The Great SEO MindSchmuck: Why businesses just don’t get SEO

SEO helpThe other day I was reading in the San Jose Mercury News about how Costco was finally going to optimize its site, It hadn’t focused on or cared about search engine optimization (SEO) at all until it finally realized that competitors like and were eating its lunch online. The company realized that it was leaving a lot of money on the table.

Each week I meet with a variety of business owners, corporate employees, entrepreneurs or managers. SEO is a common topic in these discussions. They’re often curious about how it works and are also frustrated by the whole concept at the same time. If you want a definition, SEO is the art and science of getting web pages or blog posts to rank in Google or the other search engines for keywords that you and your business care about (see also “What is SEO“).

Based on these discussions, the recent Costco article, and the lack of usage and knowledge of SEO in general, here is my conclusion about the state of SEO and business:

Most businesses have no clue about SEO!

There is so much confusion, misinformation and anxiety about this topic that it actually boggles my mind. Google’s in on it. SEO consultants are in on it (sometimes by just trying to teach too much). Website developers are often unwittingly doing it. Pseudo experts are in on it.

I would say that SEO “fluency” is extremely low for most businesses. There are those few that get it and dominate the results and then there are the masses who don’t have any idea and are, unfortunately, missing out on opportunities to get more targeted visitors to their sites.

Question: Why are people so confused about how to get their pages to rank in Google and the other search engines?

Here are some of the reasons. Please add others below in the comments:

  1. Misdirection and Subterfuge: Google and the other search engines purposely hide details about their ranking algorithms so people can’t game the system.
  2. SEO friendly vs. SEO: Web developers who may not really understand SEO, claim a site is “SEO friendly”, “SEO optimized” or “Includes SEO”. “SEO friendly”, “SEO optimized” or “Includes SEO” have very little meaning if there is no keyword strategy (e.g. what keywords is it optimized for???). Did you talk with your web developer about which products, services, brands or geographies you’re focused on? If not, it’s most likely not optimized for keyword phrases you care about.
  3. Smoke and Mirrors: Some companies that offer SEO services use presentations that include lots of smoke, mirrors, and paralysis-inducing levels of detail that leave potential clients so dazed they don’t know which way is up. But they know that they want the SEO pain to end. “Where do I sign to rank #1?!”, they say in frustration.
  4. Algorithm change hype cycle: Google’s constant algorithm changes (e.g. “Panda”, “Florida” etc…) make it all seem like a moving target for all but Search Gurus. It’s enough to make any business owner, manager or employee throw up his/her arms and just give up!
  5. “Kind of” knowing SEO:  A lot of people “kind of” know SEO. Which means they get that it’s about keywords, content and links. There’s a big gap between this basic knowledge and actually implementing something with impact.
  6. SEO Tools: SEO tools are required to measure progress. It’s hard for most regular businesspeople to make an educated buying decision about an SEO Toolset. So most just don’t even bother going there.
  7. Delayed Gratification Problem: SEO is not an overnight thing, so people don’t easily associate their actions with results. What’s worse, they may not even know that they’re ranking for certain keywords already! Because of the lack of feedback, they quickly give up and head over to Adwords instead – an expensive replacement, but one that can give instant satisfaction.
  8. Lack of Analytics Awareness: People don’t check their website analytics, don’t have analytics, or don’t understand it enough to know what’s working and what’s not.

Why you should care about SEO?

I get 40% of my traffic from search engines (organic, free traffic). That’s great because even if I take a social media vacation, I still have a decent amount of traffic regularly coming to my site, sharing my content, inquiring about help or a partnership, or buying products. That’s just this site, which is in the very competitive space of online marketing/social media.

If you’re a brick and mortar business, it’s even better. You can get regular phone calls, email inquiries or walk-ins directly as a result of better SEO. If you offer products and services that people love – but you just don’t seem to be found easily online – pay attention. One of my bigger sites (that sells products for the construction industry) gets about 90% of its traffic from SEO. After the initial set-up and optimization work, it’s now 100% “set and forget”. I love that.

It’s not rocket science but you will probably need some help…

Let me talk about a concept here that I explain to my clients. This is simplified but it’s one way you can think about SEO:

A beginning…

  • If you have a website, you’ve already published content online.
  • Phase 1 of SEO is merely optimizing that existing content in a format that Google recognizes and can use. Why waste all of those web pages you’ve worked so hard on by hiding them from Google????
  • Of course, you have to optimize for keywords that your customers care about and those usually fall out from your business strategy, the types of products you offer, and your location (if you’re a local business)
  • You can learn some of the basics at places like SEOMozSeach Engine Land or SEO Basics.
More detail…
  • Phase 2 of SEO is having a keyword strategy and actually creating new pages that focus on your target keyword phrases. You may also rethink some of your existing pages based on your keyword strategy.
  • What are target keyword phrases? These can include your most profitable products or services, geographies where you want to sell more of your products/services and sought after brands or product types.

For many businesses that serve a specific niche or geographic area, Phases 1 & 2 can give a nice boost.

In less competitive or niche markets, Phases 1 and 2 (often combined into one project) are enough to start getting you to rank on Page 1 for relevant phrases for your business. You can learn about some of the most important SEO elements on a WordPress website or blog here (SEO for WordPress Workshop). It’s not free but it’s extremely inexpensive for the valuable context that it provides.

Going a lot deeper…

  • Phase 3 of SEO gets into link-building, directories, local listings, social media, etc. This is a bigger effort, but if you have the first phases taken care of, you have a great foundation to start from.

Need an SEO Assessment?

One of the most important things is to understand where you’re at today. What keywords do you current rank for? Do people link to your site (helping your SEO)? Are you doing the right things for SEO on your site? And much more. Click here to see if you what you rank for in Google.

The Message?

Don’t be afraid of SEO.

There are simple things that you can do that can help most businesses to rank better in the search engines. Learn them, start simple and use SEO tools (ranking, inbound link analysis) and website analytics to measure incremental progress.

Don’t ignore it.

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Hi Danny,
updating your SEO strategies is something like fighting with spammers – it’s neverending story. But SEO traffic, as you wrote, is very valuable – for some of my niche sites it’s about 90% of traffic 🙂
BR, Chris


Hi Tom, of course it was to you, not to Danny. I’m just on firepolemarketing at the moment, and I made a huge mistake. I’m very sorry abot it.
BR, Chris


Hey Chris,

No problem at all. People confuse me and Danny all the time! 😉 I liked your blog world ideas post. I think that’s a great idea for getting inspiration. Thanks for the comments!


Great 🙂 And I see some changes in your sidebar 😉
BR, Chris


Chris, it’s VERY appropriate you mention, Danny, someone I feel very connected to, because I recently heard him say “don’t worry about SEO, do good business and it will take care of itself – look at Firepole Marketing.” or something to that effect.


Louise Myers Graphic Design

Great post Tom! I love your graphic too. I’ve been somewhat lucky with SEO and am continuing to ride that wave. Basic keyword research, timing, and social media have become my best friends!

Tom Treanor

Thanks Louise. From the great posts on your blog I can tell you pick this kind of thing pretty quickly. You always have great resources to share. I appreciate you stopping by!


SEO is, as the name suggests, optimization of your site/blog for higher search engine rating. Search engines like Google rate your sites according to the quality of the content in it. If your site provides good quality content, more users will be able to see your site when they search for related content. More users will make more ad-sense.

Ryan Hanley


Excellent article dude… Love the topic of SEO recently because I’ve been seeing it really start to work on my Insurance Agency Website because of the 100 Insurance Questions Answered in 100 Days video series… I get calls everyday.

Now I’m trying to take my SEO game even higher… Reading a book called Convert by Ben Hunt. Very good.


Ryan H.


Hi Tom! Many good points here. I work for a web design/internet marketing firm and we do SEO as well. I can see why it’s very easy to get confused and misguided about SEO with such an abundance of online articles on the topic. Add to that an enormous pool of bogus SEO experts and Google’s secrecy about its algorithms, and it’s not surprising why many business owners hesitate. Even though I don’t do SEO myself, I am still trying to understand this “beast,” and your SEO Bootcamp ebook has helped me with that!

Timo Kiander

Hi Tom!

This was a great post!

To make my SEO efforts easier, I’m using a tool called “ClickBump SEO” which shows me all the right places (in a checklist form) on my posts I need to optimize.

Saves me a lot of time.


Chris Nadeau

Nice post Danny…I mean Tom. 🙂 Sorry I had to.

Totally agree with all your points re: SEO and why businesses are so confused with SEO, which in turn leads to doing nothing

What baffles me even more, is how little businesses pay attention to crafting content that can educate and bring value to their audience. Even if they spent time creating content, that would tremendously enhance their SEO. But even more so, enhance their loyalty.

Eric T. Wagner

Hi Tom…

First, nicely done on the title. “The Great SEO MindSchmuck” What exactly is a mindschmuck anyway? 🙂

Oh, and SEO? See, you make it seem so simple in theory. But in reality, unless you can seriously rank in the top 3 organic spots for your keywords, you’re toast in my opinion. Hard to compete with the big boys on anything but really niche keywords and keyword phrases. Don’t you think?

Seriously, love your thoughts on this one Tom, ’cause I know you’re a smart guy… 🙂


Steve Baines

I think the biggest misconception about SEO is that all you need is a keyword rich website address. In fact just this morning someone was bragging about their web address thinking they were going to be #1 in the search engines immediately.

It is complicated, but it’s not scary. Like most things – do your due diligence and hire someone who knows more than you and work with them to achieve your goals.

Peter Sandeen

Hi Tom,

You’re one of the very, very few people who talk about SEO simply and whom I trust with SEO.

I think understanding what “keyword strategy” really means, gives a lot of insight into the whole process of SEO. When you understand it, you know your goal and the basic idea of what will get you there.


I guess for me, with having a creative business, trying to rank on page one of Google using niche keywords and phrases is much more doable than for others because it’s so narrow and focused. I don’t understand all about SEO, but I think I know enough to help me do okay. This article has definitely helped! I’m always learning about it, and thank goodness for WordPress plugins like All-in-One SEO pack. I also just fond Scribe the other day and was thinking about giving it a try to see if it will help my articles. We’ll see. At this… Read more »

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