5 mindset mistakes you may be making when it comes to SEO

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about different approaches to page speed optimization.

During this process, I stumbled onto some older posts on the topic, including an old blog post on the topic from Matt Cutts, Google’s former head of webspam. As I got to the comment section, I remembered how intently SEOs used to read Matt Cutts’s blog. The comments on those posts always revealed a lot about how people thought about Google and SEO.

As with most areas of life, lots of people had reasonable questions like this:

A reasonable question from a commenter

Or this:

Another reasonable question from a commenter

Other people were pretty positive and went the flattery route:

A flattering blog comment re: page speed

And, of course, as with virtually every internet discussion, some people had strongly worded, multi-paragraph hot takes:

A longer comment on the page speed blog post

And still others had a (justifiably) difficult time keeping different components of Google’s ranking factors and information for webmasters straight:

A comment about page speed impacting page rank

Such is the nature of internet commenters (though as comment sections, go this one was actully fairly reasonable and civil). That said, these familiar reactions to a now seven-year-old Google announcement did make me think about five different SEO mindsets that I frequently see holding clients and different companies (of all shapes and sizes) back from growing traffic from organic search.

1. Content topic narcissism

Sharing knowledge about things that you’re expert in is a great way to get links and traffic. Many successful blogs have started without the author even knowing what SEO is and end up driving massive amounts of Google traffic by simply sharing solutions to problems that he or she had.

However, this is very different from the approach I see many (frankly, probably most) corporate blogs taking. “Scratching your own itch” and sharing helpful information that you’re interested and expert in is not the same as just writing about whatever you and your company want to generate content around.

Many corporate blogs are a mix of company-centric short posts (effectively press releases), extremely short content proclaiming the importance of something (typically a product or service the company sells) without really demonstrating that importance conclusively and with no real added value for readers, and/or short lists of not-particularly-actionable tips the reader could find at several other sites.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with including shorter content, product/company updates, or posts that are more explicitly designed to drive leads and sales — these are, after all, company blogs. But if a blog post falls in the forest and no one’s around to read it, its not going to drive any leads, right?

This is a concept that’s been talked about by SEOs and content strategists ad infinitum, but I still see tons of companies who want to crank out self-referential sales materials and have someone “sprinkle SEO pixie dust” on top of content that no one would have any reasonable incentive to share or link to.

So, what’s a better approach?

A better mindset is to be focused on delivering useful content that your audience wants, even if every single blog post and page on your site isn’t going to generate immediate sales. Specifically, you can think about a mix of:

  • problems you’ve solved for yourself or your clients that you can share information about.
  • research on the things your prospects search for and post about (e.g., keyword research).
  • posts that curate and link out to other resources (which is helpful for both your prospects and the resources you highlight).
  • industry reports, surveys and other kinds of content that prospects will find so valuable that they’ll be happy to exchange their contact information for them.

This doesn’t mean you stop offering case studies, demos, consultations, free trials and more on your site — it just means you’ll have a better chance that people will actually be on your site to find them.

2. Excessive Google pleasing

Much of the advice you get from Google about whether you need an SEO — and about SEO in general — is pretty good. Much of it focuses on making your site accessible, creating content for readers and avoiding some of the things that are against their guidelines (which are high-risk tactics).

That said, a majority of recommendations Google makes are in the best interest of Google’s users and/or Google’s business — and so, not everything Google recommends will be in your business’s best interest.

Just because Google rolls out a new algorithm update, SERP display or product feature doesn’t necessarily mean you need to immediately reorganize your to-do list to jump on the latest announcement.

So, what’s a better approach?

Understanding what Google says and what they’re emphasizing in search rankings is useful and important, but make sure you’re making sound business and marketing decisions. Don’t overhaul your site or put off important tasks just because you’re implementing the newest thing that the Webmaster Central Blog hinted at/sneezed about this week.

3. Shiny blog post syndrome

Similarly, a lot of marketers and business owners have some tactical ADD when it comes to their SEO approach.

I love a good SEO case study as much as the next guy, but a tactic that worked for someone else may not work for your site. Or, it may work OK for your site but be less effective than other things you could spend your time on.

For instance, cleaning up very specific technical issues and making minor page speed improvements may have a tremendous yield for a huge publishing site that has tons of traffic, content and quality links — but it likely won’t help your five-page B2B SaaS site that has virtually no links and gets mostly branded organic traffic.

Similarly, a strategy or tactic that leads to a 50 percent bump in traffic for a site driving 10,000 unique visitors a month may not have the same impact on a site driving hundreds of thousands of unique visitors already and looking for step-function growth.

So, what’s a better approach?

Consuming case studies and monitoring what your competitors are up to is great, but take the case studies with a grain of salt, and try to contextualize the tactics you’re learning about and observing. Your competitors may be executing a tactic that works great for them but wouldn’t for you, and that clever SEO case study may have worked well for a different site but may not be worth throwing your SEO strategy out for.

I like to dedicate specific budget/time to experiments and set a definition of success or failure before the project starts. If it works, you can integrate that shiny new tactic more broadly into your SEO efforts; if it doesn’t, all you’ve lost is the time/budget downside you’d designated before hand.

This ensures that testing a new tactic isn’t grabbing the steering wheel from an approach that is or would be working if you stuck with it, while still allowing you to try new things.


A fourth and related mistake I see companies make is becoming overwhelmed by SEO FOMO (fear of missing out). This is constantly being on the lookout for the “next big thing” — focusing more on hunting down a get-traffic-quick scheme that will get you big returns with small effort than on executing a sustainable long-term strategy.

Your competitors may or may not be beating you, but they’re likely not “winning” with some secret, easy-to-implement trick that you can uncover if you just stare at them long enough. Most companies that are generating better results than you are likely either:

  • executing on a tactic/strategy you’re already aware of, but doing it better than you are, or
  • actually using a shady, easy-to-implement trick, but exposing themselves to a tremendous amount of risk (which you’d actually prefer to avoid if given the choice explicitly).

And many times, the competitors that companies are most jealous of aren’t actually doing as well as they think.

So, what’s a better approach?

Focus on the things that you can control. Identify your own goals, evaluate the tactics available to you, and determine the best strategy for you.

Looking at what competitors and successful companies are doing definitely plays a role there, but constantly shifting strategy and looking around for a top-secret SEO cheat code is a great way to distract yourself from the work of actually improving your site and growing your organic traffic.

5. Fear of commitment or ‘box checking’

Prospects are usually surprised when I tell them that they probably shouldn’t be employing an SEO. Obviously (given that I have a business), I don’t tell that to every prospect, but the reality is that not every business should be spending on SEO.

What if you’re a small business with limited resources and a very specific local addressable market? Spending money monthly on SEO just to “check a box” may be a less efficient use of spend than a channel you know yields quality prospects. It may make more sense to engage with a smart local SEO on a one-time project basis and leverage occasional consulting calls if you have a limited budget.

Along the same lines, being overly skeptical of SEO or not supporting the process with sufficient internal resources (so that you can make recommended technical changes, publish new content, promote that content and so on) is likely worse than not getting started at all.

So, what’s a better approach?

Challenging assumptions and asking for clarification and communication is great, but if you’re going to get started with SEO, it’s important to commit fully, give the people responsible (internally or externally) your total support, and have specific checkpoints to evaluate the efficacy of the work you’re doing.

If you’re a small business and can’t commit to these things right now, consider focusing on other areas of your business and revisit SEO at a later date. I think SEO is a very effective and efficient channel for most businesses, but not every business needs to have an aggressive commitment to SEO to be successful.

Final thoughts

Before you get started working on your list of the latest SEO tactics and tricks, it’s important to make sure that your general strategy and approach isn’t limiting your returns — so start by avoiding these five mindset mistakes to ensure you get the most out of your SEO efforts.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.