How much is too much SEO?

With so much noise out there, its no wonder a breed of self-styled magicians (or are they snake oil peddlers?) have appeared that can promise to make your web site stand out among the masses. Their magic is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The question is, does SEO work and if so, how much is too much?

SEO has become de rigueur for anyone who does business online. You would be a fool not to employ best practice in site design and content creation for your website, leveraging all the tools available such as Google Analytics, Trends and AdWords to find out what people are actually searching for. But when does it go from a help in gaining audience and customers to a distraction from the job at hand?

The danger is that you take compelling content and undermine it by the rush to optimize the entire site. What's good for Google isn't necessarily good for me, the reader. Google might like keywords repeating, I would like a readable page. Hidden pages (with possibly hidden text) containing variations on the main search string may be bending the rules a little too far, but it does go on even by reputable companies, and many are on a head long rush to gain inbound links to their site.

A next generation of search engine may help to obviate these tactics. If the nascent Wolfram Alpha is an embryonic sign of things to come, we may not need to optimize sites at all for search engines. Simply write for your audience, in a simple honest way with specifics about what you do, and the engine will find it.

And some users don't use search engines at all to access their favorite sites. The evidence from a survey of 1,000 ecommerce users performed by Maxymiser, a firm that offers website measurement tools, suggests that most people go directly to their favorite websites (63%) rather than searching for new sites with a search engine.

With many of these abandoning a purchase half way through, firms would be better placed spending some of the marketing budget on conversion rates rather than climbing search engine rankings for new customers.

Web design guru Jakob Nielsen certainly thinks so. As he wrote on his website back in 2006: "I predict that liberation from search engines will be one of the biggest strategic issues for websites in the coming years. The question is: how can websites devote more of their budgets to keeping customers, rather than simply advertising for new visitors?"

The answers are tools already in the armory of marketers such as email newsletters, discussion groups, affiliate programs, newsfeeds and micro-blogging tools such as Twitter. Neilsen advocates reinventing the concept of stickiness: he argues that it is not about trying to keep users on your site for hours, it's about ensuring they come back.

With this in mind, any company solely focused on generating new leads through SEO will struggle with conversion and retention. Your site should not be optimized for search engine friendly keywords: instead it should be optimized to deliver the services and products that your customers want time and again. Popular companies have popular sites and readers want interesting and frequently updated content. It really can be that simple.

This article first appeared at where you will also find my tips for SEO.


Stewart Baines
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.