Why I don't get SEO

Paul Boag

I don’t get why people invest in SEO. I am not trying to start an argument. I just want to explain my doubts so somebody can correct me.

I like to think of myself as an intelligent guy. I have worked on the web since 1994 and like to stay informed. However, over that time I have never understood website owners’ obsession with SEO.

Many organisations invest vast sums of money in SEO companies that promise to improve their rankings. Although SEO can make a difference, I am far from convinced it is the best way to spend your marketing budget.

Below are five reasons why I have my doubts. My hope is that people can convince me I am wrong in the comments. We shall see.

A continual investment with no guarantees

The thing with SEO is that it is not a one-off cost like many believe. It is not just a matter of getting to be number one for your chosen keywords, its about staying there too. This involves an ongoing investment.

Also unlike pay-per-click (PPC) advertising there are no guarantees. There are SEO companies who guarantee you the top spot, but they are lying. You pay your SEO company in the hope they can improve your placement, but a good SEO company will not commit to how much.

It is a bit like buying a newspaper ad, but being given no guarantee as to what page it will appear on or how big the ad will be.

Classified ads in a newspaper

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At least with PPC you know how much you will pay and what you get in return.

You’re manipulating the system

My second concern is that essentially SEO is about playing the system. Google exists to connect its users with the information they require. They have a sophisticated algorithm to do that. It is also an algorithm that is getting better all of the time.

SEO on the other hand is about creating as much exposure for your website as possible. They do this by guessing what the Google algorithm does and using that in your site’s favour.

The problem is that the algorithm is unknown to anybody other than Google and it changes all of the time.

Hacking Circuits

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To me it seems more sensible to work with Google’s known goal – to provide great content to its users, rather than trying to manipulate a system we do not fully understand.

Instead of spending money on SEO, spend it on producing better content that provides Google’s users with more value.

It can damage the user experience

I am not saying that SEO does not work. I am saying that it is not worth the cost. That cost is not just in terms of money spent on SEO. It is also in user experience.

I have worked with a number of SEO companies over the years (at the request of our clients) and it has always ended up damaging the user experience.

For example, SEO often leads to an excessive amount of copy, changes to the code order (that creates problems for screen readers) and keyword heavy navigation (which reduces scanability).

Example of keyword stuffing

SEO may increase the level of traffic to your site. However, it often undermines the conversion rate.

It is a passive form of marketing

It is not just SEO I have a problem with, it is the emphasis on search engines.

Website owners seem obsessed with being ‘number one’ on Google. However, it is not a particularly effective method of marketing.

Search engines are passive because they require the searcher to have a pre-existing need for your product or service. On one hand this makes search more targeted because it only reaches people who are interested in your product. On the other, it does not allow you as a marketeer to create a need or raise the profile of a new brand or product.

Father and son sleeping on a counch

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When compared to social media or other forms of advertising, investing in SEO seems very passive.

It carries no weight

My final problem with SEO is that it lacks the weight of personal recommendation. By focusing on SEO you are merely shaping your site to cater for an algorithm. You are not making your website appeal to people.

Trying out http://www.flairbuilder.com on the recommendation from @boagworld

Instead, I would invest in making your site better for users and encouraging them to recommend it through social networks and linking. This puts the weight of personal recommendation behind your site and we all know that word of mouth is the most effective form of advertising.


Let me say it one more time – I am not questioning whether SEO works. However, it is my belief there are better ways of spending your money.

I believe investing in your users brings a substantially better return. It increases conversion, encourages word of mouth recommendation and ultimately improves your ranking through links back to your site.

My recommendation to clients is that we build their websites to be accessible to search engines but tailored towards users not search engines.

The question is – am I wrong in that advice, and if so why? Enlighten me in the comments.