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Seeing the Trees, but Missing the Forest

Happens all the time… tourists come into my temperate rain forest and admire the trees, while missing the forest. Yes, trees are cool. But not nearly as cool as the ecosystem that supports them.

Same thing with Google. SEOs see the trees, but many are missing the whole forest idea.

Riddle me this — if you have to pee while hiking on a forest trail, where should you deposit your unwanted bodily fluids? The answer might surprise you: right on the trail. Not off in the bushes (you’ll trample a lot of ecosystem doing that) and not behind a tree (the forest-floor-rises-up-to-base-of-tree region is a very important part of the system). Pee right on the trail. Why?

Note that the trail is already trampled.. it’s called a trail for a reason. Also note that forest animals (like deer) have an often desperate need for salt. They WILL find yours, and they WILL lick it up, from where ever you left it.  If that requires scratching up the forest floor because your latent Puritanism forced you to blaze a new trail into the brush just to avoid being seen executing the same basic human functions that everyone must execute every 3 hours or so, your how-to-pee-while-hiking tactics are doing more harm than good.

A naturalist will tell you that peeing on the trail “gives” the salt, water, and other ingredients to those who need it, without any additional trampling costs to the forest. Same naturalist will note that forest trails should be serene and quiet and low-traffic, so there really shouldn’t be any discretion problem. Same naturalist will also quickly note that a trail can’t support a hundred cidiots (city+idiot) per day peeing on it, and that people who don’t get nature should limit their nature walks to well established trails designed for high levels of foot traffic (typically accompanied by porta-potties or restrooms). Said naturalist may also comment on the sterile nature of healthy pee, and the unhealthy state of most Big Mac loving city slickers visiting the Great Outdoors with their air-conditioned SUVs. Said naturalist also probably hikes in the nude, but that’s another story.

In the forest, the bigger eco system will over ride your silly rules, because your rules don’t matter for survival of the system. Your rules matter TO YOU. And that’s where the damage comes from… you only see the trees, and end up destroying the forest that supported the trees.

I’m going to say most SEOs only see trees… links, articles, attention, audience – but miss the forest, which is the ecosystem of the web of connected surfers. Most SEOs are more like Google than nature. They do what they perceive is best for themselves, or the cabal they collaborate with, and harm the ecosystem in the process.

Lately, they are dooming themselves, too, because Google’s got a plan and it doesn’t include them. As they diligently pay attention to the Google Trees (do this, don’t do that) they are ignoring the bigger forest… Google’s execution of a plan to benefit Google at the expense of the natural web.

How many times have you heard “you might have to start over” in the past 6 months? Imagine that… a suggestion that, in order to be trusted and receive search traffic from Google, you might have to abandon your domain and start over on a new one.

Seriously? A traffic broker who already successfully copies and re-purposes your content while capriciously representing you in unilaterally-edited fashion, now has the cajones to tell you to abandon your one owned asset (the domain) or lose the traffic?

Think of the forest.. the bigger picture. Does Google like that you own a domain that has brand power? Does Google like that people can “find” you without searching for you in Google’s index? Does Google like that you can choose how and what to publish on your site? Does Google like that your seemingly-wanton formatting of what you publish makes it difficult if not impossible for Google to”organize” into an efficient, searchable index?

A domain name is a handle used by the market to hold on to you. Your potential (which they acknowledge, by remembering you as a brand) is invested into your domain name. Google wants that now.

The same way the middle-school bully swings by to take your lunch money, because he can and you don’t resist, Google’s taking away your forest, one tree at a time. And many, many of you so-called SEO people out there are helping Google destroy the same ecosystem that supports you.

Google doesn’t own the web. Despite Google’s stifling of innovation for the past 5 years or so, you can still innovate if you just resist the imposing, selfish rule sets that claim to be good for everyone but are actually destroying the ecosystem. You don’t have to conform, in order to succeed on the web.

As you build websites and draw audiences, you are participating in a dynamic living ecosystem. If you find yourself on the heavily-trafficked urban trail, by all means use the facilities that have been provided for you. It’s the civil thing to do, for everyone’s sake. But if you’re innovating, and like the naturalist working to understand the interconnected web and helping it thrive, sometimes the best thing to do is pee on the trail.


  1. Hi John,

    As always, your wonderful writing is full of piss and vinegar:)


    Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink
  2. Dave Snyder wrote:

    I can’t wait till the next time I get a chance to see you. You are like my Yoda.

    Saturday, July 14, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink