Lee Odden

Is Your Optimization Meaningful or Mechanical?

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Optimize Book, SEO

optimization meaningful or mechanicalWhile I’ve been to Belgium the past week for the fine Fusion Marketing Experience, I decided to take a day trip to Paris yesterday since it was only 2 hours away by train. As you may know, I do a bit of traveling.

The quality of the experience, memories and the stories you get to tell after visiting other countries are usually the most meaningful. Sure “stuff” is fun to get, but how often do you think “I met too many cool people” vs. “I bought too many souvenirs”?

As I talk to other people about traveling (and online marketing), the spectrum of perspectives is pretty amazing. It’s just like the wide variety of perceptions towards optimization and social networking. For some people, both are simplified as checklists. Keyword list? Check. Take a picture of the Eiffel Tower? Check. But what did it mean?

The purpose of my day-trip to Paris (my first) was all mechanical. I was there mostly to get Flat Stanley photos for my 8 year old princess and to get lightly familiar with the Metro, navigating the city. I will make no claims whatsoever about having “seen” Paris. I didn’t “really” see, or more importantly, experience much of anything significant. As there is infinitely more to Paris than photos of the Louvre Museum, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, there is much, much more to SEO than keywords, Pandas, Pengiuns and links. There’s certainly a lot more to social networking than fans, friends and followers.

So the question is, why do you settle? Why do you let your company settle? Why are so many companies still siloing their SEO and social media marketing and counting success through KPIs? Even those companies that have developed their appreciation towards what SEO can do, get caught up in Google update drama or link counts and rankings vs. focusing on what’s important.

The same goes for companies that have some experience in the social media realm. Blog? Check. Fans, friends and followers? Check. Ooh look! Shiny object Pinterest. Check!

KPIs are not business outcomes. At least not for most companies. Rankings, organic non-branded search traffic, Google+ circle counts, video views, comments and retweets are KPIs. Last time I checked, none of them carry a wallet.

Optimize for experiences. Any content or media that a company publishes digitally can create an experience for prospects, customers, investors, employees, journalists, potential employees and industry peers. It’s important to monitor key performance indicators as it relates to search and social media attracting visitors. Engagement KPIs are important too. But I think there’s opportunity to look beyond the fan, friend, follower and ranking metrics to attempt to understand what progress in those areas actually means for the business.

London? Been there, done that. A while back, a peer in the online marketing world mentioned to me having been to London for a day. The summation was, “I’ve done London” check. I see the same assessments from online marketers about their SEO and social media efforts. They have a blog, they’re getting data on links, visits, retweets, likes and comments. Check. But that’s where it stops for them.

In the way that there’s more to Paris, London and the city where you live than seeing a few tourist spots, there’s more to your online marketing than measuring KPIs. They can indicate progress, but they are not the end goal when it comes to customer acquisition and engagement (the business my agency TopRank Online Marketing) is in. It’s also a big focus for my new book, Optimize.

My 30 min of internet at the Antwerp airport is about to expire. I wish I could finish this post, but maybe you can share your thoughts? Do you think most online marketers are practicing meaningful or more mechanical SEO and social media 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. I get what you’re going at here, Lee, but to say it’s not all about the KPIs… hold on just a second there 🙂

    The KPIs you discuss are just metrics to me, and yes, I understand your point that you lose the meaning of your content marketing when you measure exclusively by likes, tweets and shares. But a true KPI is a KEY performance indicator. 

    A good KPI for a blog is loyalty, the number of times people return to your site. That said, you can focus on the meaningful activity and measure it through the objective outcome of how well you’re building a loyal community.

    This all becomes pretty mechanical if you’re constantly distracted by the directional metrics, but let’s not lose site of objectivity in our quest to deliver meaningful content.

    • Avatar audrey abbey says

      I agree, blog that has meaningful content will make readers more interested with all you post and gain their loyalty. Blog with continuous conversation that adds values to a post is also a great help to make your blog more authority.

    • Hey Josh, this reads left field to me: “let’s not lose site of objectivity in our quest to deliver meaningful content”.

      If meaningful content is being delivered then a distinction between a benign like and and an action that results in business/customer value should be simple.

      KPI – stepping stone: like, comment, link, organic non-brand search visitor
      Business Outcome – goal: Sales, referrals, repeat buys, shorter sales cycle, increased order volume, retention, advocacy

      There’s a lot more KPI measurement as if it were the end objective going on right now than KPIs as a measure of progress towards a goal. 

      “Mechanical” in the context of this post is the measurement of KPIs as if they all have the same value. 

      “Meaningful” takes into account context, sentiment, the intent and value of those KPIs. It’s like saying two sites with 1,000 inbound links each is exactly the same thing.  Not at all. 

      Measuring KPIs as progress towards business goals should be 101 stuff but sadly, it’s just not. Companies and consultants continue to perpetuate mechanical tactics and measurement as if incremental quantity increases represent a qualitative impact on business.   

      • I think we’re saying the same thing but using different vocabularies, Lee.

        What you call a KPI I call a metric. What you call a business outcome I call a KPI. At the end of the day, if your business outcomes and my KPIs aren’t moving, it’s not meaningful. I’m with you now.

        • Thought you might like this Josh, from Facebook: It’s time to measure business outcomes, not likes” http://facebook-studio.com/news/item/it’s-time-to-measure-business-outcomes-not-likes

  2. When you start blogging lee?

  3. Avatar Phoenyx says

    I see it on forums everyday. People literally chase after link count. Everytime a question is asked about a site problem, SEO is the first thing to be answered. I really do believe that its all become mechanical somehow.  Social Media… I really think that it won’t be as successful as it should be. Adding a tweet to twitter is useless because its immediately inundated with tons of spam, advertising, and it really gets to you after a while.

  4. Avatar Rodney C. Davis says

    I’m a newbie and the folks I’ve latched on to tell me that as an aspiring marketer, I should largely dismiss SEO and concentrate on other things. They stop just short of saying so, but reading between the lines, they’re basically telling me that at the end of the day, the blog numbers are a reflection of your authority, your expertise, your relationships with other influencers, and so on.  

    In other words, aside from awesome content, most of what’s truly important are off-site, and a lot of it is as old-school as “winning friends and influencing people.”  For those of you who don’t know, that’s a book that Dale Carnegie published in 1936, and it’s just as relevant today as it ever was. This kind of advice just feels right.  It resonates with me. And if I understand the gist of this post, it probably resonates with you as well, Lee.  Just wanted your quick take.

    • Thanks for the comment and thoughts Rodney. Offsite and social signals have grown in importance tremendously, but I think there will always be a role for optimization. At least for those who have to compete.

      It comes down to the time you have and knowing what effort will result in the impact you desire.

      My take on optimization is a bit different than what most people understand to be SEO. Check out OptimizeBook.com for more on that. It’s about optimizing content and social for customers as well as for search engines.

      Great SEO is good user experience because it involves naming things and linking to content using voice of the customer language as opposed to generic pronouns, corporate jargon or technical terms.

      I think off site and social is absolutely essential, but as long as people keep searching there will be an opportunity to create a competitive advantage through some form of SEO – both on and off page.

      Here’s a post that might be useful regarding good on-page SEO: http://toprankblog.wpengine.com/2011/01/keywords-blog-posts/

  5. Nice Article But i do not agree to the KPI point. I recently used the Social Media Tools provided to me by http://www.agencyplatform.com. It not only got me good traffic but also good results. Also, i saw a 5% increase in the conversion rate which I feel is seriously good.

  6. The title of this post is very nice. I think the most webmasters don’t know what they are doing for optimizing their sites now and they only do the same things others do without thinking about effects of them. Meaningful optimization is a new and great definition we should care about.

  7. Avatar jeanii roonit says

    Your blogs and every separate material are so remarkable and lucrative it makes me come back most again.

  8. Avatar Conroy Lavis says

    nice article about social media marketing and search engine optimization.

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  9. Simply i got two points from whole discussion these are relevancy and quality. There is no doubt that these tips are very important and to get good ranking position as well as traffic.