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Traps & Pitfalls of SEO for Chief Marketing Officers

Episode Overview: SEO and content marketing efforts are your best bets to creating a winning marketing strategy, but taking shortcuts or violating SEO rules, either intentionally or unintentionally, can effectively destroy your marketing efforts in a single stroke. Join Ben as he continues CMO Week with Searchmetrics’ Chief Marketing Officer Doug Bell as they review common traps and pitfalls to avoid in SEO and how to identify false promises shady SEO agencies and contractors use to deceive consumers.


  • SEO presents a longer “Time-to-value,” before substantial results can be obtained, but it also means ROI is much higher.
  • Shortcuts don’t exist in SEO and SEO agencies or contractors who utilize them only yield short-term gains and increase the risk of being penalized by search engines like Google.
  • Website elements like improving your site speed or presenting content in a categorized, logical way to users are great ways to cause a dramatic, positive impact on your website’s visibility and performance.


Ben:                 Come to SEO for CMOs Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and this week we’re going to publish an episode every day covering what the head of your marketing department needs to know about SEO. Joining us for SEO for CMOs Week is Doug Bell, who’s the Chief Marketing Officer at Searchmetrics, which is an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses, monitor their online presence and make data-driven decision.

Ben:                 And today Doug and I are going to continue our conversation by talking about some of the pitfalls of SEO for CMOs. Here’s the third installment of SEO for CMO Week with Doug Bell from Searchmetrics.

Ben:                 Doug, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Doug:               Thanks Ben. I’m glad to be back.

Ben:                 Excited to have you here. We’re halfway through the week already. We’ve been talking about what CMOs think about SEO. What are some of the ways that CMOs who are content marketing forward are being successful? Now we’re going to flip the page and we’re going to talk a little bit about where CMOs get into trouble with trying to get content marketing and SEO strategies off the ground. Where are people getting hurt? There’s a lot of benefits for how SEO and content marketing can help build awareness, help you with nurturing, and get people across the finish line and become your customers. On the flip side, there is some risk to this channel. Talk to me about where CMOs are getting hurt by engaging in SEO and content marketing strategies.

Doug:               So, Ben, you covered this really well in our conversation yesterday and I’ll start with the first, which is this time to value trap. And we talked about how for a small SEO project you’re looking at three to six months before you’re seeing results. As we kind of blow that out into a channel level, you’re looking at sometimes up to 18 months. It doesn’t mean you’re not seeing measurable results. In fact, you quite often see them fairly quickly. Like any channel, there’s always low hanging fruit, but to get to the full, “Hey, this is a central part of how I market,” really, that’s a longer journey. So it is true that SEO has a longer time to value, but I have to say things that are foundational like brand, brand identity, building this idea of a brand also take a long time. I would say brands are built over multiple years. So SEO is quicker to be sure, but again, don’t fall into this immediate gratification trap. Understand your time to value is longer because the return is higher.

Ben:                 Yeah. I think just understanding that you’re building a house. When you start with your content strategy and you’re publishing a piece of content, one blog post does nothing. Nobody ever has an effective first blog post consistently publishing content that addresses the pain points of an audience over and over and over again. You’re stacking one brick on top of another on top of another until you’re able to put a roof on it and form a house. Using that metaphor, talk to me about where does that house fall down on CMOs?

Doug:               Yeah, I think Ben, they start with poor foundations to continue the metaphor. And the poor foundation typically is a combination of brand and content strategy. And they try and patch that up and that in many ways gets us to some of the other pitfalls potentially. But one way to patch that up is through performance marketing. We’ve talked about how that fairly quickly, it’s this point of diminishing returns, so that has a half-life that’s rather small. But the other is that people tend to fall into this trap of letting their agencies or letting their SEOs go for shortcuts and, Ben, I have to say we’ve done a great job on the podcast of covering some of the pitfalls when it comes to gray hat SEO, but that’s what I bring up. There really aren’t shortcuts when it comes to SEO.

Doug:               And that’s the other real pitfall, which is if somebody is promising you so that’s your agency or in house SEOs is promising you a return that is rather rapid, they’re probably isn’t great head tactics to get there. That’s another thing I would look for and try to avoid because those gains are very much in the short term. Over the long term, Google’s algorithm going to catch up with you. You’re going to experience a penalty and you’re going to lose really a great deal of the gains you’ve gained in the past.

Ben:                 Here’s the thing, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And there is a reason why as a COO you are getting tons of emails that are showing up in your junk inbox that are, “Hey, I’m going to get your brand a million links, and I’m going to improve your traffic.” Right? There’s a reason why Google and their email spam filters are flagging a bunch of low end SEO providers that are promising the moon being delivered to your door tomorrow. Don’t fall for it. It’s ridiculous. SEO is a practice that takes time to build.

Doug:               But Ben, I have to tell you everything that Nigerian Prince tells you is true. Definitely give them money.

Ben:                 Doug, I don’t know how to follow that up. Everybody, he’s kidding. And this is where Doug and I disagree. I’m sure the Nigerian Prince is a wonderful person. But don’t buy any backlinks from him.

Doug:               Exactly. But that’s ultimately we’re talking about. I think that I say this in jest, but I think you really make an excellent point here, which is we have the old Nigerian Prince scam from the 2000s. But a lot of the traps that CMOs fall for when it comes to gray hat SEO fall into that category. So yes, please be aware. Be aware no Nigerian Prince when it comes to your SEO strategy.

Ben:                 We wouldn’t know about the Nigerian Prince email tactics if it didn’t work. And the same thing happens with the SEO strategies that are showing up in your spam filter. And there are CMOs and there are marketers out there that fall for that stuff. And that think that they can cut to the front of the line without investing in long term SEO strategies.

Ben:                 On the flip side, there are techniques and tactics that you can use that will have a dramatic impact on your business. You can improve your site speed and if you have great content and if you have a logical structure of that content, Google’s going to eat it up and all of a sudden you’re going to jump forward in the rankings. There are things you can do to make short term impacts. You just have to invest in developing the content and the channel first.

Doug:               Could I share an anecdote with you, Ben?

Ben:                 Of course.

Doug:               Yeah. So I have a former colleague who’s the CMO of a tech firm. It’s about 200 million a year in annual revenue. It’s a company that has figured out scale, if you will. And this person of course knows where I work and we were having this kind of long conversation about SEO tactics, if you will. And I shared the idea that at the end of the day if you want to understand whether your SEOs are actually conducting gray hat tactics, because I was talking about how damaging gray hat can be. She asked me, “Well how do you figure it out?” And I said, “Ask them in.” Typically, it’s a point of pride for your SEOs and they will be quite open and honest about it. So if you are worried, you’re listening to this, you’re like, “How do I know if I have gray hat,” ask your SEOs. Their job is often to dance around that edge and frankly if you find out that they are, pull them back.

Ben:                 I’m going to call it like I see it. The gray hat SEO tactics are not the ones that I am always concerned about. It’s the gray hats that are really dark gray and what is actually black hat SEO knowingly doing something that Google and all the other search engines out there are going to think are fraudulent. SEO is often pushed the agenda in terms of how much content that they can share with Google, how they’re optimizing their content. You want light gray. You just want to make sure that if they’re coloring, they’re using the lighter side of the box.

Doug:               Yeah. I think we might be scaring CMOs more than we need to Ben, but it’s a thing to watch out for. If our rules about time to value are suddenly broken and you’re suddenly experiencing all these great gains, be afraid, be very afraid.

Ben:                 So, Doug, are there any other tactics that you’ve seen that have got CMOs into hot water by implementing an SEO and content marketing strategy?

Doug:               Yeah, I think that’s a great question, Ben. I think that it’s really a function of how you are communicating upwards and how you’re selling upwards. And I think we’ve probably given you lots of tips on that. But the key thing is don’t over promise. So don’t describe how you’re going to reduce your performance marketing spending. By the way, hand raised, if you’ve done that. My hand is up. Don’t promise that the savings are out there or don’t promise that the returns are happening as nearly as they are. Again, think of it more foundationally, but again, don’t fall into this trap of, “Hey, we’re going to get a return in six months.” It will eat you alive.

Ben:                 Okay. So Doug, the last question that I want to ask you. When CMOs think about driving revenue and success, they’re normally just focused on what their brand is doing, and SEO and content marketing is very much a competitive space. How much does CMOs need to address the competition in the landscape when they’re putting their strategies together and thinking about whether a SEO and content marketing strategy is the right decision for them?

Doug:               Good. I think it’s such a good question because ultimately if you’re looking at a performance marketing perspective, it’s about allocating additional budget and higher keyword bids, if you will, to oversimplify a whole industry. Apologies to performance marketers out there. So the idea of competition exists there, but it’s about your resources, your ability to apply funds. SEO is a little bit more … What always pops in my head is these crates Time-Life specials. If you’re old enough, you remember Mutual of Omaha and these documentaries about the Great African Savannas and how it’s like this one wilder beast is injured and some animal, some prey animal takes it down.

Ben:                 What on earth are you talking about?

Doug:               Well, follow with me. So ultimately it is evolution tested in the moment. It’s live in front of you. It’s happening. It’s the most competitive natural environment in the world. If you get injured or your genes aren’t up to speed, a lion’s going to eat you up, Ben. And that for me is SEO. It is if there is a pitfall that I would strongly warn SEOs about or CMOs about rather it is that really at the end of the day, you’re not going to enter anything as competitive as SEO. It should not scare you, but it should make you understand that whatever your long term strategy is and however you’re approaching this, you’re not just competing with your direct competition. You’re competing with Wikipedia, you’re competing with Amazon. There’s a lot of competition out there. And so when you’re looking at your SEO strategy, don’t think about going toe to toe with the big players. You will lose. Think about your ability to go after the buyer journey and meet their needs as opposed to whether or not you’re beating your competition. You’re beating Wikipedia and that’s really the big thing. Don’t get intimidated by the competition. It is brutal out there, no doubt about it, but if you focus on just the buyer’s journey, you will succeed.

Ben:                 When in your natural habitat where you’re likely to get eaten by an SEO lion. Great advice, Doug. Okay.

Doug:               You’re welcome.

Ben:                 That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Doug Bell, CMO of Searchmetrics.

Ben:                 We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Doug, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter. His handle is @marketadvocate, M-A-R-K-E-T-A-D-V-O-C-A-T-E, or you can visit his company’s website which is

Ben:                 Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to where summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can send us your topics, suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:                 Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is @voicesofsearch on Twitter or you can contact me directly. My personal handle is @BenJShap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed in addition to the fourth part of our conversation with Doug Bell, CMO of Searchmetrics where we discuss operational tips for creating positive ROI with SEO. We’re going to publish an episode every day during the work week, so hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feet soon.

Ben:                 Okay. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

Tyson Stockton

Tyson Stockton

Tyson has over 10 years' experience in the digital marketing industry. As Vice President of Client and Account Management, Tyson manages the Enterprise Client Success team and SEO Consulting efforts at Searchmetrics. Tyson has worked with some of world’s largest enterprise websites including Fortune 500 and global eCommerce leaders. Prior to Searchmetrics, Tyson worked on the in-house side managing the SEO and SEM efforts of a collection of 14 sports specialty eCommerce companies in the US, Europe and Australia.

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