Lee Odden

It’s Not SEO Anymore, It’s Marketing. Deal With It.

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, SEO
Customer Centric SEO

Optimize For Customer Experience

When people learn I’ve recently written a book called Optimize they usually ask what it’s about. I say it’s about optimizing customer discovery and engagement with content. The response I usually get is something like, “Oh, cool. I thought it was about SEO.”

Well, in a way optimizing content and customer experiences is SEO. That’s because what most of the better SEOs practice today is really more about the promise of marketing: attracting, engaging and inspiring customers to buy.

Whether it’s Google, Social Networks, Online News Media, Digital Assets or any other channel/format for content – best practices optimization is in effect for smart companies that want an advantage.

2005 Called, It Wants Its SEO Back. If your SEO is still overwhelmingly focused on massive keyword lists, ranking reports and directory/social bookmarking style link building then you’re stuck in 2005. It’s time to evolve with an optimized state of mind.

Optimize Throughout the Customer Life Cycle. To “optimize” in the search world may have traditionally focused on keywords and links but has changed to focus holistically on the journey from prospect to customer to advocate. At least in my view it does. When companies look at the entire customer life cycle, it will reveal a tremendous opportunity for optimization, not just for the top of the sales funnel.

Modern Optimization is Adaptable. When Google, Bing and Ask implemented various media and data sources into common search results (Universal Search) SEOs adjusted with digital asset optimization. When Google evolved their place pages, SEOs adjusted with local, mobile and geo-specific optimization. Panda? Better quality and less duplicate content. Personalization? Better title tag and meta description writing to inspire greater CTR. Social? Say hello to a tirade of G+ SEO. Conversions? Check. Pigeon Rank? If was real, check.

Helping Search Engines Helps Our Optimization. Technical SEO will have it’s place as long as there is an opportunity to create advantage by doing so. Search engines are imperfect in their attempt to crawl, index and rank all of the digital content that exists online. Making that process easier, more efficient, more useful and meaningful for search engines is something website owners must pay attention to regardless of how the search experience evolves ala universal, personal and social.

Optimization is Art and Science. Process, continual data analysis and tools are also persistent characteristics within the world of SEO because they enable some science into the art of optimization so it can scale.

Holistic Optimization for the Win. At the same time, the notion of optimization with a holistic view extends to all aspects of the customer experience with brand content. Whatever can be discovered, consumed or shared can be optimized for better performance – both for customers and for achieving brand business objectives. That means marketing, public relations, customer service, investor relations, human resources/recruiting and any other content a businesses publishes online.

Optimization Follows Search Engine Innovation. The best practices of optimization mirror many marketing best practices and in the end, the best way to view business investment in modern SEO is as an investment in marketing and all that marketing tactics can achieve. Optimizing the search experience works concomitantly with changes in search technology and how search engines work. There is no death to SEO, just a shift in what to optimize in order to improve performance.

Continuous Optimization Is Forever and Profitable. Just because Google masks keyword referrers for logged in users, emphasized Google+ content and signals, elevated content quality standards and changed how links are evaluated doesn’t mean opportunities to optimize have gone away. For companies that employ optimization as a process of continuous implementation, assessment and improvement, there’s nothing closer to effective online marketing than the practice of optimization.

Don’t Tread on SEO, Elevate It. For those who think SEO is dead. It’s just your limited understanding of SEO that’s dead. For web developers that treat SEO as a one-time task during web design and only focus on marketing content (vs. ALL of the website content), and no ongoing content promotion, you’re only touching the surface and may be causing your clients to lose revenue in the long run. For bottom feeding SEOs that continue to over-promise and under-deliver with sensationalized accounts of traffic boosts, rankings and links, you’re short sightedness is hurting companies and our industry.

SEO is really just marketing, so deal with it. The evolution of customer centric content marketing and it’s intersection with social media and optimization represents the kind of online marketing that companies are really sinking their teeth into in 2012 and beyond. To be a great SEO, be a great marketer because that’s what SEO is.

Learn More at Search Congress, Barcelona. I am very much looking forward to presenting on this very topic at Search Congress in Barcelona this week. I may not speak a lick of Spanish or Catalan, but hopefully my enthusiasm for the topic will make up for my Midwestern accented English.

PoorSo SoOKGoodAwesome (10 votes, average: 4.10 out of 5)

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. I agree with most of your points Lee with one exception, all of this is optimization NOT marketing.
    Marketing is just optimization for commercial purposes.
    You don’t do marketing for activist groups or churches. You can do optimization for bible sites and fund raising efforts for causes. You can even optimize Occupy Wall Street sites and it’s not just marketing.
    So don’t limit yourself to marketing. You can optimize everything. The sky is not even the limit. You can optimize for causes bigger than selling, even God.

    I’ve just recently written about this:

    • Thanks Tad, I think people in the non-profit marketing world might disagree. There’s as much marketing going on there to win financial support, donors and participation as there is with companies promoting products and services.

      As for churches, I think it’s the oldest form of marketing in the world. The application of persuasion for a particular audience towards a certain outcome is marketing and has universal applications for any kind of communication. Marketing in that sense, that’s universally applicable to achieve goals. At the same time, the tactics involve with execution can be monitored, analyzed and made better. That’s optimization.

  2. Great post – my favourite “The best practices of optimization mirror many marketing best practices and in the end, the best way to view business investment in modern SEO is as an investment in marketing and all that marketing tactics can achieve”.

  3. Lee, I’m happy to hear you saying this (I mean, you’ve always been a marketing-side guy, but still …)

    As a guy whose background is more geeky, but leaning toward the business side of things (http://answerguy.com), I can tell you that the view from this side is much the same: we stopped calling ourselves technology consultants and started saying “business consultants” about a decade ago, and we’ve stopped saying “SEO” and started saying “marketing” in the last couple of years.

    Right on …

  4. Thank you for post….SEO=Digital MKT.

  5. Avatar Susan Silver says

    I think SEO is part of a holistic approach. I see optimization as occurring over different channels. You have branding, copywriting, SEO, Social Media, Print, Ad Buying, etc. A campaign is never just one element, but a function over these different channels.

    We could call it all marketing, optimization, design, writing or another word. I think we funnel it through the world that makes sense to us. I see a lot of them working as principles of writing, because I am a copywriter. I still have to know all the parts to do my job.

    To add some credence to your point, many people in SEO label themselves search marketers. 

    • Glad you see it that way Susan – not just because it’s the view presented in the post of course 🙂 One of the key points in the post is for SEOs and those that buy SEO services to elevate their perception of where SEO fits in the marketing mix. A big part of that is to see SEO not as a siloed tactic but as a bigger part of marketing.

  6. I absolutely agree. We do, however, run into some pretty hard-to-resolve situations on our site where the best customer experience conflicts with our SEO goals. These are mostly site architecture issues related to duplicate content. 

    Excepting for that, most of what I do is about content marketing and social engagement for SEO as part of the overall mix.

    • The important thing Scott, is that you know about it – you’re paying attention to customer experience as it relates to organic search traffic. Many SEO practitioners focus on driving traffic to the front door and that’s it. Conversion optimization is increasingly a part of the SEO mix, which is great news. As online marketers dig deeper into things like content marketing, social engagement and conversion optimization – the importance of customer focused SEO becomes pretty clear.

  7. At first I was kinda outraged…So GOOD TITLE! Til I read on…Very nice and by the end of the post – I completely agree, however with a boost…SEO shouldn’t really be a thing of its own. It should simply be a new school of thought that all people who touch content that touches eyes…should be trained in SEO. It’s just one piece of the bigger puzzle.

    • Exactly, that’s the holistic view of optimization and it’s the premise of OptimizeBook.com – SEO is an integral part of the total in marketing.

  8. I see that SEO is used to generalize as well. I’m thinking about how the convergence of search, social and content have changed what skills modern SEOs and SEO related pull-marketing programs involve. That’s where I’m coming from when I say SEO is Marketing. Vs. SEO is something that stands by itself.

  9. I’m glad you asked Tiffany – OptimizeBook.com is exactly about modern SEO. It’s available the first week of March. I’d also pay attention to content marketing sites like Content Marketing Institute, copyblogger.com and Heidi Cohen’s site.

  10. Well said.  So many people view SEO, social media, and blogging as independent and choose to one and not all.  My goal this year is to inform people on how they are all related and all play a role in engaging the customer once they find you.

  11. Well said.  So many people view SEO, social media, and blogging as independent and choose to one and not all.  My goal this year is to inform people on how they are all related and all play a role in engaging the customer once they find you.

  12. Avatar Tim Karlberg says

    Well put, Lee. Assessments like this are sometimes hard for me to accept (perhaps for other strategists in our field, too). But accepting and optimizing for the changes around us are what set us apart from “bottom feeding SEOs.” Thanks for taking time to address these.

  13. Avatar Tim Karlberg says

    Well put, Lee. Assessments like this are sometimes hard for me to accept (perhaps for other strategists in our field, too). But accepting and optimizing for the changes around us are what set us apart from “bottom feeding SEOs.” Thanks for taking time to address these.

  14. Agree. This this something that can’t be said often enough. SEO is about really good and thorough marketing which goes far beyond keywords and meta-tagging.

  15. Thank you! I often find people fixated on just one part of their online marketing as the holy grail for their business. I always steer the focus back to CPA or Cost per Acquisition. I tell them “Let’s test it and find out. Let’s measure it up against other channels – and see what we can do to improve it.” I’ve optimised and tested for 8 years now, but it’s still surprising how few people measure, reflect and take continuous logical action to improve their results.  

    • Excellent points Rob and I agree that testing and measurement (ongoing) is essential to find the answer for any particular company and market.

  16. Enjoyed this Lee, and look forward to reading your book. Rather than arguing over perception, more people need to tackle the true problems they face, in real-time. Among them is continually trying to define what any of this online marketing stuff is when they should just be Doing it and redefining it. 
    I share your beliefs to the extent that logic and practice trumps all. From my vantage point of the market, it’s not about whether “we do X” or Y, the Best will do both and “with” as Mitch Joel says. 
    It’s about Meaningful engagement; Memorable content and Measurable results. 

  17.  i agree with you on the point that marketing is more effective.

  18. Avatar ToniAtkinson says

    Perfect, perfect post!! I am so tired of all the black and white swings from “seo is dead” to “the new seo” that as soon as I saw your post- I cheered YEAH! Great way to combine everything into one sensible, practical, very informative post about “online marketing”. Looking forward to hearing more from Barcelona.
    Here’s to dealing with it and happy to do so 🙂

  19. Avatar Manjari Patrikar says

    Very Informative ,You are really Master.
    Thanks for giving us such a wonderful information

  20. It was a pleasure to meet you in Barcelona Cristina. I’m glad you liked the presentation. Ouali and his team did a great job.

  21. Avatar aaroneden says

    Hi Lee, been very busy shifting my target market to real estate pros’ that I totally missed your book.  I’ll check it out soon.  By the way, I wonder if there’s already a term to describe this hybrid of SEO+social media marketing?  I think if you want to be successful these days, you have to mix both.

    • To me the hybrid term is “marketing” 🙂 or maybe “marketing optimization”. Something that transcendes specific channels and focuses more on the ongoing effort for brands to connected with customers for commerce and engagement. ABO – Always Be Optimizing 🙂

      I do hope you can check out optimizebook.com – it’s been quite an experience 🙂

      • Avatar aaroneden says

         Thanks Lee– love the term ‘marketing optimization’ as the word ‘engagement’ is now competing with the word ‘innovation’ — both are overused, abused..  Congratz to your book and more power!

  22. Avatar Ozio Media says

    Online content has evolved a lot in recent years. Where a page that had once been built for the crawlers, than for human visitors, may have worked in the past, now web surfers are looking for more engagement. Websites with poor content will also have poor conversions. Having interesting sales content is now the most important aspect of any business’ web presence. This is especially true with the influence that social network buzz has on SEO now.

  23. Avatar sallazzar says

    A recent breakthrough and the first in Southeast Asia Diseases Healing the incurable in Indonesia Nor the world, such as: HIV / AIDS, Cancer, Stroke, Diabetes, Heart and Lupus.http://xamthone-center.com/

  24. When you say it not seo more, i think it means we should concentrate more of social networking and social media sites instead of making backlinks for sites. Its a good solution and more effective for making traffic for sites.

  25. I’m also agree with you… thanks

  26.  I am agree with you Susan.This article change my view on SEO and  marketing.Thanks Lee for this great post.

  27.  Hi Mr. Grace,
    I really appreciate your comment. Actually SEO is a part of  a successful marketing.