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Why I Think Seth Godin Doesn’t Like SEO

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 16 years and 23 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

SEO is often the lazy businessperson’s approach to internet marketing. You don’t REALLY have to measure…just cut a check every month to a good SEO that knows what they’re doing and *VOILA* customers appear magically. Tons more than from the yellow pages, or TV or print ads, or most other current media methods. The ROI is MUCH higher in more than a few industries. (Actually you can’t really deem it ROI when there is no investment or return measured).

I finally got the chance to read Knock, Knock…Seth’s Godin’s accompanying e-book to his new book “All Marketer’s are Liars” (which I’ll be reading shortly). It is a great read as I have come to expect from Seth, and even takes a paragraph aside in it to discuss SEO. The quick aside paragraph takes an almost apologetic tone. This little paragraph naturally got me sidetracked into Seth’s take on SEO. Since I have such a high respect for Mr. Godin’s views on marketing in general, his past mainly negative thoughts on search engine optimization have naturally intrigued me.

I’m taking a bit of creative license here in trying to interpret someone else’s thoughts, but after reading nearly all of his books, I think I can at least understand a fair portion of Seth’s philosophy and methodology (my apologies for any misinterpretation). After visiting Seth’s office, I was pretty fascinated to find out that he is a very large advocate of pay-per-click (a fact that comes across quite clearly in his e-book as well). This really raised the question to me of WHY he was so opposed to SEO. My working theory is that Seth thinks SEO is the lazy businessperson’s approach to internet marketing. He’s right in a lot of ways on this if this is the case. Folks that practice SEO were obviously a bit offended when Seth started bashing it, and were quite defensive and quick to proselytize the virtues of good optimization to him. I think in some ways he is starting to come around.

Seth seems to really be a fan of PPC. I don’t blame him. I’ve ranted about Seth’s views on PPC and SEO a bit before. So the question still remains…why doesn’t Seth like SEO? Number one reason – It’s VERY difficult to measure. SEO results often come from indirect correlations, meaning that if you change x, your y might improve. The main indirect correlation is: get a good link from a quality site and your search rankings for some of your keywords may improve. Of course you have to do this ten, twenty, or hundreds of times if you want it to be effective, and the variables are constantly changing. It’s much more difficult to see what works and what doesn’t when you’re shooting at a moving target. It can be done though. SEO’s watch SE’s with a predator-like precision and patience to see what changes are being made. Often they are using generalizations and playing the averages rather than knowing specifics, but it still works. To this point, it has been so easy and so lucrative because the marketplace was wide open. The majority of website owners have no idea what search engine optimization is. This makes competition low and the potential spoils high. This of course has driven the gold rush that is the current state of SEO.

Reasons I think Seth doesn’t like SEO:

  • SEO is difficult to measure
  • SEO is not a magic pill
  • SEO can not be the sole source business
  • SEO is not overly reliable – it is not guaranteed
  • SEO often encourages ugly design because it makes life on SEO’s easier
  • SEO discourages conversion analysis
  • SEO discourages customer retention
  • SEO encourages business owners to be lazy in other marketing avenues.
  • SEO picks the low hanging fruit for attracting traffic.

The END RESULT AND MAIN GOAL OF SEO IS TO ATTRACT CONVERSIONS. If these are truly some of the rationale behind his distaste for SEO, I would probably have to agree. I am very disappointed when I find out a business owner is lazy, and I am helping them work towards success. If they don’t want to work hard, measure, and document the metrics for improvement and success, then I am not real excited about helping them. Since SEO is developing into project management it is important for an SEO to be able to rely on all people and resources for maximum success. A lazy businessowner that doesn’t take care of his/her clients appropriately, or starts relying on SEO as the sole means of driving their business is only going to ultimately cause problems (when something like a “Florida update” comes along), and their faults are going to reflect negatively on the SEO.

I am actually currently working on a client screening process for this exact reason. I only want to work with the best clients that will help our company to write success stories and mutually grow our businesses. I don’t want to work with people just to get the sale like some SEO/SEM companies have come to do (those still selling search engine submissions and meta-tag optimization – you know who you are). I want educated clients that understand both the value and risk involved with an SEO campaign. If they are not educated, but willing to learn, I am working on programs for those types of folks as well.

Why SEO Clients Need to Understand SEO

  • There is a large learning curve that goes along with SEO. We want clients who are willing to educate themselves and learn constantly as we do.
  • SEO is a “hurry up and wait” game. We make changes and have long intervals of waiting for results – We want patient clients.
  • There are indirect correlations of value with SEO. – We want clients who recognize this value.
  • Some sites start with much better advantages – Their “SEO potential” is much higher – Old sites vs. New sites is one current example of this.
  • SEO is a calculated risk. – Again, educated clients understand this risk and the potential benefits.

I was recently asked by a client, “When should we fire you if we don’t get results?” I was a bit taken back by the question, but it was definitely a valid one (and one of the best I had heard in a while). The answer I gave was 3 – 6 months if you don’t see qualified improvement that you were expecting. The true answer was that we fire clients more often than they fire us.

One of my favorite parts of “Knock Knock” is that Seth harps on testing extensively which is an absolute necessary for any website owner.
“You Need to change your pages all the time. Daily, even.”
“If you change your site all the time, you’ll demolish any competitor who assumes she got it right the first time and is stuck.”
“Why do people hate this step? Because it feels like a lot of work. Actually failing is a lot of work. Updating your site all the time is sort of fun.”

You can purchase “Knock Knock”here. It’s $9 now, but will be released for free to pass along under creative commons 9/1/05.

The last page of the e-book offers up a challenge. Seth says, “You may be a consultant, an SEO Expert, a web designer, or even a webmaster. If you fill any of those roles, it’s certain that you have come to the conclusion that there are lots of ideas that I forgot about.

The SEO community has been challenged. It’s time to step up and demonstrate to Seth (as well as the rest of traditional media) the benefits and virtues of stacking the deck in your favor with search engine optimization. Certainly many companies are working on ways to quantify the benefits of SEO and I’m sure these systems are improving all the time. As SEO’s we’re constantly working against other people’s budget. If I don’t perform, the sales and marketing director is going to take my budget back and see what the print media manager, or television media manager can return with the same type of budget. For now while the competition is still fairly low we are safe, but what happens when the competition becomes more intense? How do you demonstrate results? What are your great ideas for “Who’s There?”

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