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The SEO Delusion

In marketing, there’s a tendency for us to want more, more, more. More visitors on our website. More media placements. More leads.


But at Scribewise we believe that, for most companies, “more” is a fool’s errand. We’re talking about the obsession with website traffic. Specifically, the notion that you need more, more, more. Simply increasing your website traffic is the wrong goal. Because the idea that you can get 100,000 people to your website and that they all have a legitimate chance of becoming a customer is just wrong.
And risky.
And expensive.

Some businesses may lean on website traffic a little more than others. Every instance is different, but it’s almost certainly not as important as you’ve been led to believe. It’s up to you to discern the right level of participation to take on in the SEO game.

Of course, there are exceptions...

And yet, marketers worship the all-powerful God of Website Traffic. We believe that if it goes up, we’re doing a good job.
It’s time to lift up our heads and stop.
It’s time to realize that our websites should not be used as instruments for building a huge audience, but rather a tool to nurture prospects into customers.
Marketing’s job is not to merely attract people to your website.
It’s to build a trust-based relationship with the prospect.

Focus on feeding them content that helps them live their lives or do their jobs. Show them—again and again and again—that you are putting their needs in front of your own. This should be the primary thrust of your marketing efforts—whether through the creation and distribution of thought leadership content, building thriving social media communities, or advertising that welcomes and embraces the customer.

SEO and SEM can be a part of this effort, but the focus should be on building a brand dialogue that celebrates the customer, not simply driving people to a website they may or may not want to visit.

Yes, technical SEO still matters.

Getting technical SEO right is important. You don’t want Google to give you an algorithmic smackdown if it can’t properly crawl your website and serve up results. It’s important to pay attention to alt text, meta descriptions, mobile experience, title tags and header styles, and avoid intentionally duplicating content or not setting up redirects correctly. In other words, your website still needs a strong foundation.

Marketing’s job: Grow the business, not website traffic

Tweaking SEO shouldn’t be how you spend your days. But that’s exactly how way too many marketers treat it.

Over the past decade, Almighty Google has made it increasingly hard to game the system simply by tweaking and improving the ways it identifies the “right” content. Its algorithm helps machines understand the words in a sentence including all their nuances. In reality, Google has zero interest in being a referee in the SEO game—instead, they want to create a great experience by answering queries.

Going down the web traffic rabbit hole is understandable. It’s a fascinating, ever-changing puzzle that can challenge you every day.

There’s an insidery-ness to battling the SEO wars—lots of smart people comparing notes, trying to win the game, like some business world Dungeons & Dragons.

Devoting your career to trying to outsmart Google might be a fun intellectual exercise, but it’s not what most businesses need.

Say it again: More traffic does not equal more business.

A bucket with a hole in it

When the internet was young, none of us really understood how it could work. We tried to fit our historical notions of business and commerce to this new amorphous thing. While merchants wanted “foot traffic,” there was no desirable location on Main Street. But SEO pros promised foot traffic no matter where you were.

And once they were at your website, they would buy, right?

Driving traffic to your website is like filling a bucket with a hole in it.

Many marketers realize that the hole exists, but believe that the solution is to just keep filling the bucket with water. Of course, water can get expensive (it’s not a perfect analogy—or maybe it is).
Ehh. Not always.

A patch for your less-than-perfect bucket

Another group of marketers realized that fixing the hole in the bucket would be smarter. That means paying attention to the website UX to appropriately shepherd a greater percentage of folks to the purchase point. Yes, this is smarter, but still expensive. And not completely waterproof.
Where does that leave us?

We say it's time to throw away the bucket.

The promise of the internet is a lie.
The juice is not worth the squeeze.

Ten years and two months after Google was founded, another exciting new internet-based company got its start: Groupon. Companies—usually small retail businesses—would advertise significant discounts on the Groupon platform, and bargain-seekers would learn about the business through Groupon or LivingSocial or BuyWithMe or whatever and then patronize their stores. Poof: Instant customer.

It was, and is, the real-world manifestation of SEO.

Today, when you talk to any restaurant or small business owner and try to sell them a daily deal strategy, odds are good they’ll chase you out of the store.

Because they’ve been burned.

Too often, daily deal programs deliver people who buy one time to get 50% off. All the merchant does is lose their margin.

It doesn’t attract the right customers.

It attracts takers.

Bad math:
The anti-equation of digital marketing

When you focus your marketing program around luring people to your website with keywords the entire internet is searching for, you are attracting takers—people who come to your website for one little nugget of knowledge or some clickbait headline, take what they want, and then leave.

Do they ever become customers?

Don’t hold your breath.

The anti-equation that defines this is:

Traffic ≠ Conversions ≠ Sales

If you build it, it’s possible they will come. But who cares? You’re still just sitting out in the middle of a cornfield with no paying customers.

We once had a client in a very complex B2B tech niche and one of our early assignments was to draft a 600 word blog post. The client loved the draft, then ran it through a well-known SEO tool, which recommended that the keyword phrase “compliance risk management” be used nine times in the copy. Nine times!

Trust me, one or two times was sufficient. Nine times looked ridiculous, and read horribly.

A quick example
of not thinking

Just because an algorithm suggests something doesn’t mean
it’s right.

We, as marketers, need to keep our brains turned on and realize when we’re getting bad advice. And way too often, we get intellectually lazy and the cost is alienating—and then losing—the customer.

Website traffic FOMO is for suckers

The correct response to the statement “if we lessen our focus on SEO no one will come to our website” is “so what?”

It’s time to take a step back and let go of traffic FOMO—because this is truly fear, and operating your marketing function out of pure fear is not a smart approach. Traffic FOMO parallels the social media-driven FOMO that is creating clinical anxiety in individual people as we obsess and lose sleep over what we don’t have.

Let go of the “we need more traffic” anxiety.

What most businesses need

Whether you’re a local restaurant or a mid-sized law firm or a fast-growth B2B SaaS company, you don’t need more website traffic; what you need is to build trust with customers and potential customers.


What most customers want

Today, your prospective customer is in charge of the Buyer’s Journey.

They decide when they want to buy, how they want to buy and what criteria is most important to them in making that decision.

They have dozens and dozens of choices.

They decide whether or not they want to do business with you, and whether they can trust you to deliver what they’re looking for.

Facing the wrong way

Focusing on your website traffic is an inward-facing exercise. You’re trying to be better than the competition, or better than you were yesterday. It too often ignores the desires of the audience, who could not care less about your website traffic; they just want a good experience. So let’s focus on the content experience when they do get to your website.

"But SEO is soooooo sexy!"

We get the appeal of building your marketing program around SEO or hiring an SEO agency. SEOs talk a great game. They throw just enough jargon into the conversation to make it sound cool, and they drop the names of “famous SEOs” to appeal to your inner geek. They promise—and sometimes even deliver—website traffic that goes up and to the right.

SEO = Guesswork

The idea that an SEO agency with five or 10 or 50 employees is going to keep you one step ahead of the thousands of engineers at Google working on the search algorithm day and night is preposterous.

Like Kremlinologists over-interpreting every utterance, SEO experts live to convince you that they know exactly what is going on inside the Googleplex. However, even Backlinko’s catalog of 200 Google ranking factors is a guess; Google has never confirmed them, and this “definitive list” is merely a rundown of educated guesses.

The end of Marketing Malpractice

Let’s stop focusing solely on “getting on the first page of Google.” It strikes us as marketing malpractice to only focus on website traffic, like a doctor willing to save a limb at the expense of the rest of the patient. The first mover advantage in content is largely gone. The first movers have moved.

Your parents were right: You don’t need to be Most Popular; you need to have some loyal friends.

Better relationships lead to more business. So if we don’t obsess over SEO, what do we do?

It’s vital to remember that there are no one-size-fits-all recommendations when it comes to marketing; you have to decide what is best for your business.

You have to take a step back and really contemplate what will help the business achieve its business goals. This is not a time for hot-take certainty. It’s a time to ask the big questions about what your company is trying to achieve and the types of customers you want to attract.

Some questions to ponder:

  • Where do we want to take this business?
  • Who are our best customers, and how do we replicate them?
  • Where do those customers congregate?
  • Why do they buy?
  • Why do they not buy?
  • What are they looking for?

Validation, not volume.

The majority of companies need to create a website experience that validates their expertise, that helps the buyer feel better about the decision they’re about to make. Yes, of course, they have to find you first, but what happens after they do? Your website, and almost all of your marketing activities, should be built around the concept of validating your expertise.

Remove the focus on top of the funnel traffic, and start to pay more attention to the numbers at the bottom of the funnel:


At Scribewise, storytelling is our superpower.

Our mission is to humanize complex business conversations to create trust-based relationships with your future customers. We help midsized B2B firms accelerate growth through content marketing,thought leadership and demand generation.

We believe that your story is your strategy. Our experienced team of marketers, strategists, writers and designers helps our clients uncover their story and then tell that story to the right audience at the right time in the right way.

Learn more at