Why I will not “do SEO” for you

I published this in 2014, people liked it. So I decided to revisit the topic this year.

This is one of those posts that has been in my drafts folder for some time and while it probably should to stay there, I am publishing it anyway!

I will not “do SEO” for you

Not now, not in the future, never again really.

Not if you ask me nicely, say please and take me out to lunch.

Not if you wine me, dine me and <redacted> me.

Not if you say “yes” to the ridiculous ballpark estimate I provide you that is for 10x more than you should pay.

I will not “do SEO” for you… because I can’t do SEO for you anymore

Because your vision of SEO is dead.

I can’t “do that meta tag thing” and get you to the top.

I can’t add keywords to your existing website content and reasonably expect them to rank.

I can’t take it anymore when you say “I just want to rank #1 for this keyword, it can’t be that hard!”

I can’t give you an easy solution, because there is no easy solution.

I can’t do SEO for you, without you.

I can’t get you to commit to marketing your business, and that is why I can’t do SEO for you.

SEO in 2017 is simply marketing your business

Back in 2014, Google search rewarded authorities, entities and experts. It’s pretty much still the same in 2017.

Who is more likely to become an authority in your industry? The consultant or you; the person who knows your business the best?

You are the key to your own SEO success, because you are already the expert.

Are you prepared to give what it takes to become an authority?

Are you going to write down your thoughts, experiences and solutions?

Are you going to make marketing a priority this year?

It’s not that hard

Seriously, here is the blueprint for how I went from 0 to 10,000 organic search visitors a month on Jeffalytics:

  • First order of business is to throw your website in the trash if it’s not using WordPress as a CMS.
  • Now build a WordPress site with the basics: a modern and fast HTML 5 ready theme, the Yoast SEO plugin, Google Analytics and a Social Media auto-poster.
  • Then start writing for 30 minutes each morning while you are drinking your coffee. At the end of the week, piece together your thoughts into a comprehensive post of 800 to 1,200 words and set it to publish on Monday or Tuesday morning.
  • When your post publishes, share it with individuals and groups of people who will find it directly relevant to their experience.

That’s all there is to it: If you write a 1,000 word article about a topic related to your business once a week for a year, you will receive an extraordinary number of visitors from organic search.

All the above still stand true in 2017. But here are a few more areas where you should take note.

  • Make your website is both fast loading and mobile friendly. All of the rankings in the world won’t save you from the ire of a slow website experience.
  • Pay attention to page speed. Use tools like tinypng to reduce your image sizes, and remove unnecessary scripts. Moz has a guide on page speed that is very helpful if you are unsure where to start.
  • Search through your website analytics to find low value pages. Add content upgrades to the equation. Start by finding content with high volume/low value combination (look into your Google Analytics for clues) and add more value to increase conversion. You can find more detailed information in our video guide to lead magnets and content upgrades.

Here is how the above blueprint has helped my organic search traffic grow in just two short years:

JeffalyticsTraffic Organic
This version of SEO is what has worked for my small business.

When to hire an SEO agency

If you follow the above strategy, you don’t need an SEO agency, right?

Not exactly. There are plenty of ways that an SEO agency could make my efforts grow even stronger.

An SEO agency could help me research topics that are trending with searchers.

An SEO agency could point out holes in my strategy and propose a solution to fix them.

An SEO agency could propose strategies to optimize my site and draw more conversions.

An SEO agency could bring more revenue and profit for my business.

This description of an SEO agency reminds me of the tagline for BASF:

We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.

Do SEO for yourself, then bring in help

The first step in SEO success is a commitment to marketing your business. That commitment should come from the inside.

Nail down the process and then you can start thinking about bringing in help to provide services that compliment your current efforts.

This is exactly how every business owner should invest in growing their business.

Over time, you can build out a marketing organization to take these tasks off of your plate. That’s where consultants and employees come in..

Just remember that SEO isn’t a miracle cure or a hail-Mary pass. It’s marketing your business.

I still won’t take on your SEO project

Because I’m not an agency. I would be happy to refer you to some agencies that I deeply respect, but only if you’ve taken it upon yourself to do follow the steps outlined above. Until then you are the only one who can help your SEO efforts.

About the Author

Jeff Sauer is an independent Digital Marketing Consultant, Speaker and Teacher based out of a suitcase somewhere in the world. Formerly of Minneapolis, MN and San Francisco, CA.

  • Stephen Slater

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’ve explained personalization of search results so many times that I am blue in the face. Once a week I have a client reach out and say, “I searched for _________ and I show up #____, how do you fix that?”

    • Now you can just send them to this post! They can’t get mad at you if you didn’t write it, right?

      • Stephen Slater

        That sounds pretty logical.

  • Good ole fashioned SEO still works for me :). I’ll take your clients.

    • Because of this comment, I think you might have taken yourself off the recommended list ;).

      • LOL! Just saying. We’ve conducted significant testing here where we optimize a page with important keywords and leave another page written not-keyword focused. Each time, the optimized page performs much better. In addition, we’ve seen rankings and performance improve with keyword optimization. In fact, I’m looking at an amazing hockey stick report showing significant improvements just from slight keyword and I/A optimization.

        • You’re missing the point of the post though. If the client/company can’t commit to creating content in the first place, they can never expect to rank in search. You can’t optimize thin air.

          The act of optimization is predicated on having a baseline to compare. This is why I say that even my site would be much better if I had an SEO looking over things. In fact, I bet a thorough SEO audit/implementation of my current site could give me 20,000 visits a month pretty easily (up from 10k).

          My point is that SEO alone could not take me from 0 to 10k visits. It takes a commitment from the business to get to the point where we have a baseline.

          • Agree with that my friend!

          • Sheena Schleicher

            I’ll be using this nugget: “If the client/company can’t commit to creating content in the first place, they can never expect to rank in search. You can’t optimize thin air.”

  • Simo Ahava

    Jeff, you killed it with this one. This is my favorite blog post of the year, by far! And to think you actually second-guessed whether or not you should publish it!

  • I’d also argue that WordPress isn’t always the answer. At scale, it can be a pain in the arse. But then, I do a lot of technical work on enterprise class e-commerce sites.

    • This is a great point and while it would have been responsible for me to mention this, I didn’t want it to kill the mojo of the rant.

      The reality is that this post is aimed at an SMB owner who asks you to “do SEO” for you. I would say that larger web enterprises are more sophisticated than that and probably would not broach the subject in that manner. This is also why agencies love to get contracts with bigger companies.

      WordPress is not the answer for all businesses, but it’s the only place I would start if I were an SMB.

      • I’ve dealt with businesses on the M side of SMB with significant online product catalogs who want it all to be meta-keywords, while I’m trying to convince them to fix their epic crawl traumas. Or you get the new marketing manager assigned to the enterprise site who has no interactive experience at all. Fun!

        • Jon

          It’s just a case of reminding them that they hired your for your expertise, not the other way around.

  • Sheena Schleicher

    Love this. I few ideas that I think support this, and that I frequently share with my team, are “SEO is not a verb” and “SEO is the culmination of all other things done right.” Your blueprint is really another way of saying provide a great user experience and create great content that provides true value. Brilliantly simple!

    • I agree with these points and I like how you simplify it with your team as well! I also agree that we should all be seeking to provide true value. That has been the most effective marketing since the days of printing recipes on packaged goods.

      The statement about “provide a great user experience” has always bothered me, though, because it’s something that’s almost impossible to define. I think user experience is more of a personal preference than something that can be quantified. As such, it’s easy to hide behind that as a reason for or against something being effective. It’s definitely important to provide a good experience, but much harder to define what makes up that experience. I’m probably in the minority here though.

      • Sheena Schleicher

        Good point. I agree… everyone’s experience is unique & personal so how do we define a ‘great’ experience? I think a lot of it comes down to following those good old rules of common sense and really, really knowing your audience (something I think so many ‘SEOs’ forget to consider). Working in a very design-centric environment, we constantly encounter ideas that try to reinvent the wheel and many times they just don’t work. Thank goodness for common sense and analytics. 😉

        • You hit it on the head. Common sense is usually the best experience for the user. Analytics can then be used to prove whether this was true. Maybe the word “user centric” is most appropriate because it simply implies that we are removing our own biases from the equation and focusing on what the user wants to see? Either way, it’s amazing how far things can go if you simply try to see things through others eyes.

          A fun experiment might be as follows: say the biggest player in your industry were to “tweet” about your site and send thousands of visitors. If you were one of those visitors would you want to stay on that site or would you be confused about why it was tweeted?

          This literally just happened to me, as the Google Analytics Twitter account just told people to visit Jeffalytics (thanks guys!) and I clicked on the link to see what I needed to “fix” on the site for confused users visiting through that tweet. Turns out I was happy with what how the site would welcome a new visitor and think they would have a hard time being confused by the homepage. If only I had a better method for capturing email addresses…

  • Lance

    Ugh, I hear the “do SEO” phrase so much these days especially from those who used to work in SEO years past and got out. They come to me with a spectacular, air tight business idea that hinges on my being able to “do SEO” for them. They usually don’t like my answer because it involves work on their part.

    • Jon

      Right, and also I think quite a few see SEO as something you can just ‘buy’ and set and forget. They don’t seem to like it when you say that it’s always an ongoing thing, and ironically they don’t seem to understand that Google rankings aren’t exactly static!

  • This is awesome.

  • AaronWeiche

    Preach the truth son. Nice post.

    • Kissing my butt won’t get Spydertrap on that list Aaron ;).

      • AaronWeiche

        Like anyone could ever even know that. -Napoleon Dynamite

  • Candace Granstaff

    Thank You!!! I try to stress this to businesses, but they just don’t seem to get it. Would love to see your referral list of agencies.

  • If the client can’t commit to marketing, then they can’t commit to doing the things on their end of the client / agency relationship that leads to success. Great post Jeff.

  • Andrea Bosoni

    Hi Jeff, I agree with you. Today, agencies can’t provide successful SEO services anymore. Agencies should do CONSULTING instead, helping business owner to unleash their hidden power.

    • Partially agree @andreabosoni:disqus, I think not every agency fail to provide results. Before hiring any SEO agencies I think we need to ask a question to ourself that why they don’t they do SEO for themselves, if they do does their success in their In-house projects.

  • rwspangler (LinkedIn)

    Thank you Jeff! I’m in a lean stealth mode right now and was concerned about SEO…. not any more.

  • These are my typical clients https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9pa_8-WdlU

  • Curtis Morte

    “You can’t optimize thin air.” The online truth.

  • Thanks Jeff you make some really good points.

    Traditional SEO still is very much alive in my opinion. Yes, for larger brands in competitive industries you must develop a holistic marketing strategy that includes content, inbound, social, etc if you want to compete.

    If you are in a less competitive industry and have an under-optimized sites simply doing “the basics” and grabbing a few links from industry directories and social will in some cases bring that site right to the top of the SERPs, especially if you incorporate some Maps magic.

    But really I do agree with you. SEO is a team effort. The best of the best SEO’s are:

    -great writers
    -know HTML and at least one language
    -are decent designers
    -know the OSI layer and proficient in TCP, DNS, etc
    -Linux sysadmins
    -can actively manage / manipulate social channels
    -great communicators / good with link outreach etc

    In my experience, people with well-rounded skill sets such as those are few and far between. That is why I beleive the best “SEO agencies” are those with the most well rounded teams. An SEO agency with a team of link builders will be outdone by a team with great content writers, community managers, link builders, etc all day long.

    Thanks again for posting Jeff!

  • Jeff, that makes total sense and I really do share that vision. The issue is 95% of the clients won’t get it or will refuse to accept this vision because it makes things more complicated. They’ll simply jump on board with the next liar that will promise them incredible results with old school SEO.

    Anyway I’ve been living by this for the past 2 years now and although we sign less clients on, I also reduced the stress level and by quite a bit while doing great interesting stuff that works long term for our clients.

    Keep it up 🙂


    • What I have found is that a lot of effort goes into “onboarding” a new client, so this is just a filter to help select better clients. If they don’t understand what needs to be done or can’t commit to helping, they won’t be a long term client anyway. Following this rule may get you fewer, more profitable clients. Those are the clients we want!

      You’re wise to sign less clients if they are the wrong clients!

  • good job. thank you for the tips.
    marketing king!

  • Word. No, let me rephrase that Jeff .. WORD! I’ve got a similar post – sub SEO with Business Communication – sitting in draft mode that will someday see the light of the ‘publish’ button; I’ll be linking to this for sure. I too don’t want to waste any time with tire kickers, looky loos (Cristal tastes; PBR income).

    I too have suggested the DIY approach b/c I want them to learn what’s really involved, so that they’re better educated when they are ready to take it to the next level. Sometimes it works and they see what you do, what I do as an important investment (not expense). Other times, I hit one of two backfires: 1) they either settle on their own shoddy work, thinking it dandy; or 2) b/c they hired an amateur and got less than professional results, they’re already frustrated, and then wonder why I can’t fix their hot mess for pennies. IDK.

    There is something askew in some SMB mindsets; small budgets lead to ‘small’ ideas, narrow thinking and almost no strategy; and very little respect for expertise. They want to mismanage their business their way, want the ‘hired help’ to ‘just do what we asked’ and work miracles – w/out them investing in their businesses. That’s my new deal breaker; plan the work, work the plan. Show me you’ll invest both money and time in your business, then we’ll talk. FWIW.

    • Spot on analysis of the problems with small business marketing. Think small and stay small. One of my biggest pet peeves has always been potential clients requesting a discount because they were burned by someone else. That’s not how it works.

      All businesses were small at one point, the ones who hustled to become recognizable are those we recognize today. Back in the day it was doing demonstrations at county fairs, door to door sales and more. It’s pretty much the same thing today; all that’s changed is the medium.

  • David Kraus

    The problem is that everyone wants the magic pill for SEO but they don’t want to put in the work or time. The shortcuts are gone. Work on putting consistent quality content out and market it and your SEO will grow over time.

  • David Kraus

    Everyone is looking for the magic pill. They don’t want to do anything but magically show up in the searches. There are no more shortcuts. You have to put out consistent quality content and market it. Your SEO will come over time.

  • Great post! Towards the end of my freelance days I started talking people off of an ambitious SEO/Social media strategy. Most small business owners are super amped when you’re talking to them about growing traffic but almost every time I built the tools for them to implement the strategy it fell through a few weeks later. If they’re committed to hiring someone to manage that for them it can work but I’ve just seen it fail too many times when you ask the busy owner to try and stick with it.

    Ryan, http://www.radiumcrm.com

  • The SEO thing we’re all facing with un-educated clients nowadays.
    Inspire’s me to write a book named 50 shades of SEO 🙂

  • Ha! Love it.

  • Aaron Hawkins

    RESPECT! As an SEO manager for a UK based agency, I completely agree with this and spend my days trying to show clients “the light” with little luck more often than not so well very said, let’s hope business owners continue to wise up in the months and years ahead..

    • Jon

      I’m UK-based also Aaron! I think one difficulty is that you tell them one thing, then they go and find some blog post on SEO from 2007 and start to question your advice and methods. Have you had that happen to you?

  • Jason Chesters

    Love the post!! It made it into my top 10 posts published this month 🙂 http://bit.ly/1gyf69z

    Well done!!

  • http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg

    But, why won’t you do SEO. Aren’t you the expert?

  • Akash Agarwal

    Great post. It’s a great idea. Thanks a lot for sharing.It’s a nice article that help me in future.

  • Spook SEO

    Hi Jeff!

    This is such a worth reading and sharing post. I must say that you are indeed right that the very first step to be successful in SEO is to really commit to our business. We should focus and give time and importance to our business. Thank you very much for sharing this.

  • I just found this post via a Google search of all things and I’m just in love with it. You have articulated my thoughts perfectly. I help creative entrepreneurs create content Google loves but I’m no longer prepared to work with clients that aren’t prepared to put in the effort. I’m also working with a fantastic business coach and we are really nailing who exactly my ideal client really is and this post has helped to articulate who that person is so much clearer.

    • That’s great news – I think that the more quickly an independent can decide on targeting/accepting only the best potential customers, the more sustainably their business will take off.

  • Thank you very much for publishing this kind of article this information is really helpful for us and You have covered some really good points in your post. Most people tend to overlook the importance of creating a strong brand presence. And it is the easiest thing to do, because you already have maximum authority, since you are
    promoting your own brand.

    You are absolutely right when you say that SEO and Branding are not mutually exclusive! They work hand in hand! I have observed that focusing on branding during SEO campaigns helps is garnering loyalists which in
    turn helps you get more promotion and recognition – A total win-win situation!
    Keep up the great work! Looking forward to seeing more of your work!
    seo services in Hyderabad Thanks

  • Love it! Brilliant.

    Enough of the quick fixes and empty promises.

    As a digital marketing agency, whenever I ask a new client to spend 1 hour to write up their customer profiles before we can get started with them (mostly writing ‘SEO’ blogs and emails), they either refuse, or take forever.

    They want a quick fix. And they think that hiring an SEO company is the quick fix.

    They don’t want advice, nor are willing to take it.

    I’ve ‘fired’ so many clients this past year because of their attitude to growing their business. Throw it over the wall, let someone else do it, and then blame then when the sales haven’t shifted.

    Thanks again for this article. I’m sharing it with my customers!

  • Glad that you decided to publish this piece Jeff. These tips helps a lot. I was wondering, does page loading speed greatly affected by the hosting provider? if so, do you personally recommend any hosting provider? 🙂 would love to know. Thanks a lot!

    • I think that it does make a difference. My favorite is Pagely, hands down. It’s expensive, but not much in the scheme of things.

      • Thanks Jeff for the recommendation 🙂 Very much appreciated. Would definitely check that out.