Lee Odden

Holistic SEO Strategy: Zone or Man to Man?

In a recent conversation with a big brand company conducting their search marketing vendor selection process, I was asked what “our angle” was. What makes TopRank different from other SEO firms?

The question was followed up with the observations that other SEO vendors this company had talked to all seemed to distinguish themselves by focusing on certain aspects of search engine optimization. Some focused on content, some relied on links and others focused on code and the technical side of SEO.

I am a fan of the adage, “Fact tell and stories sell”, so whenever I can, I like to use an analogy or story to explain things. Hence came the “zone or man to man” idea to explain tactical versus holistic search engine optimization.

When SEO companies focus on specific tactics, it’s kind of like playing a man to man defense. That’s great for certain situations, but if you become over reliant or play to close on any one set of tactics, a major change in the search engine algorithms will get you burned.

I’ve heard similar sentiments about over emphasizing specific SEO tactics articulated by prominent search engine personnel such as Matt Cutts and Tim Mayer at SES and Pubcon conferences.

TopRank takes a holistic approach and following the analogy, I guess you could say it’s similar to a zone defense. We adjust a mix of tactics including content and code SEO, links, public relations, PPC and various online media according to the situation. Major changes in search engine algorithms do not affect our client campaigns as much because we are not relying on any one tactic to drive traffic. Think of it as not putting all your eggs in one basket.

At the core of a more holistic SEO strategy are a set of fundamentals that rarely change: A crawlable site with fresh, themed content focused on providing value to the visitor and the never ending acquisition of relevant links from authoritative resources.

I know the “zone or man to man” concept is a bit lacking in the analogy department for explaining tactical versus holistic SEO, but you get the idea. 🙂

What sorts of analogies have you used to explain search engine optimization? What examples or stories have you used or heard that have been effective?

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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. Balazs, that is an excellent observation and I like the “portfolio management” perspective!

  2. Avatar Tansy OBryant says

    I like your approach. I think addressing budget first also helps client understand what is actually possible for them. Sometimes they can’t afford a man to man contract. For Search Engine Optimization determine your amount of annual spend using this formula.


  3. Avatar Balazs Balint says

    Hi Lee,
    You are talking about the a holistic approach, but I think your approach is in fact closer to the portfolio management approach, isn’t it? In strategic planning every investment (of course marketing investments are included)has to be treated like financial investments: we have to care about the risk and ROE. If you are talking about wide range of tools (code optimization, content production, pr, etc) than I see a diversed portfolio of SEO (or SEM?) actions which helps to lower the risk. Am I right? Of course I’m iterested in the parts of your portfolios very much….

  4. Avatar Balazs Balint says

    And where are the details of the “portfolios” you are using?

    –(Do not take me too seriously)–

  5. Avatar Corey Donovan says

    Lee, as a basketball fan, I couldn’t help but comment on this one! I can combine the portfolio analogy by Balazs and your basketball analogy into one.

    In order to win it all (#1 Rankings or NBA Championship), it helps to have a balanced effort with specialists on your team. The top scoring squad in the NBA has been the Phoenix Suns, yet their defense was pathetic last year. Detroit allowed the fewest points per game and they didn’t win it either. The Miami Heat, with their expertise inside (Shaq) and the attack from the outside (Wade) took home the prize.

    So who is Top Rank’s three point specialist?

  6. Hey Corey, I would do well to run my sports analogies by someone who is actually an active sports fan in the future! 🙂 Thanks for the excellent refinement.

    Too bad there isn’t a draft for SEO. TopRank is actively looking for multiple players to add to our championship team. At least they’re champions to me. 🙂

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