Lee Odden

StartupJournal SEO Nonsense

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Rant, SEO

There was a Q/A article in the Wall Street Journal’s StartupJournal site on search engine optimization that I’ve been meaning to respond to for a few weeks now. A good question was posed by a small business owner who was confused about “search engine optimizers” and whether they were worth it.

There seem to be two schools of thought from journalists on the topic of SEO. Those that slant it towards evil, worthless and shady. And those that check their facts and present those facts. I’ll let you decide what angle the writer from the StartupJournal was coming from on your own.

The question posed:

“We own a dance-wear Internet store and are completely confused about search-engine optimizers. Are they of value to a smaller company, like us? One optimizer quoted us $40,000 to enhance our Web site and improve our ranking.”

The writer’s response:

“Here’s the risk: You shell out $40,000 hiring a search-engine optimizer to revamp your Web site in hopes of improving your search rankings, only to end up still buried in page four of Google search results for your products.”

You know how people sometimes state an improbable possibility to make a point or seem important? That’s what the StartupJournal writer’s response reminds me of.

There’s risk with anything. There’s a risk that a $1.2m TV commercial might not generate brand awareness and sales, there’s risk that $80,000 spent on a new car is a waste as it depreciates $20,000 as it’s driven it off the lot and there’s a risk in subscribing to the Wall Street Journal and getting crappy, incomplete reporting.

She follows up with a gem: “So it’s usually not worth spending wads of money on consultants that can’t somehow guarantee you’ll appear at or near the top of rankings.”

Google has something to say about that sort of thing: “No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google“. Where’s a fact checker when you need one?

A quote from a buyer of SEO services says in the article, “You really have to be careful about who you hire,” Mr. Kitchen says. “They don’t all do the same quality of work.”.

That’s good advice, but in what industry is it not true? Recruiting agencies do not all do the same quality of work, mechanics don’t all do the same quality of work. Heck, I hate to say it but heart surgeons don’t all do the same quality of work. Why would it be any different about SEO? There are many “search engine optimizers” that do fantastic work. Just ask their clients.

Admittedly, most of the rest of the article provides good advice – albeit coming from a SEO firm, not the writer.

There is an interesting recommendation for small business owners to try and boost their own rankings on their own and if not successful, to seek out a professional. Hmm. Seems risky to me.

What if I try to fix my car and if it doesn’t work out, I’ll hire a professional. Or try to fix the programming in my database generated site. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll hire a professional. I’ll even have a go at installing a new phone system in my office. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll hire a professional. There’s no harm in that, is there? Right?

Bzzzz. Wrong answer. Have you ever had to fix what someone else was trying to “fix”? It’s often much, much worse than if you had brought in an expert to start with.

The last line cracks me up: “Remember, you can always resort to paid search results using programs such as Google’s pay-per-click AdWords program instead of spending thousands on natural rankings.”

Clearly this is the clincher that the writer’s knowledge of SEO does not extend past the bubbly goo in the black cauldron she’s stirring. (tip the Halloween thing, pretty good eh?). Better advice would be to start a PPC campaign right away and get some data to use for refining the SEO while making sales.

I propose we have a SEO education day for the press. We could put together a webinar to help journalists get the facts before being tempted to take creative license to slant a story for the sake of attracting readers. Not that anyone does that. 🙂

This post is a bit loopy, I know. I’ve had 6 speaking gigs in 7 days on both coasts and I’m a bit short on sleep.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar David Mackey says

    Interesting post. I think that SMB’s are best off using PPC first and focusing on SEO later. SEO is a difficult and expensive field, while PPC is inexpensive and can deliver massive amounts of traffic. Wait on the SEO until the business has grown through PPC. Using Google, Yahoo, Kanoodle, Ah-Ha, etc. one could drive significant amounts of traffic to one’s site.
    I’d agree that SEO is not the best “do-it-yourself” idea unless you are willing to spend some time wading through tutorials and books – but its better than paying $40k, which seems outrageous to me.

  2. I agree that you should start out using PPC. You know exactly how much you are spending and how much you are making with each click, but with SEO it is more uncertain. Also, you can start generating revenue immediatly. However, it definitaly is worth the time to invest in SEO as a long term strategy.

  3. 40K for a Dancewear site ? Dancewear produce around 2 million results. A real joke to get multiple top ten results without using any gray or black things. For a underwear site it’s more the price, I know it, I did it.

    There some market who it is very hard to get some results (electronic, luxury items, pharma, hosting, etc) but some others, like this market, it is a piece of cake !

  4. Wow! Sometimes i wonder how these customers choose whom to contact for their search engine optimization, and how to decide. 40k for SEO only? That sounds an aweful big amount of money, unless that company has also quoted for other items together as a package.

    At one point, there are customers that want to negotiate for “low, low” prices and “I’ve got a small budget, but i want top rankings for these keywords” type of customers. On the other hand, there are genuine companies that end up spending their thousands of dollars on SEO companies that don’t even have good search engines rankings themselves.