Practical Ecommerce

How to Waste Time on SEO Activities

As a general rule, search engine optimization consultants are activity-focused. They typically suggest a huge laundry list of various activities to perform. Perhaps the list is prioritized, but nonetheless it is frequently chock full of action items. Unfortunately, many of these activities won’t really move the SEO needle that much. Consequently, you end up spending your time ticking the low-value activities off the list they provided.

If you’re expending effort on action items that don’t have significant return on investment — like writing meta tags and tweaking keyword density and building out a comprehensive robots.txt file — you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. Moreover, there are complete myths surrounding SEO that do nothing for your organic search rankings. I’ve addressed these elsewhere, in “36 SEO Myths That Won’t Die But Need To.” They include:

  • XML sitemaps help Google rankings. Simply not true.
  • Exchanging links boosts rankings. Also not true.
  • Home page content must be updated daily. Again, not true.

Focus on the Outcome

The secret to success is to become outcome-focused. Identify your ultimate outcome or goal, then concentrate on that outcome with laser-like focus. Once you achieve it, you set a new goal rather than resort to working down the list of lower return activities. Outcome focused goals could include, for example:

  1. Increase Google-delivered organic traffic by 200 percent over the next three months.
  2. Decrease the cost-per-lead from $50 to $20 in the second quarter.
  3. Improve return-on-investment on SEO from 5:1 to 10:1 over the next three months.

SEO Arrows

Think about SEO activities as arrows in your quiver to reach your outcome. You may only need to use a few of those arrows. When you’ve reached your target, stop using those arrows. Instead, come up with a new outcome — an even more audacious goal — and see if you can hit that one, too.

So you may never get around to those XML Sitemaps tweaks, but that’s okay. The world won’t end because of it. And you’ll be building the value of your online business.

Which leads me to one more point of critical importance. A business owner should always be working on building the asset value of his or her business. By doing so, you are executing on your exit strategy.

If you don’t have an exit strategy, you have a very expensive job — meaning it’s a job you can never quit, one with terrible hours, full of stress, with rare or nonexistent vacations, and paychecks that may or may not come depending on the cash flow of the business (you pay yourself last, right?). I heard this from business and life coach Tony Robbins at one of his events recently, and — in my case — it’s so true.


Most ecommerce businesses rely on traffic from search engines. It’s easy, therefore, to fall prey to search consultants who suggest a myriad of activities to grow that traffic. But many of these tactics — in my experience — are simply a waste of time. By focusing on tangible outcomes, you can grow your revenues and stay focused on what’s important.

Stephan Spencer

Stephan Spencer

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  1. Don March 6, 2011 Reply

    You mentioned three specific things not to do.

    What are the top three things we should do?



  2. TheSSLstore: SSL Certificate March 6, 2011 Reply

    then which techniques can bring me on top in organic result in order to increase my website traffic?

    Please elaborate me,


  3. Louis Camassa March 7, 2011 Reply

    Focusing on tangible outcomes is good, however, you still need to focus on the actions needed to obtain the outcome.

    On-site optimization is still a very important key to search engine optimization success (including keyword density and meta description tags, among other items).

    What action items do you suggest Stephan?

  4. Ryan Bardo March 7, 2011 Reply

    I have to disagree.

    It all depends on your competition. If your competitors have optimized tags, page content, robots.txt file, etc… plus a good number of authoritative back links, then your site needs to match that and do more. If your competitors are doing all of this and blow you away with back links, page authority, and domain authority you better be ready to invest the money to compete or don’t compete at all.

    Another thing, the small things add up. I agree, doing the small things alone won’t get you anywhere, but doing all the small things with the more important items in concert will have an impact.

    The competition is always the gauge for the actions needed to compete

  5. Jim Akin March 8, 2011 Reply


    "If you’re expending effort on action items that don’t have significant return on investment — like writing meta tags and tweaking keyword density and building out a comprehensive robots.txt file — you’re leaving a lot of money on the table."

    They’re not bulleted, but that looks like Stephan’s probable top 3 to me.

  6. Christopher Skyi March 8, 2011 Reply

    Stephan is correct that success online starts with clear goals. And the best way to ensure you’re not wasting time is to be consistently engaged in analyzing & getting feedback by using something like (or exactly like) Google Analytics.

    You need to learn how to use simple analysis to get feedback about how well a site is attracting visitors and how well it’s converting them into prospects. Without analysis and feedback, it’s a guessing game, and one you’re probably going to lose in the long run.

  7. Randy Pickard March 8, 2011 Reply

    Have to strongly disagree about XML sitemaps being a waste of time. While they won’t improve rankings, they lead to more pages being indexed and quicker indexing of new pages. Probably not critical for a small site or a static site, but submitting an XML sitemap led to a 20% increase in search traffic for a big site I worked on due to more pages being indexed.

  8. Jade Carter March 9, 2011 Reply

    @randy Most relevant comment including entire article.

    Well done identifying that large sites (and medium sites with terrible navigation) can have crawlability issues based on site nav and directory architecture. Sending a crawler deep into the site and spitting out a full XML sitemap definitely can increase indexation and SE depth.

    New headline "Write eye catching Article Title, then write article with vague and intangible information" :-) just a friendly ribbing there mate.

    Keywords Tag = total and complete waste of time. Even if your competition carries the tag, do not follow. Many enterprise CMS platforms still carry and populate by default.

    Backlinks = Do this. Reach out to existing partners. Update link target and text. Vary link text…

    Robots.txt = very powerful tool. Can help with ranking if you have fallen victim to mass page duplication/exclude batches of duplicate content/admin-areas/development pages/declare location of sitemap/
    Rel Canonical Tag = further reading. :)

  9. dgrizzle March 10, 2011 Reply

    I’m not adverse to playing hardball SEO; but in the long term nothing beats substance. Most SEO advice tends to be superficial – pointers to game the system. Search algorithms change, but the direction of change is constant. I can’t see any better long range strategy than consistent production of quality original content – assuming fundamentals of site architecture and findability are sound.