How an Extreme Focus on SEO Can Negatively Affect Lead Generation

by Michelle Hunter

Visibility is only part of the conversion equation.

SEO and Lead Generation

I am not an SEO expert, and I’m the first to admit it. Discussion of the latest algorithms typically fail to hold my interest. It’s not that I discredit the value of visibility or the power of search ranking to drive traffic. I think SEO is valuable as part of a robust lead generation strategy, but I place a much higher priority on providing value and building relationships.

Recently, however, I found myself reading an article from an SEO guru, who I won’t name. Specifically, he was sharing thoughts on how to leverage content to improve search page results and build authority. I am not critiquing his advice… I don’t feel qualified to do so.

Let’s talk about SEO for a moment, okay?

Search engine optimization is ultimately about visibility. When people search for a topic or solution, you want them to find your content, your website, and ultimately your business. That’s the goal: the higher you rank on search results, the more visibility and lead generation potential you create.

SEO alone doesn’t create conversions or generate revenue any more than a billboard alongside the highway. Seeing an image of a cute rescue dog on a billboard, for example, captures your attention and brings visibility to the local animal shelter. But, this awareness is just the beginning of the process of adopting a new pet or sending a donation. Visibility is part of the process, but not the only (or even most important) element in conversion.

Should you implement a practical SEO strategy as a part of your lead generation efforts? Yes, of course! You want people to find your stuff (articles, posts, resources) so they can consume it, use it, and connect with you. Writing for SEO is a good thing, in general.

However, I do have some concerns about the impact an extreme focus on SEO can have on lead generation. Before you make wholesale adjustments to your online content to implement SEO tactics, read on.

[DANGER] SEO and your marketing promises.

Headlines are incredibly important to a winning SEO strategy. Best practices tell us to do a little keyword research before writing so we can strategically place a valuable keyword or phrase in the title of any post, article, or resource we create. I don’t disagree with this… but things can go sideways pretty quickly.

Want to know one of the things that bugs me? Disappointment and confusion after the click.

You know the feeling. You open up a search engine and type in a query such as best dog breeds for families with small children. (I might be in the market for a new dog… don’t let that distract you.) Immediately, you get a browser window full of links to articles and websites with catchy titles like:

  • Top dog breeds for families.
  • Adopting a dog when you have small children.
  • Evaluating kid-friendly dog breeds.

With a smile, you grab a cup of coffee and sit down on the sofa with your phone. Today is the day you’re going to identify the right dog for your family. You click the first link and start reading… but quickly realize the article isn’t helpful. Why? Because the content is only loosely related to the headline. This is a huge pet-peeve of mine.

Headlines are actually marketing promises.

We select what we download and read based on the promise we see in the title. If the post promises top dog breeds, that’s what I expect. Anything else- such as a diatribe on the value of adopting from a shelter or how to add a new dog to your family- is actually a broken promise. I didn’t get what I expected when I clicked the link.

At this moment, you might be smiling smugly, confident you would never succumb to this danger. Not so fast… things can get crazy pretty quickly when you’re focused on SEO.

Here’s what I see happening out in the real world…

  • You write a great article.
  • You do a little keyword research and identify a phrase that applies.
  • You craft a headline that uses that key phrase.
  • You add the key phrase to the first paragraph of the article.
  • You publish without editing the article to align it to the key phrase.

The great article you wrote starts getting traffic. People see the headline and click the link. But they’re left with a feeling of unease because the article is just slightly off… the headline promises something that is subtly different than the article delivers. Instead of creating interest and authority for your brand, you create a question in the mind of the reader.

Protect yourself by adding a step to your edit process. Evaluate your content to ensure you are delivering what the headline promises.

[DANGER] Fluff vs. value-added content.

Clients frequently ask me – ->  “How long should my posts be for SEO?” Good general question. The problem is in the context. The time to select a target article length is not when you’re writing… it’s when you’re selecting a topic.

As a copywriter, I have pretty strong feelings about wordy, bloated content. I’m not a fan. I believe strongly that the complexity of the topic should dictate the article length. I recommend writing just enough to convey meaning and understanding. Using the words you need to make your point and meet your objective… nothing more.

Mark Twain famously said, “I apologize for the long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.” He makes two points (1) it takes time to write concisely and (2) bloated writing is worthy of an apology.

The length of an effective article is dictated by the topic. Writing for SEO means selecting a topic that is complex (or nuanced) enough to require 1200 – 2000+ words.

Here’s the danger I see when placing a huge emphasis on SEO. Rather than allowing the topic to determine the article length, we add bloat and fluff to hit our target word count. Sure, this makes the content more SEO friendly… but it actually has a negative effect on lead generation.

Clean, crisp content converts better. Filler sentences don’t add value, they just distract and bore the reader. People drift away before they get to the call to action at the bottom of the page. Not so great for lead generation, is it?

Bloated content conveys a lack of expertise or at least a disregard for the time and attention of the reader. The target word count was more important than creating value.  Makes me want to work with you… um, no.

Protect yourself by intentionally selecting topics with enough complexity to allow for a longer, more robust article. Challenge yourself to go a little deeper, share a practical application, and provide examples. Use storytelling artfully to engage the reader and create interest. In other words… develop your writing skills more fully.  

Make it your priority to write concisely, even if that means creating a shorter article now and then. Focus on creating value when you write, not on optimizing word count.

[DANGER] Shifting away from true client need.

This last danger is rather subtle, but probably the most concerning in terms of overall impact. When you place an extreme focus on SEO, you risk shifting your mindset away from the needs of your audience. You risk creating visible content that no one cares about or reads.

I noticed this shift happening in my own business when I embraced an SEO strategy. I got excited for a time about keyword research and long-tail phrases. As I brainstormed topics for my editorial calendar, I let myself be influenced by what I found. I started selecting topics based on complexity (see above) and key phrase with little or no consideration of the vocalized needs of my audience.  Big mistake.

There’s no value in visibility if your message is misaligned. You’ll simply attract the wrong people (or no one at all).

Search engines crawl and categorize content; real people consume it. If I write an impactful post about a topic that isn’t relevant to my audience, I’ve made a mistake. If I ignore the needs and questions of my audience because the topic isn’t sexy enough for SEO, I’ve made a different mistake.

The best content comes out of a deep understanding of the needs of your audience, not keyword research. For example, the next article I plan to create after this one is about goal setting and the thought work you need to do before you can get real about goals. Why this topic? My people have asked for it in thousands of ways.

Goal setting as a topic is bloated. I probably won’t rank well with this topic, but SEO isn’t my primary focus. The creatives I serve struggle with goal setting. They embrace method after method and force themselves to try planners and systems and formulas without success. Why? Because creative minds like ours think differently and goals are meaningless for us without the thought work that creates internal motivation. The article I write over the next day or so on this topic will (hopefully) meet a real need for my audience, but it likely won’t rank well. That’s okay with me.

Protect yourself by staying in touch with the needs of your audience so you can meet those needs with the content you create. Use keyword research to position the content for maximum visibility without watering down the value it provides.

Make SEO a part of a balanced lead generation strategy.

Effective lead generation balances valuable content with positioning and search engine optimization. Rather than an extreme focus on SEO, build your lead generation strategy on a foundation of expertise and a desire to serve your audience. Then use SEO strategies where appropriate so you can get that content in front of the people who need your help the most.

Not sure how to create a balanced lead generation strategy for your business? Want help creating valuable content that converts for your audience? Let’s talk.

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