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Don’t let SEO distract you from Business

There is always to much to write about SEO and not enough time. Sometimes I just want to highlight something to save the upcoming SEO people some time and effort, and this time it’s about SEO as a Distraction. It seems to be a common problem.

Don’t let SEO distract you from business.

Publi$hing on the web is business, and business has objective$. If you get caught up in SEO for rankings and search engine referral traffic, and lose sight of those busine$$ goals, you aren’t winning the SEO game. Really. And if those dollar signs bother you that’s ok, too, because it isn’t always about money. BUT, it is never about SEO either unless you are selling SEO services or SEO books or SEO advice.

SEO is about business, not SEO.

I have a story to tell you. A few years ago writing articles was viewed an important aspect of ranking for sites that were too thin and facing steep semantic competition in Google. Truth is, according to me, articles were not an optimal solution to the problem. But, as with most SEO topics on the web, since adding articles appeared to work, adding articles became a solution to an “SEO” problem (Actually, a keyword-focused content strategy was needed, but that was beyond the knowledge of many of the SEOs of the time. When they added articles, they got a large portion of the benefit of strategic semantic content. That was good enough).

Anyway people wanted articles so article networks grew and copywriters expanded into SEO and article submission sites mixed back links with articles and the whole article-based SEO thing gained momentum. Clearly, article writing represented promise as a business of it’s own. And that’s where the fun began for me.

Consider me for the moment as an SEO copywriter. I am one of those people who insist that my job as an seo copywriter cannot be outsourced oversees. The reason is semantics – no outsourced worker can know the local culture and “semantic” like I do, since I live here, immersed in it. Because I live here, where the cost of living is high, as a copywriter I am relatively expensive. Any oversees worker trying to semantically optimize for New Yorkers cannot succeed. They simply cannot target the New York web consumer as well as the local competition, because they are not here, in New York (or Seattle, etc). They don’t know a bagel from a bialy. But then again…. maybe there is a way around the location problem?

Sure there is. ESL at that time was growing fast as an industry. “English as a Second Language” (ESL) was taught overseas by … you guessed it… English majors and other college-educated Americans willing to work for low pay overseas (like in China) because it gave them opportunity to travel and engage a foreign culture close up. Fresh out of college or perhaps at a career or personal inflection point, they chose to live and work for low wages, with room and board and a job teaching local (Chinese) people English. With an 8:1 currency conversion and hosting expenses covered, these Americans were okay earning peanuts for the short term. Maybe they would like an opportunity to earn some side AMERICAN DOLLARS writing articles over the Internet for me? Every dollar I paid out was $8 to them, so $4 per article was $32 dollars per article. Hell, some of them were worthy poets and creative writers fresh off doctoral programs and scholarships! And, as a bonus, I could communicate in my local SEO vernacular because these people would fully understand when I gave them a keyword rich example of good-but-not-spammy SEO copy to emulate. They even knew what emulate means! This could work!

I was going to be outsourcing what I said could not be outsourced. Woo hoo!

But I had forgotten about business. Of course I had connections with the Chinese ESL program managers and recruiers, which was to be my entryway. Through my connections, I would gain access to a database of American, English-speaking ESL tutors. Of course I would have to grease the palms of the middlemen, who were recruiters actively head hunting for ESL teachers. Maybe I could do the greasing in China to gain that 8:1 benefit. So after working out the SEO details of my GrandPlan, I dug into the business particulars with my Chinese associates.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, there is way more benefit to holding an ESL teacher socially captive in a small rural town in China than I could ever cover with my SEO article writing enterprise. With my “little project” I was immediately identified as a threat to a very lucrative legal “human trafficking” system that was earning serious money signing teachers to ESL contracts. In many cases the commisions paid to recruiters exceeded the total earnings of the ESL teachers, as government incentives and corporate sponsorships covered back office operations. Everything was being monetized on the back end of that ESL program. Housing subsidies, food, travel expenses, participation, “tuition”, supplies, etc. The middlemen wanted their people captive, and were very eager to prevent their people from earning freedom with side money, or needing freedom to visit the Internet cafes and upload articles. The whole idea of foreign workers writing content within China to be sent back to the US over the Internet was a BigRedFlag for regulators to look closely at the ESL business, which was operating as a new private enterprise in the delicate merging new privatized economy of China. Since I was working with existing contacts, I was urged to forget my stupid idea and instead join in and recruit people to become ESL teachers. I would be paid handsomely for my efforts. If my SEO was any good, I should be able to make good money recruiting (from which, of course, my upline would profit handsomely as well). Instead of pursuing article writing, I added “ESL” to the list of known SEO money making opportunities, and moved on.

The reason I bring it up now? Well, of course go and look at ESL as a potential earner to compete with affiliate programs, but it’s been a few years so no guarantee it still pays well. More important though… realize there is a whole business aspect to everything your SEO enhances. The money is not always where you think it is. Think through the business aspects, and move yourself as close as possible to the true revenue driving the business. Do it before you get caught up in the details of SEO, and understand the business aspects of the area you get into for lead generation or product sales or whatever. It’s the same story others are telling with regards to CPA vs PPC and smart affiliate work, but generalized to a look at where the money is in the business message. It can save you time and money and SEO headache, and may just change you from an “SEO” into a “domainer”, or “publisher”, or whatever, as you realize the real money is not in SEO.


  1. Correction: There is always TOO much to write about SEO and not enough time.

    Tuesday, August 21, 2007 at 6:14 pm | Permalink
  2. JaeWeb wrote:

    To me SEO’s seem to love working out how to get the traffic, but ignore the most important part, monetizing said traffic. Conversion Optimisation is just as important as SEO imo.

    Saturday, December 8, 2007 at 4:51 am | Permalink
  3. Russell Page wrote:

    “Don’t let SEO distract you from business.”

    Well said.

    Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 12:08 pm | Permalink