Lee Odden

Break Free of Bad SEO Advice – Optimize for Customers

break free bad seo adviceDespite years of warnings from Google and especially from search quality guy, Matt Cutts, there’s a certain segment of internet marketing consultants that continue to give out bad advice:  SEO shortcuts, tricks and loopholes with manufactured content and buying links to gain an artificial advantage that runs contrary to Google’s Guidelines.  Complicating matters is the fact that large numbers of companies are taking that advice in their rush to win traffic and sales.

The result? Getting penalized, removed from the index or other consequences affecting visibility of their content in search. From the Florida update almost 10 years ago to the Panda and recent Penguin updates, it’s clear Google is committed to narrowing down what kinds of SEO tactics can have an explicit impact on search visibility in their quest for quality.

In my opinion the issue is not as much about complying with Google’s rules, but about managing risk and creating a sustainable marketing effort that bears fruit over and over again. The effect may be the same, but I’m in business to make our clients money, not Google. Serving our clients’ interest is #1 and since helping them connect with prospects and existing customers is the goal, our approach to optimization emphasizes customers as the priority over search engines.  That said, a focus on both is essential to be competitive.

Webmasters and website owners need to not only comply with Google guidelines (which can seem a bit ambiguous with advice like “create good user experience”) by avoiding spammy tactics, but those operating in a competitive category will need to think about how to create a competitive advantage without putting their online business at risk with Google’s increasingly conservative approach to SEO tactics.

To Google’s credit, they have done an increasingly good job of creating content for webmasters on SEO basics, like this recent video from Maile Ohye “SEO for Startups in under 10 minutes”.

But those are the basics and a better understanding of the integration of search, social and content is necessary to win in competitive markets.

Content and social media are important means to connect with customers that also results in rewards from search engines in the form of better visibility. Unfortunately, many SEO tactics that are focused on rankings objectives rather than customer acquisition and engagement limit social media participation to pushing content out through social media channels. In those situations, there’s less of a focus on creating engagement or community, which can actually produce the signals that search engines really value: content, interactions, sharing.  The good news is that many smart SEOs are educating social content producers on the use of keywords and other optimization efforts to improve visibility of social content within search. The win is to do both: optimize for search and social engagement.

Many SEOs are getting on board the content bandwagon, except the common approach so far is to produce “more” content or “great” content (what does that mean?) in order to cast a wider net within search results. This makes sense: The more web pages, the more potential entry points via search or shared links.  But how much more effective would those ranking-centric efforts with content marketing be if there was more consideration of target audience needs during the buying cycle? What about optimizing for customers and business outcomes vs. keywords and rankings?

The best SEO advice isn’t about SEO. The basis of the book Optimize and what we write about here at Online Marketing Blog is to combine best practices SEO with a more customer-centric approach to developing content.  With a strong base of purposeful content, bring in keyword and social media optimization strategically to reach business goals for any kind of content, not just getting products and services pages to rank on page one with Google and Bing. The outcome is a more efficient, effective and scalable online marketing effort that attracts and engages more customers through search and/or social, is risk free and helps grow social networks at the same time.

Successful search marketing isn’t about following the rules, it’s about creating your own rules that satisfy the needs of the market you’re doing business in to grow your own business. At the same time, it’s about managing risk and knowing what the boundaries are. Sometimes that means you have to push to see what pushes back. Ongoing testing and marketing program optimization will be your best source of information, not solely search engine guidelines or industry experts. There is a time and a place for any type of SEO, social media or other online marketing tactics. Just be sure to quantify or clarify advice that seems too good to be true and cross check with your own ability to test and analyze.

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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. Great post, Lee. While I’ve always paid attention to Google and certainly follow the reputable SEOs, I don’t let it dominate how we operate our site. From the beginning, we knew that in order to become a (relatively) unbiased source in our industry, we needed to put out and share top quality content.

    It isn’t really a challenging formula, actually. If you build it, they will come (eventually). If you’re patient, you will absolutely be noticed and grow.

    That said, I am very happy to see that Google is working harder to put out information that is more easily digested by the general public. There are far too many unscrupulous and uninformed “SEOs” out there, and unfortunately, far too many people fall victim. I hear about someone new in my circles dealing with this almost weekly.

    • Thanks Joshua, I think the combination of being savvy and attentive to Google and Bing SEO in combination with a broader marketing mix makes the most sense. Customers don’t just search and they don’t just look at ads or email. Be where they are in a meaningful way whether by push (ads/email) or pull (search/social) and revenue will follow.

  2. Great article the post is very interesting and good.Nice to read.Nice information given here.Nice blog.

  3. Great post I would also recommend optimize.
    P.S Drupal web design what a strange name lol

  4. Great Post Lee. As one who was recently Pecked by a “penguin” I can attest the the fact that google are pretty good at discovering the “black hat” stuff these days. However the thing that really annoys me is the the way Google that treat you. Ok so I was pecked by the Penguin but there is no way of finding out which aspect of you SEO was the cause of the “pecking”. They (google) just send you of to the “guidlines” section and the webmasters forum.. The problem with that is that the guidlines are as clear as Mud and contradictory, and the forum is so full of rubish that your chances of finding anyone to really help is worse than trying to cycle to the Moon. Moral of the story… there is no point in trying to cheat because at the end of the day you will probably end up worse off than you would if you didnt do any SEO in the First Place 😉

  5. If you are creating content for the search engines, that’s the wrong approach. The Google updates are reminders of what’s important, your target audience members. Write for target audience members first, and the search engines second. Don’t worry so much about keyword count. Only include them where it fits naturally.

    • I don’t think you have to ignore search engines, it’s just a matter of being accountable for more that driving traffic and factoring in who you’re trying to attract. Some will respond to search, some social, others email. It’s almost always a mix.

  6. Avatar CharlesMackenzieHill2 says

    Great post. Think I learnt more about SEO in ten minutes than the last ten years .

  7. No one else seems to have replied to your post so I will.
    The main problem, as you’ve identified, is that the coffee shop owner knows how
    to be a coffee shop owner. Now it’s great that these business owners recognize
    this; after all the first, and hardest, step to recovery is admitting you have
    a problem It’s great that your trying to educate them about this but it’s a sad
    fact that some just wont get it and they’ll still want.

    The only advise I could give is make it 100% clear that
    results aren’t guaranteed. Unlike other forms of advertising there isn’t a
    standard response rate. This article does a great job of pointing out some
    amazing way to optimize your SEO campaign to get more results.

    Companies like National
    Positions( http://www.nationalpositions.com ) have been using these techniques for a while now and their customers
    generally get great results. But they make sure not to guarantee because it’s kind
    of like Russian roulette, spin the barrel and see what you get.

    • I can’t disagree more Vicoria “like Russion roulette”. Certainly, it’s against Google’s best advice and common sense to guarantee results with SEO. But it’s not so far as “spin the barrel”.

      When marketers have tested strategies and tactics over many, many different companies, over many years there’s experience and insight that can bring a company a lot closer to reliable outcomes than treating their investment like a game of chance.

  8. Travis, the optimizing for customers approach extends beyond SEO. What it means is to consider how and why people buy. Then use that insight to create a marketing approach that focuses on what it will take to reach those customers where they are most in need, considering budget and resources.

    Optimizing for customers might actually mean ZERO SEO! It may make more sense to have an event offline, or create a newsworthy promotion that gets covered in the press. It may even mean advertising or social media promotions.

    The lower the budget, the more “sweat equity” a business owner will need to invest in their own marketing. You can point them in the right direction whether that means SEO or something else that will better reach their customers who are ready to buy.

  9. Going by the intrigues taking place in the SEO world it is advisable that web marketers go back to the basics of SEO. This means content generations should come before site ranking. Anyway, engine robots will not be the ones buying your products rather it will be your human visitors.

  10. I really learned a lot just by reading your post. Thanks
    for these wonderful SEO tips. Cheers!

  11. There is an interesting post I have to say because at first, i wanted to disagree with you about following the rules. But, maybe it is time to challenge the status Que and make some rules and experiment with pushing the limits.

  12. Great advice and will make it on sense. seoprogress.com

  13. Avatar Prince Villa says

    thanks for this very informative…big help to improve my website..

  14. I don’t think so it is surprising, I got your point that It’s all about content to improve the solution. But, In some manner Link still link schemes and keyword stuffing important. To create a good content its very important that getting result of your website.

  15. Hi all, some how I accumulated over 20,900+ link in one month and my website got pushed back to page 10 and I cant get it back. My webmaster tools only shows 64 urls but tell me I have 29,061. Can anyone suggest whats has happened here or the remedy? Thank you in advance.