4 Awful Marketing Lessons We Learned from SEO

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We love SEO. We love the fact that it brings cumulative results instead of temporary ones. We love that it makes consumers feel like they chose you, instead of feeling like you pushed them into a sale. We love that it takes both creative and technical skills to succeed long term.

But SEO has also taught many of us some pretty terrible marketing lessons, and we need to be careful to sift those out if we want to run a sustainable business. Here are a few of those awful lessons.

1. It’s okay to build a marketing strategy around something you can’t control

Let’s face facts. A very large and vocal minority in the SEO community spends a lot of time writing conspiratorial rants about Google. And believe me, I get it. Google is a search engine monopoly with more data about your online actions than any other company on the planet, an incessant need to please shareholders, and possible backroom deals with the NSA.

Many of the criticisms tossed at Google are legitimate, but the more obsessive they become, the more they begin to resemble conspiracy theories. And according to Dr. Tim Melley’s book Empire of Conspiracy, conspiracy theories say something very specific about the psychology of the person behind the rant:

  • They have a very individualistic personality (and pretty much all entrepreneurs do)
  • They lack a sense of control (and that’s interesting, isn’t it?)

It’s not unreasonable to conclude that a large portion of the SEO community feels that Google is conspiring against them, in large part, because they are handing their sense of control over to Google.

We don’t have control of Google’s algorithms, and we never will. It’s worth noting that the more you see SEOs adopting social media, referral traffic, and “inbound marketing,” the less you see them writing about Google’s self-interests.

Could it be that they feel more in control of their future?

We couldn’t call ourselves SEOs if we didn’t care about Google’s algorithms, and frankly a bit of Google skepticism is healthy for SEOs, and society as a whole. But anti-Google rants aren’t actionable.

On the other hand, if you diversify your traffic sources in ways that generate sales and don’t depend on Google, yet help improve your rankings, you’re going to feel more in control of your future and protect yourself from Google’s gambles in the years ahead.

2. You can make money without offering value of any kind

This “insight” comes from the “black-hat” side of SEO. The biggest problem with this awful piece of marketing advice is that it’s absolutely true. You can win a top spot in Google by spamming the web with terrible, algorithmically spun content, paid links, and low quality junk. In fact, this terrible marketing lesson predates SEO altogether, going back to what Seth Godin calls the TV industrial complex. As long as you can convince people you offer value, you can sell them something.

The trouble starts when the veneer begins to peel away and consumers start to realize that you don’t offer anything of value. You can’t churn and burn forever, and in the internet age this strategy starts to break down much sooner.

Long term success demands that marketing is built into the product itself. A product needs to be worth using and worth talking about to be sustainable. The same goes for the associated brand, and the connotations that the product attaches to it.

SEO has been and still is a good way to level the playing field. Those who claim that SEO is losing its value as a level playing field are romanticizing the days when it was possible to keep junk in the search engines for extended periods of time. The truth is, that was a short era. It didn’t start until Google had been around long enough for thousands of low quality article directories and link sellers to saturate the space, and it only lasted until Google started bringing the hammer down with things like Panda.

I’m not here to sell some of the inbound marketing lies that are creeping into this industry. Content alone, no matter how good, isn’t going to get rankings without promotion. But let’s be clear here. If content doesn’t have a unique selling proposition, if it’s not worth consuming, it’s just not sustainable.

3. You don’t have to spend money to make money

This isn’t really a problem on the agency side of things, but it has been a problem for quite some time in the “affiliate marketing” and “make money online” spaces. There is a belief in some circles that links = rankings, and links = free, therefore SEO = free. And in isolated cases this can work for a period of time. But it always comes toppling down.

Sustainable SEO always costs money, either through the time value of money or through outsourcing.

If you want natural links, you’ll need traffic. That means you’ll either need to buy traffic or spend a decent amount of time learning how to create content capable of sending referral traffic.

If you want authoritative links, you’ll need to invest in outreach and content marketing skills.

If you want to embark on a large scale link building campaign, you’ll need to hone your project management skills and invest in project management software like WorkZone or any other.

Make no mistake, SEO and inbound tactics offer far better long term ROI than traditional marketing (when used correctly). But it takes investment, and it takes time.

4. Why test anything when you can take expert advice and case studies for granted?

Both advocates of natural SEO and traditional SEO are guilty of this.

Expert advice, and case studies especially, are a great place to start. But that’s all they are. I’m of the opinion that you aren’t doing real SEO until you’re testing and measuring results. We need to be data driven and we need to know what that actually means.

This industry, like any industry, has its share of sheep. It’s easy to parrot what industry leaders say. SEOs have learned that they can earn a massive amount of exposure and links by being very transparent about what they do and sharing their own proprietary data. You can get a lot farther in this industry than most just by taking advice from the right people. And that, perhaps, is the source of the problem.

There’s a shortage of information on how to test and measure SEO successfully, perhaps because it’s not as enthralling as a polarizing rant or a simple how-to trick. Rest assured, it can be done, and you must do it if you really want to call yourself an optimizer.


Despite its incredible power as a leveler, SEO is only sustainable when it isn’t too far removed from business fundamentals and the need for customer retention. Learn wherever you can, but be discerning. This industry has its share of bad apples.

Pratik Dholakiya

Pratik Dholakiya

Co-Founder & VP of Marketing at E2M
Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder and VP of Marketing of E2M, a digital marketing agency and MoveoApps.com, a mobile apps development company. Pratik has been featured on sites like Forbes, Moz, SEW, SEJ, KISSmetrics, Entrepreneur and FastCompany to name a few. Hit him up on Twitter @DholakiyaPratik for a quick chat.
Pratik Dholakiya
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  • https://plus.google.com/110826622201196466178/posts Nick Stamoulis of Brick Marketing

    There is no denying that many of us rely heavily on Google to keep our doors open. But it’s also important that you don’t ONLY rely on Google. What other form of marketing only rests on one source of business? You always have to be looking for other ways to build traffic so you aren’t putting all your eggs in one basket.

    • http://about.me/mmhemani Moosa Hemani

      Pretty much agree with Nick! I believe in the modern era businesses have a clear understanding of how actually Google works (not literally) and how fast it change their algorithms which may or may not go in favour of their business….Although, Google rankings are important but businesses should not only rely on Google rankings and create an inbound strategy around the internet so that they can sustain their business even in the bad times.

  • Nayak Mehul

    Hi Pratik,

    Nice explanation on marketing strategy,

    I read out your many blogs and mostly your blogs topic belong to link building strategy . And some topic was really helpful for me. I agree with you that we can’t judge the Google algorithms and many experts published blogs on latest strategy and explained about now “seo going to die and grow with inbound marketing” and same as seomoz has also changed their name with “Moz”. And also we changed our strategy with same to give the better ROI to our clients. Now what we expect from the Google in future?


  • http://spreadeffect.com Ryan Sandberg

    “I’m of the opinion that you aren’t doing real SEO until you’re testing and measuring results.”

    This is so often missed. How can you really be doing any type of “optimization” if you don’t test to see what is producing optimized results.

  • Clive Portman

    Good story, and good to hear someone touting research as something everyone should be doing. Surely that’s what separates the best from the rest?

  • http://SoLoMoSerpSEO.com Buchen

    Thanks for the words. I like the quotes you introduced.
    I have attained the top spots for multiple competitive key words and phrases. The key to my success was key word and phrase variation. Additionally, using like key words and phrases. Writing is not enough however, value writing is key. Even if you are number one in the SERPS, and for a long time. It does not matter if visitors are unimpressed, and never return.
    To lend value to your article, yes quality of content is paramount. Secondly, constant addition of content from unlike sources which can be tied to the subject matter target is invaluable, and is highly regarded by search engines. However, the landscape has significantly adjusted to social, its now important to create a social profile which links to the subject matter, and is actively participating socially in the subject matter IE sharing links, and liking, plusing, and networking with those associated with the target subject matter.
    In any case, I believe it is possible to attain the top SERP rank with just one strategy, social, content, or links. However, like the author states, its most important to focus on all three. Focusing on all three strategies will build stronger ranking, and better experience for your visitors.