Lee Odden

Four SEM Industry Rants

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Rant

It’s pretty much an understatement to say search marketing is an interesting business. In fact, some of the most creative yet technical, entrepreneurial and lateral thinking individuals you’ll ever meet work in this field. At the same time, there are cases where showmanship and hype can overwhelm real substance and certain behaviors get annoying.

Understand, this very much a rant post and most rants do little for the reader and a lot for the writer. It’s all about me you know. 🙂 However, if this one sheds light or more likely, entertains, then it’s a win win.

The fine art of truth spoofing.
You know when some “SEO experts” answer an interviewer or conference moderator question with a response that sounds good, is hardly verifiable with real data, but because they’re respected and well promoted, people believe them? I like to call that “truth spoofing”. It makes the “expert” seem impervious to failure and people forget about the specific numbers anyway, holding on to that “wow s/he’s smart” feeling. This isn’t unique to the SEM biz either. I see it in PR and direct marketing as well. What’s curious is that people accept it as a normal part of the “sales pitch”.

One person’s leftovers are another person’s gold.
By the time certain SEO tactics get written about in a major publication, they’ve jumped the shark. In fact, by the time they’re written about in popular search marketing publications, they likely have 6 months or less of competitive usefulness left. Yet the lure of getting a distinct advantage makes marketers and webmasters over-rely on such information rather than focusing on the results of their own first hand experience.

Everyone wants a shortcut it seems. In a way, it’s like those people selling no money down real estate courses and get rich quick seminars on TV. Either the tips are mostly marketing hype or they’ve long since expired in their usefulness. The only way to make money from them is to “sell the secret”. It’s like that with the promotion of many “SEO secrets”. By the time such tactics are publicly promoted as a way to gain competitive advantage, their days are numbered. Focusing on changing trends and strategies rather than specific tactics is what yields longer term results. At least that’s my opinion.

Diffuse the enthusiasm.
In a position of perceived authority, there are a lot of eyes and ears paying attention. Competition in the search marketing industry is formidable as agencies seek new revenue channels by adding search marketing services and companies bring more search marketing in-house.

What to do? One thing I’ve seen some pundits do is to tell the up and coming competition to go home. For example, “Don’t bother starting a silly old blog, it’s a waste of time”. Some make claims that certain marketing fundamentals will never work in competitive situations and that only the “super secret sauce” of SEO expert knowledge is worthy.

Plenty of neophytes read this stuff and think, “Hmm I guess I’ll play follow the leader and commit myself to the super secret sauce and not bother with the fundamentals and my own test/refinement/learning anymore”. As a result, some marketers get over committed to short term tactics and leave long term, sustainable methodologies and the products of their own experience by the wayside.

Pass the dirty buck.
Starting out in the search marketing business, leads for new projects are coveted, precious things. (Think Tommy Boy ). Once a brand is built with significant momentum and credibility, inquiries for new business are sometimes treated as a commodity. In some cases, there’s more new business than any one firm can handle.

What to do with all those leads? Follow up on them of course! No, what some particularly mischievous SEOs do is send the crappy ones to their competition or to “friends”. You know, the insurance leads/poker/ringtone sites that have been through 5 SEO firms, have numerous duplicate sites and are currently banned? Not that there aren’t specialists in those industries or that those industries don’t deserve excellent SEO consulting, but referring completely out of scope and mis-matched projects is adolescent at best. After a while, it’s not so funny as the web site owners in need of services get tossed back and forth.

There aren’t any specific people I have in mind for these kinds of behaviors as they’re the kinds of things that you notice over time and many, many conferences. To be honest, I may have engaged in one or two myself at some point over the past 10 years. There’s no longevity to behaving badly so it really doesn’t pay to repeat such actions.

On the flip side, and this is the majority of what most people experience in the SEM industry, search marketers are bright, friendly, helpful, both tactical and strategic, constantly learning and as mentioned above, possess that very unique combination of creative and technical perspectives so critical for success in search.

[/end rant]

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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. Refreshing post sir. Rants make the best articles!

  2. Nice post Lee.

    In an industry with so many slippery undefinables its inevitable that slippery undefinable characters will slip through and make capital as a result. Which of course suits the search engines fine as it adds credence to that view that SEO is about slippery snake oil salesmen.

  3. Avatar David Eaves says

    I’m definitely guilty of passing the dirty buck, I wouldn’t touch any of those types of sites you mentioned with a barge pole, I’ve learned my lesson with that by taking on an escort agency, never again, any companies like that ring me up I’m like oh why don’t you try these guys.

  4. You just one over this reader, not really with the writing (was great by the way) but with this single line.

    “Starting out in the search marketing business, leads for new projects are coveted, precious things. (Think Tommy Boy). ”

    Specifically the tommy boy part. Why, you ask. Because it shows we think similar, we can draw on similar references and more than likely I will relate to more of your posts in the future because I know you have a similar frame of reference, all because of this small, almost insignificant, link to a movie. You didn’t even say if you liked it, but it doesn’t matter. The post became personal at that one line.

    This really brings up a point, most bloggers that have a great reader base make references like these all the time. It draws us in.

    Anyway, great post, I feel the same way about lot of what you are saying and it’s not just in SEO/SEM, like you where saying. I could go on, but it’s not my blog.

  5. Avatar David Eaves says

    That’s a weird spam post LOL

  6. Lee, Awesome post

    I spoofs the truth not to sell someone but it seems to be the easier answer. Instead of explaining out every detail of the project.

  7. Hey David, Am not sure it’s spammy, but certainly “different”.

    Am glad you all liked the post, I wasn’t sure about putting it out there, but why not?

  8. Avatar David Eaves says

    I had a 2nd look at it after single grain posted and then I thought it probably isn’t spam, looks like he really did like the post a lot.

  9. You did good Lee. Thanks for having the guts to speak out.

  10. Avatar Adam Audette says

    great points Lee, thanks for sharing.

  11. It’s not spam. It’s just rare that you can get personality out of bloggers these days. It feels like everyone wants to walk around on eggshells and I think that it is more beneficial to actually be someone through your blog rather than your blog be a piece of info. Most SEO blogs, or blogs in general, are to much like reading a manual. I’d rather just talk to someone, and thats what this post made me feel. Like I was just talking to Lee.

  12. Thanks Chad, I’m glad you liked the post!  I am as guilty as anyone of being somewhat conservative with the blog and you’d think after 3 1/2 years I would be more comfortable with it, but for some people (like me) it takes time to find the right balance.

  13. This post adds a nice personal level to your blog. I think we get so caught up with being professional that we often forget to relate to people.

  14. Resonates with a non-expert like me. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut. Never enough time, never enough time…..


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