Want Tons Of Traffic? Don’t Be An SEO Sheep

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seo human evangelism

When it comes to blogging, Seth Godin is an SEO disaster.

So, why’s his traffic and readership so massive?

Does Seth spend hours loading up his content with meticulously researched keyword phrases and patterns? If you’ve read him for long enough, it’s a safe bet the answer to that question is no. Then, what’s his secret? It has to do with a little thing called HEO…

Human Evangelist Optimization

For a number of years now, search engine optimization (SEO) has been all the buzz. Optimize your website or blog with keyword phrases, make it look human with Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI), link clusters or other specialized linguistic patterns in an effort to make yourself appear as important as possible to the search engines, then reap the traffic rewards. Is this effective?

Depending how good you or your SEO person is, it can be very effective.

In fact, some methods are so effective, they are considered downright devious, giving rise to the split between black-hat SEO (the Empire) and white-hat SEO (Luke). But, along with SEO comes the need to pay constant attention to changing algorythms, theories, strategies, tools and techniques.

SEO done right is a lot of work. If SEO jazzes you, have at it. It’s not my bag. Writing is. Telling stories is. Illuminating the human condition is.

I don’t want anything to do with SEO…but I do want a ton of traffic.

Because traffic translates to reach. And reach translated to impact.

What if there was a different way to get it? What might happen if you took a serious chunk of that SEO effort and, instead, turned it loose on the task of creating content that was so valuable, entertaining or informative, every person who read it simply HAD to pass it on to someone else, promote it, tweet it and link to it?

What would happen if you optimized your content not for search engine traffic, but human evangelism?

Even if you don’t have the chops to create it yourself, what what would happen if you allocated part of your SEO budget to paying someone else to “create insanely-something content” that was ready made for human evangelism, then spent a solid chunk of your time getting to know people who could help light the distribution fire and watch the human evangelism ripple fill the traffic pond?

Is this pure fantasy? Is it doable? Is it worth the effort?

Because, if it is, I would soooo rather spend my days creating content that blew peoples’ minds and leave the SEO to someone else.

Seems to have worked pretty well for Seth (yeah, I know, I am not him).

What do you guys think?

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32 responses

32 responses to “Want Tons Of Traffic? Don’t Be An SEO Sheep”

  1. JayMoney says:

    I agree in alot of ways SEO is great but it’s not the all to end all. You have to do alot more then just SEO great post thanks for making me really remember the content.

  2. Dave Navarro says:

    Writing for people rather than keywords has always worked for me. 🙂

  3. Tad Chef says:

    This post argues on the premise that great content and SEO or somehow an opposition like black and white. This is of course no true. SEO is about making great content visible. With no great content SEO won’t help much cause you won’t see anything.

    People like Seth Godin are only a few lucky attention moguls. 99,999% of other website owners won’t make it so far. They need Google and SEO and/or social media optimization.

  4. […] Go to the author’s original blog: Want Tons Of Traffic? Don’t Be An SEO Sheep […]

  5. I’ve seen SEO forums where people debate every minor topic ad nauseum in hopes of boosting their traffic by 0.01%. Sure, every little bit helps, but how many posts could they have written in that time?

    I’d be more into SEO if I thought the ROI was there. But just about the only useful tip I’ve learned is to create internal links using good anchor text. Another tip is to spam article marketing sites, but I’ve heard mixed opinions on how effective that it.

    I couldn’t even tell you what keywords I’d like to rank for!

  6. Chad says:

    Hey Jonathan,

    Funny my post today was about SEO too and didn’t see yours til now. Great minds 🙂

    I agree your postion that if you write for humans, the rest will take care of itself.

    But there are also some easy good practices that you can just make part of your daily blogging life.

  7. fiony says:

    it difficult for me about seo ,just camt to read your topic!

  8. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Tad – It’s an interesting point about SEO and killer content not being mutually exclusive pursuits. I tend to agree…in theory.

    But, in practice, it’s so rare that I’ve seen an SEO who champions both or a killer HEO content creator who chamions SEO. I think it’s because both are more than full-time pursuits and the mindset that fuels each is often not all that interested in allocating similar energy to the other side of the equation.

    The SEO people I know tend to completely jones-out on the more technical aspects of SEO, rather than the elements of human engagement, persuasion, entertainment. The latter elements aren’t pieces of the puzzle that carry as much interest to them.

    I am sure there are SEOs with equal interest and skills on both sides of the equation, but I’ve had trouble finding them. The same goes for HEOs, too.

    On the notion of people like Seth being “lucky attention moguls,” I agree they are rare cases, BUT I do not agree that the reason is entirely luck.

    There is something much bigger going on and it has to do with investing a lot of energy in having something very real to say and approaching the way you say it differently and, yes, way down the ladder, a helping of good fortune.

    @ Chad – funny coincidence! Great minds think alike, eh (well, at least your great mind 😉 )

  9. Loved this post! Love that term! Now, I totally get how it applies to blogs. But could you make a persuasive case for how it might apply to business to business websites as well? You know, the standard “home” “about us” “services” “approach” type stuff. Or is that still under the reign of SEO? I’d love to come back to the SEO guy and say, “Oh yeah? Well, this website hasn’t been Human Evangelized. We’ll have to get rid of half these keywords…” But, by trying to find a balance between the two, do we end up getting neither?

  10. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Kelly – It applies to any online content that you want to draw traffic to.

    Done well, SEO drives people to your site. But once there, it doesn’t necessarily inspire, inform or entertain them, keep them coming back or get them talking about it or evangelizing it to everyone they know with a similar interest. HEO does.

    That doesn’t mean it’s any less work than SEO or that SEO is not valuable. SEO is effective at generating first-time visitors. HEO content, though, is more effective at creating followers, customers and evangelists, not just visitors.

  11. hardy says:

    what HEO reli means? does it meant that this guy is focusing on content while SEO by other ppl that links back to this article?

  12. Great content easily trumps terrible SEO, but no amount of SEO can save a crummy site. Sure, a lame site can get some traffic bumps with linkbait, but that traffic won’t stick.

    I’m consistently amazed by all the SEO, design, and technical mistakes A-list bloggers make, but in the end their writing (or who they are) puts them at the top. Of course, it’s still best to optimize, but put the content first.

  13. Nice post. I agree on the Human touch. It’s not just about the seo it a combination of things. So you have great content written with a human touch but your site build with tables instead of div….

  14. Hello Jonathan – Seth’s blog is the only blog I subscribe to by email, the rest is RSS. I like his quick “every day experiences” he sends.

    In regards to how his blog is so successful, like you said, it’s not “luck.” Just as in any social media site where people can come to connect with one another (like Twitter), big names automatically attract lots of subscribers and followers.

    Seth was already a known author and people already loved him. It’s kind of like saying if George Bush started a blog he’d automatically get thousands of subscribers with no SEO involved. – it’s his influence and status.

    About SEO and HEO – As the owner of a web hosting company, I talk about this topic all the time. What I’ve noticed is people who don’t know much about the Web (i.e. know more about their business, like being a Realtor) tend to think SEO is where it is. Nothing is more important than getting that #1 search position.

    On the other hand, online marketers seem to prefer the social element and while they don’t do anything to upset our buddy Googlebot, they don’t concentrate on him – or is it a her?

    Personally, I try to get a good mix. I don’t have the status of Brian Clark or Aaron Wall, so I don’t automatically attract followers – I have to work for them from 0.

    One thing people should remember is SEO is much more than keywords and phrases. It’s about attracting links, starting a buzz, and optimizing your website’s code for optimization.

    For example, if you run a WordPress blog, don’t put your “Categories” or “Recent Comments” widget title in title tags. By doing so, you’re telling Googlebot that “Categories” is an important term on your site.

    In this case, you’re not taking away from the HEO but you’re optimizing your SEO.

    Ok, nuff rambling. Good article and it’s a great discussion.

  15. Human Achievement Optimization is what I am going for. Full speed ahead!

  16. Kelly says:


    Yes, sir. You hit it perfectly with this one.

    HEO first, last, and in the very long middle.

    Though I think “white hat” SEO is great, and has its place, it is not a growth strategy for making readers into fans. I think about keywords a bit, but the best bet is to have a very clear picture of your ideal reader in your mind, and talk to him or her. It’s a conversation, not a shouting match.

    I adore this post. Thanks!



  17. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ John Hoff – Some great points. No doubt Seth benefitted from his prior exposure, but there’ve plenty of people far more famous than him that have taken a shot at blogging and not come close to the level of success.

    And, there are others who’ve experienced astonishing growth from a dead start, like Leo Babauta, Steve Pavlina, Heather Armstrong and more.

    Does prior fame help? You bet, but there are other paths to geometric growth in traffic that is fueled not so much by relentless attention to SEO, but HEO content that people simply can’t stop talking about and sharing.

    I also think so many people default to SEO because it appears, at least on a superficial level, to be so much more executable than HEO, which gets far less attention, is rarely understood and is, for most, a harder nut to crack…but, to me, at least, one worth pursuing with zest.

  18. Good points, Jonathan. What people need to understand is HEO really can turn out to be SEO – they are not mutually exclusive.

  19. People gravitate towards SEO techniques because they can bury you with bullshit and at the same time produce measurable results from specific activities. Great writing is harder to measure.

    Great content and proficient SEO are not enemies, as Tad said. They are two sides to the same coin. In some cases, they are almost impossible to distinguish from each other. For example, if you use the same terms that most people use when they’re searching, that’s good SEO. But it’s also a good example of understanding and writing for your audience. So, is that SEO or good writing?

    Of course there’s purely technical SEO stuff, but as others have pointed out, it won’t help crap content very much–and certainly not for very long.

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  22. SEO Pune says:

    SEO is definately the future of marketing(Kotler take note).More and more companies are hiring SEO specialists and allocating funds for online marketing.

  23. I absolutely agree, SEO is super, duper — but it’s not the end all… Just another component to a larger strategy. Thanks for the insight!

    Maria Reyes-McDavis

  24. Interesting perspective…a lil’ SEO never hurt anybody…

  25. One of the things I love about SEO (white hat at least) is how it fits HEO. What’s good to grab the user is usually good to grab the bots.

    Good HEO (nice name for it) is likely to bring you lots of inlinks which is good SEO. A great combination of both will get you to the top.

  26. […] Get tons of traffic without being an SEO expert It is very possible. Jonathan Fields shows you the how and why to getting massive traffic without spending hours on SEO. Great read, to open your mind to other ways! […]

  27. Seth’s primary message is always: be remarkable and the rest shall follow. The same goes with building web content.

    As others note above, SEO and being remarkable do not need to be enemies. However, SEO will not carry you for long when you’re peddling mediocre content.

    From experience, I can tell you that good content will convert better than good SEO any day of the week. Good content turns visitors into subscribers while good SEO just brings browsers to the window.

  28. SEO Pune says:

    Well, it’s not just the ” human ” connection that is important while one is connected to the web ( though they are the end users ) … but if someone is really adamant (or even desperate for that matter ) to get some recognition ( or traffic ) quickly … he has to be a part of the SEO world including all those phrases, keywords, etc … because that is the only way he stands a better chance to be noticed by the ” humans “

  29. SEO Pune says:

    I strongly agree with Tad Chef. Useful information becomes useless if it cannot be accessed. This is where SEO comes into picture. It works towards making the right information Availble to the right set of people at the right time.

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  31. optimized content is the way to go. Add value to the reader, have something worthy of reading.

  32. Stephen says:

    I agree with this article. SEO is all well and good to bring some visitors in but it is the content that will keep brining them back time and time again. Content is king.