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SEO vs. PPC: Seth is Completely Wrong!

July 5th, 2004

Update: I later interviewed Seth Godin. Many of our differences in opinion were semantic ones.

What did Seth Say?

"Lucking into (and it is luck) the top slot of a great word on Google is not a business plan. It's superstition. It's blind faith."

He basically said that pay per click is the only way to do search engine marketing.

Who is Seth Godin?

Seth writes marketing books. Seth is probably one of my 3 favorite book authors & bloggers.

I went to a speech of his when he came to Rhode Island and I even drove to his office in New York to hang out for a day. Needless to say I am a huge fan of Seth and I will likely read every book he writes.

Seth is an internet marketing guru who started a cult following with his book titled Permission Marketing. I am part of that cult; however, his recent anti SEO post on his blog is completely wrong.

Good Ideas are Cheap SEO:

Many people approach SEO from a brute force or complete mathematical angle. This is nowhere near as effective of a SEO technique as marketing good ideas which integrate marketing into the product.

With years of experience any good SEO would be able to perform some pattern recognition to see what ideas spread easily just through their studying thousands or millions of search results.

If you market good ideas (versus just creating content), you can quickly find yourself spreading virally. Solving problems, creating new concepts and maybe even a few good buzz words can help you begin Unleashing the Ideavirus.

What is a Link? Being Remarkable:

The link is the single most powerful unit of any effective SEO campaign. How you go about getting it is up to you.

A link is a citation: good, bad, or ugly. In the social structure of the web links become a currency worth as much as diamonds or gold. Any time you are stuck constantly paying for all of your marketing then you are not operating as efficiently as you could be. The whole idea here is to "be remarkable," which was the idea behind Seth's Purple Cow.

Seth's Recent Opinion of SEO

Seth recently got asked about hiring an SEO.

"I just got a note from someone asking me for a recommendation, and when I said I didn't think that most SEO was worth the money, he asked me why. So here goes:

1. Because it's a black art, it's really hard to tell who's good and who's not. Andrew Goodman is good, there are people who are less reputable... no matter what, it's hard to guarantee you'll get your money's worth."

If a market has guaranteed profits in it then it is not really marketing. Any type of marketing is based upon assumptions, prior knowledge, and testing.

A well seasoned SEO who has seen the face of SEO change over the years will likely create a site so that it can rank well for an extended period of time without requiring extreme amounts of continuous labor.

What type of marketing guarantees you'll get your money's worth up front?

2. my real problem, though, starts with an analogy. Imagine your retail store was on a road that no one ever drove down unless they found it on a map. And then imagine that they redid the maps every week and the mapmakers refused to tell you exactly how they went about deciding which roads to draw and in which hierarchy to place them.

You can not create a site and market it on an island. A portion of any web based marketing system will be dynamic. Your pay per click ad position is not sold indefinitely at a locked in rate. Others can outbid you.

In addition if you are only known by the little ads you place then eventually competitors can shoot holes in your ideas. For example, if my ad says "double your traffic" the next guy can slightly outbid me and use "triple your traffic." Static ads in an of themselves are a commodity. They are something you need to keep working at and testing. Pay per click ads require much ongoing effort just like natural listing SEO does.

With link building you are exponentially building value over time by building more and more roads into your site every day. Pay per click may provide a highway, but it is not one you own, it is only one you are renting.

The trick to doing SEO correctly is to rely on many small roads. They are less likely to dry up than that one pay per click highway.

Could you imagine finding investors for that sort of store? Could you imagine being confident enough in your ability to grow that business that you'd want to work there?

Because you do not understand how search engines organize information it does not mean that other people do not understand it. Somebody needs to rank at the top, it might as well be me. Since there is much greater demand than supply I certain can see people investing into it.

Seth of all people knows that you don't make profits by only betting on the sure bet. Seth's book Survival is Not Enough was all about taking chances.

Lucking into (and it is luck) the top slot of a great word on Google is not a business plan. It's superstition. It's blind faith.

Is the fact that you find Seth's blog at #1 in Google when you search for Seth pure luck?

One could also say the same for Seth's book sales. People could say the packaging is a novelty and his concepts do not work in a real world environment. People that do not understand Seth can claim his success is superstition and blind faith. That does not make those people correct though.

If you want to grow your business, you need a reliable and scalable and dependable way to spend time and money and have it turn into traffic and revenue. In the real world, companies do that with real estate and with advertising. Online, it's about adwords and site design.

Growing organic ideas and letting them spread throughout a social network is what really seems to work on the web. If you look closely you will see that this is how Seth markets his own ideas. As long as you are paying for every advertisement then you are missing out on the Free Prize Inside.

I also believe this is somewhat hypocritical. Seth ranks #1 for Seth. I do not think he is running any AdWords ads right now. When I was at his office I recall him saying that AdWords was a hard system and Google kept shutting down his ads on him. Obviously Seth understands that for his business links are far more important than pay per click ads are.

If you can figure out how to BUY (not luck into) keyword searches that bring you X number of visitors, and then you can figure out how to design your site so that Y% of those visits turn into customers, you win. And nobody can stop you from growing all you care to grow.

Wal Mart can. Let one or two big competitors step into your market and drive the price up. Soon their competitors will follow suit because they feel they need to stay competitive. The prices will go so high that it locks you out of the results. Wal Mart does not mind losing a small amount of money if it puts a potential competitor out of business.

Want an example of sloppy advertising? Search Google for "Purple Cow." You will find an Ebay affiliate trying to sell cows at Ebay. The regular search results are extremely relevant compared to that.

Take a look at The South Beach Diet(TM) > Online. They spend more than a million dollars a year on online promotion (keywords, etc.). They spend a bunch more on optimizing the site. The result? One of the bestselling diet books ever written (4 million copies sold) plus more than 100,000 subscribers. Marketing that pays for itself.

No magic, no superstition. Just planning and measurement and hard work.

I bet in a few years that diet will be a faded fad. At that point they will need to start off with another fad diet. Why not allow your business to grow exponentially over time? Why start over every few years?

SEOs are not a shortcut to success, at least not for 99% of the companies out there. You won't win by fooling Google into listing you first for a common search term. You will win once you figure out the simple mechanics of turning strangers into friends and friends into customers.

You (usually) can't throw SEO on a pile of dog crap and turn it into gold. Not all SEO consists of trickery either. Most websites have fundamental structuring problems which are preventing top rankings.

As long as people who know little about SEO continue to mislead people about it then the SEO market will remain cloudy.

Many people doing SEO are crooks, but if you find the right person you can achieve solid returns at an exceptionally low cost.

Free Purple Cow Book

I still think Seth is a great author. I have a couple of his Purple Cow book left. If you want one be one of the first three people to email me with "Purple Cow." as the subject line. Please provide your address so I can get your book out to you.

<update> I gave away all the Purple Cow books. Here is Seth's original post and a link to his more recent post saying that his post was intentionally overboard.</update>

- by Aaron Wall, owner of Search Marketing Info

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