Dealing With That Key Exec Who Thinks All SEO Is Spam


You have put together a great SEO plan for 2015. You’re going to do the right things with your website architecture. You will take the content on site through a major upgrade. You have a great content marketing campaign in mind, one that will drive your SEO visibility through the roof.

The problem is, one of your company’s key execs (the “Objecting Exec”) simply believes that all SEO is spam, or that it’s some sort of voodoo done in the back room.

Unfortunately, to that exec, it’s not a core marketing function. This person believes that you don’t belong on the team, and this objection is going to destroy any chances you have of getting your company to do things the right way.

In my last column, I wrote about what to do when the CTO Hates Your SEO Project; in this one, I am going to concentrate on what to do when key people see your entire livelihood as a dirty black art.

Approach The Reputation Problem Head-On

Let’s be fair about this: SEO earned this reputation. In the early days of SEO, a large percentage of the people that were practicing used some form of questionable manipulation.

SEO work did not need to be connected to the rest of the marketing team at all. The SEO team might be a single person sitting in a dark room with no windows, where you would occasionally shove food through a slot in the door.

SEO in the Dark Room

In this world of isolation, they would work their magic. Bits would get twiddled, often in ways that did not visibly impact the appearance of the website, and traffic would rise.

In addition, they would go contact sites all over the web to get links to your site, usually from sites you did not want to be associated with. But it did not matter, because these sites were on dark corners of the web where no one ever went anyway. And, again, traffic would rise.

The web used to have many dark corners

Even as the industry matured, SEO would continue to do things to shoot its reputation in the foot.

When SEO pros first learned to create content that attracted links, they gave it the name “linkbait,” a term that reeks of manipulation. This mentality is slowly dying, but the damage lingers. In addition, maturing of some of the participants in the industry did nothing to prevent many others from continuing to practice SEO in a way that is dangerous and potentially harmful.

You need to move the Objecting Exec from thinking about SEO as bad and manipulative, and instead get them to start thinking about it as helpful and constructive. To do this, you will need to attack his misconceptions on two fronts:

1. What Do SEOs Really Do With Websites?

Many people still think that SEO is about keywords and meta tags. There are two problems with this:

  1. It trivializes SEO, when SEO in fact is a large undertaking.
  2. It reinforces the “dark room” perception, because these elements have no interaction with the rest of the marketing or web dev efforts, and they are not user visible.

You will need to get the Objecting Exec to understand that SEO is about site architecture, placing high quality content on site that shows what user needs you address, and user engagement.

The simplest way to explain it is this: websites are designed by humans for humans to consume. Software programs, even those written by the search engines, are nowhere near as smart in understanding these sites as humans. Not even close.

So the search engine crawlers won’t understand your website, or what search terms it might be good to rank you for, unless you invest a lot of time in helping them do it.

Add to that the fact that there are trillions of webpages in existence today, that they are developed by millions of different developers using thousands of different possible content management platforms (including completely custom ones in some cases), and you can already see the complexity of the task for the search engines.

Now, we have teams of humans designing websites for humans to consume, using software designed by other humans that tries to figure out how it might be used to create websites for humans. It’s a little bit like you having 60 seconds to figure out this mess:

Rats Nest of Wires

Once the Objecting Exec understands this, hopefully they will accept that one major role for an SEO professional is to help sort this out. It’s not about manipulation, but instead focuses on helping search engines figure out what your site is about and how to navigate it.

2. What About Those Spammy Link Building Practices?

This is definitely one of the areas that SEO “experts” abused for a decade and a half, and many still do. People swapped links, bought links, created new websites just to link to themselves or their clients, published crappy blog posts, and more.

Stories in the New York Times about Search’s Dirty Little Secrets have brought these into the public eye and did a lot to reinforce the perception that SEO, and link building, is all about spam.

In addition, Google has done many things to fight spammy link building practices. Your Objecting Exec may have heard about Google’s Penguin algorithm, for example, and they may be terrified of it (rightfully so). However, at the end of the day, Google still relies on links as one way to help them identify the best content. In fact, Google tested an algo without links and didn’t like it. So that means you need to get links to your site.

Modern age link building tactics don’t focus on direct link acquisition anymore. They focus on methods for building your reputation and visibility in order to cause people to want to cite your content or your site. (Some people also talk about “link attraction,” which is a similar concept.)

Of course, your PR and marketing team efforts focus on building your reputation and visibility, and that’s great. This should help you attract some links to your site, so why does an SEO person need to get involved? For the most part, the links the PR and marketing team obtain will build up the general domain authority of your site, as shown in this chart:

PR vs SEO Authority Bulding

The PR/marketing work tends to deliver all its authority in a very focused way to the home page of your site, and perhaps a small number of additional pages. This is great, but it’s not enough.

You need to put some thought into how to demonstrate the authority of other parts of your site. A well-planned content marketing campaign that highlights specific aspects of your business is a great way to do that. A highly trained SEO professional can help you do that.

Part of this may come in the form of simple suggestions on how to tweak your existing PR and marketing efforts. Part of it can come in the form of supplemental campaigns to those efforts to help build your reputation and visibility for more vertically oriented components of your business. Done properly, these will work hand in hand with the PR and marketing efforts, and all of these activities will be good for your reputation, visibility, and brand.

An experienced SEO will identify some of the key product areas of your site and then design content marketing campaigns around them. These will involve having legitimate subject matter experts (SMEs) create cutting edge content. In today’s world, the crappy content that some SEO people created in the past won’t work. Effective reputation and visibility building depends on creating world class content.

Gone are the dark corners of the web, as this approach to SEO requires operating in the full light of day.


This post is meant to help you get the Objecting Exec off the dime in terms of thinking that SEO is inherently spammy, and/or potentially harmful to your brand.

There is, of course, more selling to do here, such as showing them all the ways that SEO needs to be integrated into the marketing and dev team efforts to help achieve company goals. But, if they no longer think of you as a spammer or a practitioner of black magic, that’s a start.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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