on serving others, not yourself. Focus on generating content that people will want to link to.

Because, frankly, I don’t care that you’re trying to target “organic turkeys.” I just want to know how to have a delicious Thanksgiving. And if you help me achieve that goal, maybe you’ll get my link.


5. If your business can only be profitable when traffic is “free,” you’re in a precarious position.  

One of the all-time best analogies I have ever heard about a search ranking change came courtesy of Aaron Rosenthal, President, ThoughtProjects. He likened being demoted from a high rank on the first search engine results page to a rank on a secondary or tertiary SERP, to a store’s physical location.

“It’s like you had a store on Main Street,” Aaron said. “And then, overnight, the city tore up Main Street and re-routed it, and now you just get the customers who find their way to your store through some back alley.”

“If your business can only be profitable when traffic is ‘free,’ you’re in a precarious position,” said Chris Crompton, Technical Marketing Manager, ROI Revolution. “Paid traffic gives stability to your business and forces you to optimize your website and business model for profitability. This makes all of your traffic more valuable.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean I could convince Chris of the “overvaluing SEO” hypothesis of this blog post. As a counterpoint, he added, “Our clients don’t typically overvalue SEO; the fact that they’re hiring us to manage their paid search advertising indicates they are serious about PPC as well.”


6. If you create webpages for spiders, not people

I started this post out with the overdone SEO practice that, as a blogger and content creator, gets to me the most. But beyond your blog, many marketers overvalue SEO on their webpages as well.

“You’re overvaluing SEO if you are focusing on the elements which you can control,” Aaron said. “Constant manipulation of on-page elements like title tags, meta tags, headlines written for Web crawlers, and an overemphasis on keyword density is a good indication that you are overvaluing, or spending too much time focused on SEO.”

For one thing, that spider from Google or Bing is not your target audience, the real people coming to your site are. And a headline written with an all-encompassing focus on SEO might not be the same headline that works best with your audience.

Even worse, Aaron added, these on-page practices aren’t nearly as effective as off-page factors such as user actions and inbound links. After all, Google and Bing know that low-quality sites can manipulate the content of their pages, but are less able to manipulate these off-page factors.


7. You don’t notice how little control you have

I’m not getting an affiliate check for every additional paid search ad you buy from Google or Bing, I promise, but let me just bring up one last point.

You have very little control over your SEO traffic.

You have almost complete control over your paid search traffic.

This means you can better tie your landing pages to visitor motivations and even dynamically change the type of traffic you’re looking for, e.g., shift from one product to another, from customers just doing product research to customers who are ready to buy, etc.

Sure, that control comes at a cost. But don’t tell me that all the time you spend creating new content and researching keywords is free either.


Related Resources:

SEO Landing Pages: How we achieved 548% more conversions without damaging organic rankings

Google Research: Even With A #1 Organic Ranking, Paid Ads Provide 50% Incremental Clicks (via Search Engine Land)

Search Engine Optimization: The SEO value (or lack thereof) of domain name keywords

Measuring the Success of your SEO campaigns (via The ROI Revolution blog)

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

Categories: Search Marketing Tags: , , ,

  1. April 3rd, 2012 at 13:38 | #1

    Daniel, excellent post. Or should I say, great content! I think the most important point you made was about conversion — what good is a high search engine rank if you aren’t getting the conversions when people get on your site?

    Bottom line: it’s possible to have strong SEO and quality content at the same time. It just takes a little effort.

  2. April 4th, 2012 at 08:51 | #2

    Valid points but think you miss the bigger “integrated” picture – SEO works best when done in conjuntion with ppc and social media. In fact, we now refer to it as “SEO-cial” because of how intertwined the tactics have become – even in B2B markerting.

  3. April 9th, 2012 at 11:19 | #3


    I like to say “PPC is the air force and SEO is the Infantry”

    You are hitting the nail on the head with this! SEO alone is over valuated and a heavy toll on manpower with little control (specially on search) but as Marc E. says it needed to show a face and increase conversions.
    Our company background is heavy on PPC reliance (we’ve built 2 companies out of ppc alone) but realize that SEO needs to be done to integrate the social aspect. So we are using both.
    Plus, as digital company doing B2B we need to provide clients with a 360 view of what they can do online.

  4. April 9th, 2012 at 13:41 | #4

    The point that resonates most with me is #6 … writing for spiders, not people. There’s a balance … you can create great content that never gets found or read. But you can’t focus ONLY on getting found because your content still has to deliver. Create great content first, then go back and look for opportunities to optimize … in that order.

  5. April 10th, 2012 at 02:37 | #5

    I am reminded, after reading points 4 &6, this is the reason why Google recently had an algorithm change advocating an ‘overoptimization penalty’….

  6. April 12th, 2012 at 01:12 | #6

    Hello Daniel,

    I was referred to your site by a new acquaintance, Kathy Long and I owe her a big thank-you, and to you as well. You bring up so many great points. #2- Traffic vs conversion. Split testing is a must in MHO. It’s also a great way to zero in on your target market. Testing is the really the only way to know if your advertising or content is reaching a “paying” audience.

    You are so right, what good does it do to hold the #1 spot on google if you’re not converting that traffic.

    This is my first time here and won’t be my last! Thanks for all the great info, I am looking forward to reading more of your work!


  7. March 23rd, 2013 at 14:50 | #7

    Its such as you read my mind! You seem to know a lot approximately this, such as you wrote the e book in it or something. I feel that you just can do with some p.c. to force the message home a bit, however other than that, that is great blog. A fantastic read. I’ll definitely be back.

  8. July 6th, 2013 at 08:19 | #8

    This was a interesting subject to talk about and i really enjoyed reading your infomation.

    Thanks for sharing !

  9. November 20th, 2014 at 22:41 | #9

    Great post, I really like how you presented your facts and how you made it interesting and easy to understand.

    Thank you.

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