Lee Odden

Response: Is SEO DOA As a Core Marketing Strategy?

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, SEO
Buyers influenced by search and social

Search & Social Influence - eMarketer

Reuters posted an article yesterday entitled, “Is SEO DOA as a core marketing strategy?” and trust me, I know better than to respond and fuel attention to a writer who is either naive or trying to stir up the bee’s nest with a contrarian title. I suspect there may be a bit of both in this situation. Basically, the article makes the argument that entrepreneurs “may want to reconsider pouring money into search engine optimization (SEO) as their primary marketing strategy” based on an ill conceived post by Chris Dixon “SEO is no longer a viable marketing strategy for startups”. The reason I am posting about another “SEO is Dead” diatribe, is that with the right context, I would agree.

Before you think I’ve turned coat away from SEO, read my comment in response to the Reuters SEO is DOA post:

If you don’t want prospects, customers, investors, marketing partners, job candidates or journalists to find your content via search, then by all means – don’t even bother with SEO.

As a standalone tactic, (which is not the same thing as core) SEO is not what it was a few years ago and that is a valid point.

As others in the article state, SEO works in conjunction with other marketing, advertising and public relations tactics to achieve business goals. To work best across disciplines, SEO needs to be a core principle in online marketing since it affects discovery anywhere something can be searched on – including social networking and media sites.

If a business isn’t optimizing for improved findability, one needs to wonder what they’re hiding from?

For some reason, there’s a set of people in the biz media that like to focus on a small segment of opportunists making big claims with no skills about SEO vs. the thousands of professionals that are making a huge impact on companies’ bottom line.  The fact that there are a few misrepresenting the whole is no different than any other industry whether it’s PR, legal or car repair.  Making the effort to understand what SEO really is can help those who are not practitioners, but in a position to write about it, see the difference between the exception and the rule.

I’ve been providing SEO services since 1997 and like other industries, SEO has changed. Stand alone SEO only makes up a small percentage of our current consulting engagements. Most of what we do includes SEO as an element working in concert with social media, content marketing, email, PPC, social advertising and online PR.  Companies that want us to “just optimize” their site are met with questions about how much revenue they’d like to grow. Then we work backward from those goals and develop the appropriate strategy and mix of tactics, which often includes SEO.

Masterful SEO practitioners possess a unique set of skills ranging from technical to creative. As technology and consumer behaviors online have changed, so have SEO best practices.

Search as a means of discovery is massively popular. Google sites alone handle over 88 billion queries per month. The sheer volume of content being produced can possibly be filtered in a qualitative way by personal recommendations on social networks. Search plays an essential role for people that need to find answers whether it’s on a standard search engine like Google or Bing, the internal search engine on Facebook or YouTube, or on mobile devices.  In fact, search engines are the most popular destinations on smart phones, not social networks.

For many businesses, SEO is absolutely the most viable core marketing strategy.  And that strategy often includes working in concert with other marketing tactics such as PPC, content, display and email. SEO and nothing else is a disadvantage compared to SEO that is amplified by a robust social media and content marketing program.

As long as there are consumers in need of search engines, there will be a demand for expertise that helps brands surface their relevant content where people are looking.  If a company’s target audience is prone to use search for information discovery, then building a website with search in mind is absolutely a best practice. As I mentioned in the Reuter’s comment above, if a website isn’t optimizing content so prospects and customers can easily find their content, what are they hiding? What’s the point of having a website?

If you’re a client side SEO practitioner or if you work at an agency as an SEO, what is your mix of stand alone SEO projects vs. SEO working in concert with other marketing?



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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 totally agree…what bothers me more is the way Chris Dixon runs SEO down. I’ve followed Chris for a bit he is a very bright VC… but his “issues” are basically that his knowledge seems to be about what worked a few years back. I also Believe search is quite often somewhere in the conversion funnel… finding that sweet spot where the user is ripe to be converted through Search.

    • I agree Terry – it ‘s a persistent issue with some journalists too. They’re operating off of old information. Marketers that get the most out of search see it more strategically, like your comment about where it fits within conversion, rather than a grab bag of tactics “optimize me”. Cheers.

  2. 90% of the SEO work we do (and we work with some of the world’s biggest brands) is SEO working in concert with other marketing channels. Our clients wouldn’t understand it any other way. The other 10% is smaller jobs where clients ask for a specific one-off tech fix.

    • That’s the reality of it Omar – now if the media would just do their homework and interview more experienced practitioners. 🙂

  3. I find it hilarious that Mr. Dixon blogs about how SEO is dead but receives 1st page search engine results for it. Think maybe there’s something underneath all that? He’s well aware of the benefits of SEO and it’s clearly working for him. Honestly, I feel like this a publicity stunt, a SEO publicity stunt. 🙂

  4. Avatar Anonymous says

    re; “…one needs to wonder what they’re hiding from?” says it all, Lee….

    great piece and great response too….and yeah, I’d have to agree that the title was a pot stir only for us SEO practitioners, eh! some writer!



  5. Avatar Ilias Chelidonis says

    I think the graph from Emarketer says it all, click on it and you will be directed to the main post on this issue where there is another graph showing the main influnce factors on retail site visits. Social media is way low in the ranking. I am still not convinced about how social media can influence a buyer’s decision considering the fact that social media has too much spam in it, whereas achieving high rankings on search engines is a long lasting and high quality proccess ( cheating will not help you for long ). I agree that a combination of many quality strategies including social media is the way to go.


  6. Stand alone SEO is dead would be a more accurate headline (if even warranted).

    Looking at SEO outside of an integrated marketing effort is misguided at best. Getting clients to (re)focus on the objectives for their web assets often redirects the conversation and organically leads to more strategically valuable implementations.

  7. Avatar Lee King says

    SEO is absolutely still the most import aspect of a marketing campaign. For any new website that vast majority of your initial visitors will come from your SEO efforts. Social media then provides a community for those individuals to interact with your and each other.

  8. One of my early marketing mentors, Jay Abraham, taught me the Power Parthenon strategy.

    He taught that most businesses use a diving board strategy to hold them up, one pillar that’s supposed to support the whole process of bringing in clients. In this case, this one pillar would be SEO.

    Well, just depending on only one source of traffic to site and being at the whims of the interweb gods is not so smart.

    Whereas a Parthenon has several pillars. This strategy insists that you use offline strategies (direct mail, tele-marketing, etc.) along with online strategies that would include email marketing, webinars, etc. to bring business in. If one source dries up, it’s not the end of your business.

  9. Well said Lee. The problem sometimes in the SEO community working with clients (since 1999) is the wrong perceptions they have about it. Getting them to truly understand the foundations and how it works takes up loads of time and efforts. But that’s the part of being a consultant I believe. Online marketing is no different from investing. You don’t want to put all your money in one basket. Same with the web. Focus on SEO only and you take big risks and you miss out on other great potential media out there. In sync combination is what works for me as well.

  10. Avatar Alice Morgan says

    I agree but would go further and mention the relationship between offline activity as well. Increasingly I’m hearing radio commercial calls to action such as “Google x” or “Search y”, where we – years ago – used to provide easy-to-remember phone numbers or “see Yellow Pages”. What I do think is key, too, is the advent of attribution metrics which will put the value of SEO in context. It’s not stand-alone, but that’s what the last-click metrics model would have some people believe.