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Zen and the Art of Search Engine Optimization


What is the sound of one keyword clapping? Can Google itself create a site so large that it can't even be indexed? Can any marketer ever step into the same algorithm twice?

SEO best practicesThese are the kinds of questions that philosophers worry over – or at least that keep those of us involved in search engine optimization up at night – but they may not matter very much going forward. That's because SEO is going away, at least in the way that most of us know it. What's taking its place is something exciting and better, but, like enlightenment, it can't be achieved directly.

Does that sound confusing? Read on, because here is what you need to know about Zen and the art of improving your search rankings in 2013:

1. There is no try.

The basic problem with search engine optimization is that it has worked too well. Now, it's difficult to find what you’re actually looking for on the Internet, because the results are crowded with over-optimized sites. So, Google has started penalizing businesses that seem to be trying too hard to influence its rankings. That means your best move is to be "search visible," but without being obvious. In other words, post-quality content and attract links, but don't do anything specifically for SEO purposes.

2. Search traffic is like a flowing river.

Traffic patterns are changing faster than ever, and searchers are changing their favorite destinations in a heartbeat. It's important to update your site continually if you want to attract and retain potential customers. At the same time, note that the dynamic nature of search rankings is changing sites themselves, causing businesses to be more responsive to demand. This quicker world of online marketing favors companies that can adapt, rather than stick with strategies that might not be effective anymore.

3. To succeed in SEO, you have to clear your mind and website of impurities.

Traditionally, getting noticed by search engines has largely been a matter of adding to your business website continually. Now, though, it's just as important that you don't have the wrong kinds of links and content that could signal you as someone who's trying to game the system. So, invest in the time and money needed to get rid of anything that shouldn't be on your site, or part of your search profile, to prevent it from coming back to haunt you later.

4. If you stay focused and still for long enough, Google and the other search engines will come to you.

This is where you really reach the state of Zen, at least from an online marketing perspective. When your site is the most informative, with timely updates that are relevant to your audience, your search positioning is actually a secondary concern. For one thing, potential buyers will already be coming your way because you have established yourself as an authority in the market. And for another, the high-quality content will naturally attract links, and the combination of the two will earn you a great search ranking for your most important keywords.

While the changing face of SEO might make it seem like a mystical art, the reality is that search is just getting better and more efficient, which means you can’t drive visitors to your website by using direct or heavy-handed methods anymore. So, don't worry about meditating on the nature of Google's universe or practicing keyword kung fu – just build a fantastic website that's informative and easy to navigate, and then you can sit back and let the rest take care of itself.

By Randy Milanovic

Join The Conversation

  • Spook SEO's picture
    Feb 2 Posted 3 years ago Spook SEO

    I completely disagree with point 2. It is truth that SEO game has changed due to increasing brand and Google traffic. But the strategy is a unique tool that survives the SEO. We find have to find new strategies for better SEO, Quality links quality content also helping to sites. In this larges competition where billions sites get traffic in Google for high rank so Google also has changed his strategy.

  • Jun 6 Posted 3 years ago Mike Weaver (not verified)

    "Besides, we truly believe in "attracting" customers with great content over "interrupting" them with sales pitches."

    Or using keyword rich anchor text to your own site in a very tired, weak piece. Right Randy?

  • Randy Milanovic's picture
    May 10 Posted 4 years ago Randy Milanovic

    Thank you Katherine. I think all should be able to participate in discussions regardless of their skill level. However, when it comes to business writing, I agree that the writer and the business put credibility at stake with poor copy. 

  • Katherine Tattersfield's picture
    May 9 Posted 4 years ago Katherine Tatte...

    Very well written piece---really dig your style. And the advice is spot on. Now we're in the age of over-optimization. Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and directory submissions. In some ways, this makes SEO simpler because there's less emphasis on pleasing the bots and more on the actual users. As a writer, I welcome the changes because I'm sick of seeing god awful copy written by someone who should NEVER be writing at the professional level.

  • Randy Milanovic's picture
    May 7 Posted 4 years ago Randy Milanovic

    Hi Lucas. Enjoy the eBook. It's been well-received. I think that if you do nothing else but enable social sharing, you'll see more traffic. And, it doesn't hurt to kick start the sharing with a mention or two of your own. (Rule #19)

  • May 7 Posted 4 years ago Guukle

    Hey Randy,

    My apologies for the belated response to your kind comments. 

    Thank you! 

    For your excellent observations and kind recommendations. I'm not going to take up a large area of commentary real estate, so just in brief:

    1. I don't focus on capturing leads from the sheer fact that I have nothing to sell per se. The whole purpose of is to share - freely - information and advice. A logical next step would be to set up a real business around it and e.g. offer real, human focused services. This is currently not in scope. No bandwidth for it.

    2. I do agree that the site is short of eye-candy. Point well taken. But my main concern is traffic. Things are going ok but only with increased traffice will I scale and though this build a more professional site. Granted that a better layout/design etc. will improve stickiness and reduce bounce rate, the key element here is that "the Zen" to me is the way to go but the results of it is not immediately clear. Presence on the net is still governed by SEO as I see it and it will definitely take a few more - strong - iterations of the P-animals or the like before fundamental changes are seen - other than clean up.

    3. I'm not sure what you refer to with pop ups. Did take a look and can't see much other than a floating ad bar - which I've now turned off (rather annoying I must say :-))

    Thanks again Randy. I'll definitely take a look at your eBook!



  • Randy Milanovic's picture
    May 4 Posted 4 years ago Randy Milanovic

    Hello Lucas.

    The fact that you do not advertise is commendable (two hands clapping!)

    Kayak Online Marketing doesn't advertise either, save for an experiment we conducted about 18 months ago when I invested $20 (+$50 promo from Google) on an AdWords campaign and earned roughly $12,000 from it inside of a week. A lot of readers are likely wondering why I stopped spending on PPC... the answer is that great content marketing has made that $12k look like a child's pocket change. Besides, we truly believe in "attracting" customers with great content over "interrupting" them with sales pitches.

    You mentioned you follow Zen-like practices, but that it "ain't working" any more... On a hunch, I visited your website. There is certainly a lot there, including a decent social following. But, there are also a number of important things missing: 

    1. Lead Capture (it must be dead simple for people to engage you via web form AND phone - I recommend against posting email addresses as they attract spammers)

    2. Eye Candy (your site is dangerously light on visuals and heavy on text – it's the newspaper equivalent of "all grey", or blue in the case of your site)

    3. Obvious Next Steps (successful websites deploy content and offers that guide visitors through their sales funnel. Let's not kid ourselves - when it comes to online marketing, our #1 goal is first and foremost to grow our business with willing and well-educated clients. The further down the sales funnel they travel, the more they self-qualify).

    A few questions:

    1. Are you engaging your social connections? (get to know what they are about)

    2. Are you sharing your connections' content? (what's in it for them?)

    3. Can you lessen the number of menus popping up all over the site? (it casts doubt on your site's credibility)

    In closing (for now), I'd say there are no longer any "tricks" in the seo basket, save one: great, sharable content. Anything else will either do nothing – or worse – harm your site's reputation.

    If you are interested, I recently published an eBook (Kindle $2.99) on this topic: 

    Findability: Why Search Engine Optimization is Dying + 21 New Rules of Content Marketing for 2013 and Beyond

  • May 4 Posted 4 years ago Guukle

    Hey Randy,

    Excellent article - my compliments. What's particularly rewarding is your affirmation to the point that what we, (well I - we're a very very small team) @, focus on is excactly what you state. We do very little SEO but nothing beyond choosing a KW phrase with care, placing a single H1 tag + sometimes a H2 if it make sense, but beyond that - it's all about high value content (for great user experience) and social signalling. 

    We don't advertise! 100% of our traffic is organic and 14% repeat. We did start with some PR's and have great success from this. Through it we built 9K links or so but our main domain site got blasted into oblivion (which is really and unfair thing do do just because of a PR. Imagine that Apple announces a brand new iFad and the response of all WW retailers is to remove it from the shelves - hardly the business response that one would expect is it now? How can it be our fault that one PR drives syndication to beyond 25K??).

    Pretty happy with what we are at but - at the end of the day..... it just doesn't work. Let me explain. started soft about a year ago. Domain is about 1 year old. Main URL ranks PR3 - but we don't care about PR do we :-). Our approach has been not to do SEO - period. We want to focus on a niche, build authority through content and it seems to work. First few days 5 UV's a day, after a few months we jumped to 50 UV's a day. Now we're at 500-700 UVs a day and that's great - but we've been there for months now and we stay there - regardless of how much contents we pump into the site (at least once per day refresh). 

    Almost 1 year down we have >350 posts - ALL of high value (so we think of these). <10 ranks on page 1 and most of our traffic is coming in via top 5 posts and what related stuff visitors choose to browse. So, to me - it ain't working. 

    We do apply the Zen you refer to. We watch most of what Matt Cutt's post on video's and do our best to follow but .... it ain't working. Now patience is a virtue of course but still it would be expected that at least a slow and steady rise would be seen. Nope. 

    So the choice is really ..... do we continue our strategy and await "Eventuality" (whenever that would be) to kick in or do we change our style, over pump our site with all the tricks in the SEO basket to stay on page 1 for many URLs and reap the rewards of this until we are caught? I'd rather not, but looking at this from an entrepeneurial point of view it is extremely frustrating to put in a tonne of labor taking out of time that one doesn't have only to see no results. In addition, the frustration is elevated when knowing that we do do Zen and yet we get totally by-passed by spammers, blasters, midnight flies etc. who posts material of little to no value whatsoever. 

    Is it a question of the ideal world being too idealistic and so far away from the real world? 


    Lucas (Owner of

  • Randy Milanovic's picture
    May 4 Posted 4 years ago Randy Milanovic

    I'm with you Sue!


    Further reading around content being the new SEO: Findability

  • SueCockburn's picture
    May 3 Posted 4 years ago SueCockburn

    Excellent article! Easy read, makes total sense and hopefully will help small businesses who may think SEO is the key to being successful online. In a sense they're right, but not in the traditional sense of hiring someone to use every 'trick' in the book to raise their ranking in search engines. Better to focus on building a business (and online presence - website and social) that delivers what people are looking for and needing and to include solid SEO practices based on reality into the mix.

  • May 3 Posted 4 years ago Heaven Jelo

    Great post Randy. It is really a very good read.. Yes, I agree with Dan, I'm also not really good at SEO, so I will stick with the 4th point..

  • May 3 Posted 4 years ago Dan Erickson

    I have never really had a stroong sense of SEO strategies, so I don't do much of it to start.  I keep reading articles like yours, but it seems more are posting that SEO is still king.  Personally, I hope it's going away/changing.  I love your fourth point, and that's what I'm working toward.

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