Lee Odden

The Truth About SEO

seo truthI’ve been in the business of SEO for about 12 years and have worked with hundreds of companies of all sizes. I cannot be anything but biased towards the benefits of optimizing web sites to improve visibility in search and the commercial outcomes that can result.

For some, Search Engine Optimization is a favorite whipping boy.  Of course, marketers that have experience with proper SEO efforts and consultants, dismiss the sweeping generalizations often made by those looking to “stir the pot” to draw attention to themselves or who are pontificating based on an incomplete set of information.

All industries have a range of practitioners with varied levels of experience. Ease of online publishing allows anyone with a computer to promote themselves, with or without “real” skills.

That ‘s true for vendors and consultants as well as for client side marketers that hire them. All consulting engagements do not go as planned between all clients and all agencies. Not all staff at agencies are as capable as the senior executives that “sell” the client. Not all client side marketers are competent to make the best business decisions on behalf of the companies they work for.

Marketing on the web doesn’t succeed based on absolutes.

Recently I’ve seen criticism leveled at SEO with disregard for details that paints an entire industry based on the actions of a mis-representative sample. The sweeping generalizations based on incomplete knowledge made right along with sound web site advice made the author seem credible. But they’re not – at least in the area of SEO. Such criticism has been deftly and humorously dealt with and smart marketers at companies can easily see the difference between ranty propaganda and reality.

To dismiss SEO with the kinds of negative characterizations as have been published from time to time over the past few years and especially recently is not only an insult to competent Search Marketing consultants, but to the companies that hire them. Plus, it’s simply not true. Consider this:

digital marketing 2009

TopRank ran a poll on the top digital marketing tactics our readers (532 of them participated) would emphasize in 2009. SEO ranked #3. I don’t think those marketers are convinced that SEO is something  that “doesn’t work”.

Search Marketing Trends

Another useful statistic is that by 2013 total US search marketing will reach nearly $23.4 billion, and marketers will be spending more on SEO than on contextual advertising. (eMarketer).   Follow the money and you’ll see an industry that is credible and where corporate marketers are investing.  How is it that “SEO doesn’t work” and that “anyone could do it” if they just designed good websites, when billions are being spent on Search Marketing?

SEMPO State of Search Marketing 2009
Put money aside for a moment. Let’s look at results. In the SEMPO State of Search Marketing Survey, SEO was ranked the #2 internet marketing tactic for generating return on investment (ROI).  Those numbers speak loud and clear.  It’s because of SEO that thousands of businesses have increased revenue by hundreds of millions of $ at a fraction of the cost of other forms of advertising.

forbes ad effectiveness 2009
ROI isn’t enough for some people, so let’s look at the results of Forbes 2009 Ad Effectiveness Survey that show SEO as the Most Effective Online Marketing Tactic for Generating Conversions.  Still think SEO doesn’t work?

While billions more dollars go into seach, much of it towards Search Engine Optimization, and companies continue to drive the best ROI and conversion rates from SEO over many other digital marketing tactics, the dissenters really don’t make much sense, do they?

Companies can plan and implement SEO on their own just like all of the major search engines have in-house SEOs. Many companies outsource all or part of their SEO work. Either format works according to the situation. In all cases, ongoing education, testing and oversight is necessary to remain competitive.

As long as things can be searched, they can be optimized for better performance in search. Until search engines are perfect at finding, crawling, indexing and sorting searchable content, there will be a need for Search Engine Optimization expertise. Making a great web site for people is not the same thing as making a great web site for people that can easily be found in search engines.

No industry is perfect, but clearly SEO is an industry that is a powerful marketing channel and will continue to grow and evolve. Search marketers and the companies that employ them (in-house or consultants) should be proud of the progress they’ve made at making information more easily discoverable for consumers and the commerce that results.

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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. Lee, the key is what you wrote at the very end of this not-so-surprising post: “a powerful marketing channel that will continue to grow and evolve”. With the overwhelming amounts of information we're constantly being bombarded with every day the only thing that will make sense 2-3 years from now is filtering the noise out and embracing the value of the information we receive. That's where SEO steps in. Thanks for the stats! –Paul

  2. Great article. It's easy to see that SEO is one of the most essential practices that can be undertaken for any company website with so many sites out there trying to grab the attention of the same customer base. Using a full service digital marketing agency can help people get the best from the SEO efforts.

  3. Avatar strategic_growth_advisors says

    Superb post. Informative, insightful and very much timely. Keep on writing those great articles, Lee!

  4. Lee thanks for the data and insightful post. I agree with Paul the key is staying informed as the market continues to grow and evolve. SEO will be essential and powerful marketing channel for many years to come.

  5. Wow, great compilation of stats here Lee…muchly appreciated. Will need to study same, eh?


  6. The statistics certainly don't lie. Search Engine Marketing is quickly becoming one of the best marketing tactics around. The effect competent SEM tactics can have on your business is vast and SEO is quickly becoming a website essential. With so many websites on the world wide web, not employing SEO tactics is one of the biggest mistakes you could make for your company.

  7. Well written, and nice job on getting the data to back it up. Thanks.

  8. Awesome post, Lee. Another great thing is that if you are a good learner and unable or unwilling to pay, you can bypass SEO consultants, teach yourself SEO in a reasonably short time and “make a great web site for people that can easily be found in search engines” 🙂

  9. Avatar annieogdon says

    I like seeing email and e-newsletter as the second top most effective online marketing tactic for generating conversions Feb-March 2009.

    Email marketing is still alive and well.

  10. Great article Lee, thanks…

  11. Very insightful blog post that not only offers a valid point of view but presents the statistics to back those ideas and thoughts up.

  12. Avatar blondeladyinrded says

    I like your blog,you blog smartly

  13. Thanks for an AMAZING blog Lee,

    Seo is a great outlet for those how don't have a lot of money to spend or are just looking for an economic friendly way to get their name out there. I loved the stat charts you put in with this.

    Keep up the great work!

  14. good i love the post

  15. Love the blog and information on it keep up the good work!

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  16. Avatar websitetraffic says

    Unfortunately, as some new popular site shows up on the scene of the web, the newcomers to the web or those who are unaware of the importance of the SEO, try to downgrade it.

    This will not work as search engines will be in need and around as a reality.

  17. SEO for sure works! I get calls from media who find me near the top of the list and don't know me from a 1000 person firm. In fact, when they call me, they can reach who they want much quicker. Further, the point of search engines is to give the best content first and they are always tweaking the engines to do that… search engine marketing, while still having to answer somewhat to machine interpretation of code, is always more and more about the content on your website. When people find a way to manipulate results in ways that don't enrich content, the search engines inevitably correct this problem and search keeps getting better and better.

  18. Lee, great post and stats. Now if only the charlatans who don't want to be measured on their efforts (on traffic and conversion) would exit the game!

  19. Great piece. More and more I'm having clients talk to me about localized seo too, and there's a growing awareness of the importance of both seo and video marketing. I am also very interested in how the approval of the use of non-English characters in URL addresses will alter the search engine optimization techniques used in non-English language search. For web developers to discount an entire area of internet research and industry seems more about their own insecurities rather than an honest appraisal of efficacy.

  20. Great article, it would almost show that its a 60/40 split between SEO/SEM and they can be considered complimentary services. Depending on the competitive nature of the industry sometimes it can take vast resources to get results and will always take more time than SEM to get results.

  21. It is really amazing to know that you have been doing SEO for 12 years.Hard to believe!..Well I am a newbie in this field i can understand how difficult it is to set up your online business.. due to the competitive nature of the industry e-visibility is tough!But this article is making things look very easy ….great going !!

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  24. I think SEM holds more importance when you want to build up your business and once its established SEO becomes more important

  25. True, but they are concurrent tactics, not sequential.

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    just want to comment first before that.. great.. 😀

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