The 2 Biggest SEO Lies
By Brian Johnson
SEO is the only way to grow your business.
…Or is it?
Sentiments like this are increasingly accepted as fact since SEO rose to popularity in the early 2000s. Web Developers and marketing “gurus” at this point are telling small businesses that if they ever hope to get new clients, they need to invest thousands in an ongoing SEO campaign through a reputable provider.
These same individuals have also all converged upon similar descriptions of how search engine optimization should be performed. In this article, I’m going to make the case that maybe it’s all been overblown and that perhaps a lot of this information is even just one big red herring.
I believe there’s a good chance that many of the experts are intentionally spreading misinformation. From there, the echo chamber of the internet takes over and those who are “experts” without actually doing anything just repeat the same false information.
I am bringing these things to light because I think it’s absolutely critical that small businesses have accurate information with which to base their decisions. If there are better options for their marketing than SEO, I believe they have a right to know.
In this article, I will be making numerous references to the book “SEO for Growth” by John Jantsch and Phil Singleton. I am choosing this book because it is treated as the gold standard of SEO by many experts, and is generally agreed to be the most accurate picture of SEO today. The claims it makes seem to be the same made by all of the “experts” and marketing “thought leaders” out there.
Lie #1: SEO is the only effective form of marketing
The book – and industry – often stop just short of proclaiming SEO (and related channels) as literally the most critical thing business owners should be investing in. Talk of businesses failing because they didn’t account for the most recent Google algorithm update and how a website is useless without a full-featured SEO campaign are commonplace.
I believe a website is fairly critical for most businesses and that proper SEO can be the single most important piece of many company’s marketing efforts. But the implication that it’s the only way is just misleading.
I’ve worked in the small business space for a number of years, building websites for a variety of businesses. We’ve worked through marketing plans of all types, and I can tell you that there is certainly more than one way to get clients. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. And I’ve seen companies succeed – and fail – with SEO.
While it’s true that the marketing arena has changed wildly in the last couple decades, there are still some constants. Some of the tactics that worked a hundred years ago still work now and will continue to work.
I know countless businesses that rely entirely on referrals for new clients. In these cases, a website is still very important, but its purpose and audience need to be carefully considered.
That’s why it’s important to be honest about what’s going to work for a client and design the site accordingly. If the only people coming to your site are people you’ve already met with in person who are there simply to vet your business, you are going to make completely different design and content choices than if you’re catering primarily to Google visitors. Many SEO experts disparagingly refer to these sites as “Online Business Cards” but for the right business, they can be extremely effective and an absolutely critical part of the marketing process.
SEO and inbound marketing are simply one option in a sea of options. They are tools in a marketers toolbox. And like any tool, they have specific uses. You probably can’t fix your car with just a hammer, and you can’t solve all marketing problems with SEO.
Some businesses simply shouldn’t be investing in SEO, and that’s a fact. What’s worse, is that according to the book, something like 90% of SEO campaigns are ineffective because they are not run properly. This should tell you that at least 90% of the businesses who are paying for SEO are not going to get their money’s worth. They are almost guaranteed to be worse off than when they started! No SEO is better than bad SEO.
Lie #2: Creating world-class content is the only way to get your website found
The book says that about 90% of SEO efforts should be focused on content creation. This content should also be extremely high-quality.
How high-quality? According to the authors, you need to not only become an actual expert in your field, but to build up your brand to the point where you are seen as a thought-leader in your industry.
Nice gig, if you can get it.
Of course if you are able to accomplish this meteoric rise in prominence within your field, you are going to see some SEO benefits. But of course, it’s not that easy. This is not a viable strategy for the vast majority of businesses.
Given the fact that the authors actually provide SEO services for their clients, and presumably see some success, you gotta wonder… Is this really what they are doing for their clients? Are they becoming actual, bona fide experts in whatever field their client happens to be in, and then cultivating followers who believe in their “expert” content?
I hope you came to the same conclusion I did on this one: of course not. It’s simply not happening. So if they aren’t doing what they are instructing us to do… How do they do it? Assuming they actually are successful with their clients, what exactly are they doing to achieve that SEO success?
Unfortunately I can only speculate in this area. At the moment, I am not a top expert in the field of SEO, with countless client success stories proving my knowledge.
But I’ve been in the web development industry a long time. I’ve seen my share of black-hat SEO, I’ve seen websites get crazy amounts of traffic, and I’ve also produced some of my own content that has done very well in search engines. So I have some insight.
At the end of the day, search engine ranking is simply based on a computer algorithm. Not a thinking, breathing human. It’s an elaborate algorithm to be sure, but at the end of the day it’s still very fallible. I firmly believe that textbook implementation of SEO strategies, producing content that is able to trick Google into thinking it’s high-quality, and other possibly shadier methods are what really cause the top rankings achieved by these experts.
They want everyone to think Google is infallible and that only the world’s best content will ever rank, but it’s simply not true. The system can still be gamed, and they don’t want to share the secret of how.
Here’s some proof of this: in the book itself, near the end they recommends a content-writing service, ExpressWriters.com, for producing “quality content”. So they literally recommend paying someone who is almost certainly not an expert in your industry to write your content. It’s almost as if you don’t really need to become an industry expert to create high-ranking content!
From my own experience, I can confirm that it is possible to produce content that ranks without any endorsements, inbound links, or anything else. For almost every one of my highest-ranking blog posts, I began getting search engine traffic long before anyone ever shared them or linked to them.
What’s the takeaway? If you use the right words in the right order, you can rank highly. That’s simplifying things, of course, but it’s just important to know that it’s possible.
So should you invest in SEO or not?
I’ve shared a healthy amount of cynicism and critical thoughts towards SEO, but I don’t want you to misinterpret my meaning. I believe SEO can be an incredibly powerful tool and I actively recommend it for many clients and even spend a great deal of time with it for my own business.
But I believe it’s important for people to have the best, most-accurate information and in this case: it means dispelling some misinformation I’ve seen about SEO.
I believe that the top experts and agencies in the field are misrepresenting SEO and trying to make it sound more legitimate and un-gameable than it really is. It’s just an algorithm at the end of the day, and those with sufficient knowledge of that algorithm can take advantage of its weaknesses.
I believe that fundamental SEO techniques are somewhat universal and certainly helpful, but that there are some nuances and weaknesses that are well-known to industry insiders but not generally shared with the world at large.
With that being said, I actually found most of the advice in “SEO for Growth” quite useful and spot-on. I know I spent this entire post bashing some of the points, but at the end of the day it was still a great book that highlighted some core strategies and tactics that will help you rank well in Google.
You should still focus on quality content and making sure some other technical components are being adhered to. And for many of my clients, I do recommend investing in some form of SEO, whether that means personally posting blog articles or hiring a full-fledged SEO agency.
Good luck out there.