By Mike Murray published January 25, 2017

5 Reasons SEO Should Take a Back Seat With Website Content


It makes sense at times to produce content without worrying too much about the SEO aspects. (Please know it isn’t easy for me, an SEO professional, to write that.)

Some SEO purists suggest that website content be optimized at all times. It’s inevitable that someone – or a team – will follow an internal process and think about the content with an everything-SEO mentality.

But there are situations when you don’t need to sweat SEO – or can at least scale back the effort. Here are five occasions to consider.

1. You’re writing about a new trend

B2B and B2C brands sometimes want to be out front with a new industry phrase – long before it’s widely used. The phrase may not even have any or much detectable search volume.

Businesses should write about emerging trends to underscore their expertise and vision and SEO may not be top of mind when shaping the content. You’ll be rewarded later on search engines for having a content-first approach. As your article ages and attracts inbound links and interest, you’ll be in a good position to rank well as the keyword phrase gains momentum.

Business should write about emerging trends to underscore expertise & vision, says @mikeonlinecoach. Click To Tweet

At some point, for example, someone wrote about “influencer marketing.” The Google Trends index shows how the phrase grew in popularity over three years.


2. Few people search for the keyword phrase

Many low-volume search terms involve long-tail keyword phrases. It’s still useful to target them if they have the potential to generate high rankings and leads, particularly for B2B companies with long sales cycles. But these low-volume search phrases are not always relevant or likely to convert.

Target long-tail keyword phrases if they have potential to generate high rankings, says @mikeonlinecoach. Click To Tweet

3. The desired keywords are too competitive

You may want to rank on the first page for “CRM tool,” which is searched an estimated 2,900 times a month, according to Google. But, typically, your site ranks on the first page of Google for keywords searched 300 to 500 times a month. Are you really going to build your SEO page strategy around the popular phrase “CRM tool”?

If a keyword phrase is beyond your reach, accept your competitive position and weigh alternative keyword phrases. Here are some questions to consider when selecting a different phrase:

  • Will the keyword phrase work in the headline?
  • Is the optional phrase worth pursuing for the time available to publish this content?
  • Will the search volume be high enough?
  • Will the keyword phrases be relevant?
  • Do you have the rest of your SEO act together?
  • What are the odds that the optional phrase in your content will rank?
A Nutshell Guide to Proper Keyword Research

4. Visitors arrive from various sources

SEO doesn’t need to be the top dog in your content. Your website content should engage and satisfy people when they arrive through:

  • Website navigation that highlights the content
  • E-mail marketing
  • Social media
  • Shared links
  • Media relations
  • Paid media

Who cares about keywords for which you can’t rank well or phrases that people hardly use if most of your site traffic doesn’t come from search (and you’re OK with that)? Analyze where your overall traffic comes from and identify key performance indicators targeting your ideal mix of channels to drive traffic.

Bayer may have been considering this when it ignored SEO in its impressive article on “citrus greening” and other content. Even though the phrase incurs nearly 3,000 monthly searches on Google, Bayer is nowhere in sight in the rankings.

The title, Keeping the Juice on the Table, clearly demonstrates that SEO isn’t a goal. The article details the issue of citrus greening and includes quality video and photos.


Imagine the power AT&T has to market its content, including this business article: 4 Ways to Delight Your Smartphone-Happy Customers. Sure, this piece ranks No. 1 on Google for “delight smartphone customers,” but that keyword phrase isn’t searched frequently. The content, though, is still useful with current data and practical tips for business professionals who discover the content through non-search ways.


Syngenta has a good article called Mission Possible about grain bins. No, it’s not an SEO priority (it shows no real effort to rank for “grain bin safety,” which averages at least 90 monthly searches on Google). But that’s OK. It still provides value and can be found, particularly through Syngenta’s internal site search.


5. You already hold a top spot

What if you’re No. 1 or 2 on Google? If you basically own a keyword phrase, you probably don’t need to put your new content through the numerous ranking SEO steps to score well for that phrase.

Walmart ranks first for many keyword phrases (I found hundreds in a search with the robust SEMrush tool). I hope members of the retailer’s marketing team realize when they control the top spots, such as “55 inch TV” that’s searched an estimated 40,500 times a month on Google. That way they can target new keyword phrases with their new content.



It’s always a good idea to be mindful of SEO, but you also need to decide when to make the time for it. Weigh SEO with other content goals and your ability to attract the relevant visitors from multiple sources.

It’s always good to be mindful of #SEO, but you’ll need to decide when to make time for it. @mikeonlinecoach Click To Tweet

How do you approach SEO? When do you ignore it or not make as much of a fuss about it?

Want more SEO insight and advice and tips to improve your content overall? Subscribe to our free daily newsletter or get the weekly wrap-up with an exclusive letter from CMI founder Joe Pulizzi.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Mike Murray

Mike Murray has shaped online marketing strategies for hundreds of businesses since 1997, including Fortune 500 companies. A former journalist, he has led SEO studies and spoken at regional and national Internet conferences. Founder of Online Marketing Coach, Mike is passionate about helping clients identify their best opportunities for online marketing success based on their strengths, his advice and industry trends. You can find him at his blog, Online Marketing Matters or on Twitter @mikeonlinecoach.

Other posts by Mike Murray

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Good post but you are missing the most important idea. Optimizing for SEO actually works against the opportunity for massive reach, the possible viral potential of the content. If you focus on SEO, you are naturally optimizing for popular phrases. But the content that achieves the greatest reach represents something original and new. If your content strategy only focuses on SEO-friendly content, your business is just another dog fighting over the same bone. Of course there is a place for SEO, but to break out of the pack, you need to completely ignore SEO and find your own path.

    • Mike Murray

      Mark – I see what you mean about the risk or danger of treating content for SEO and limiting its impact. In some cases, it can be a tough call about what SEO changes could take away from the power of the content. But a balance is possible.

  • Alli Berry

    Perhaps we define SEO differently, but some of these are still SEO strategies to me. Getting ahead of a trend is a popular SEO strategy so you are positioned well in search for later. Analyzing your competition for keywords and then going after long-tail keywords you have a shot to own is a long-time SEO strategy. In regards to #4, why wouldn’t you also try to get a bigger piece of the search pie? Following SEO best practices doesn’t sacrifice the quality of your content especially now that there is less focus on exact-match keywords…so what’s the harm? Imagine how many more people Bayer could reach if they optimized their article and video for search. Search tends to bring in more qualified traffic than other sources because the user has already demonstrated enough interest in the topic to seek it out.

    • Mike Murray

      Alli – Thanks for the extra perspective. Sometimes I think SEO doesn’t need to be the highest priority. With the Bayer article, for example, SEO efforts may require changes to the article that could be performing well on other levels while appealing to visitors from different sources. Could Bayer do more with SEO? Sure. In my view, marketers just need to determine the degree of the effort they should make.

  • Mike Murray

    Carolyn – thanks for responding to the article. I consider many factors with content. One question is: Is there an opportunity for strategic SEO? I just think the time devoted to SEO should be minimized at times.

  • Geofrey Crow

    Thanks for the article, Mike. I’m still learning SEO myself, but I’ve been wondering when and where to apply it. Would it be fair to say it’s something you want in place when you’re establishing an audience, but not so much after you’ve already got them?

  • Mike Murray

    Geofrey, it’s not that simple. You should have SEO in place, but it should be ongoing as well. I wrote the article to point out situations where SEO may not be as important. In other words, there may be other priorities. Sometimes marketers optimize websites in a blind way. What I mean by that is they either develop content and hope to rank or target keyword phrases they can’t rank for because their websites don’t have enough going for them (age, domain name, inbound links, etc.). I encourage everyone to identify a sweet spot. Target keywords (by search volume) that have a chance to rank and generate traffic. With B2B, you can even go with very low search volumes and still get conversions. Older, larger sites can get away with SEO tactics that aren’t perfect because age/authority and inbound links give them an advantage. Smaller or newer sites often need to optimize as much as possible.

  • Gustavo Woltmann

    Thank you Mike, it’s a valuable input. One shouldn’t only care about SEO by all means.

  • Michael Semer

    Great post. As far as some of my own content clients are concerned, they consider putting on-page SEO first in priority and relying on organic to be a sucker’s bet. These are, notably, firms specializing in content/SMM analytics who won’t post new content without a promo campaign around it. They advise their customers to do the same, because their analyses show that organic SEO just isn’t going to get them the traction they want, especially when targeting very specific audiences is mandated. To them, targeting and outbound take precedence because SEO simply isn’t working well enough or fast enough, and is increasingly less important in macro. SEO shouldn’t be discounted, but content marketers need to consider a broader approach.

    • Mike Murray

      Michael, thanks for weighing in and the comment about the broader approach.

      Marketers need to use their experience and wisdom to know when to devote time and resources to SEO. It doesn’t hurt to do the fundamentals. But it’s always a question of the energy required and the payoff in light of time spent on other options. Some content ranks well for some keywords, for example. And other keywords don’t do as well for the same content. So a more involved SEO strategy might involve making new content. I explored this a year ago when looking at Fortune 500 companies:

      I always think of Nationwide, which I called out in the article. The company does very well for some pages. But it should make new content to succeed for other keywords that aren’t performing (too many keywords trying to compete for the same page). But Nationwide is probably content with the overall results and they’re not worrying about making new pages. They probably moved on. Like everyone, they made a judgment call.

  • Roger C. Parker

    Thank for the perspective you’ve shared. I especially liked Point 4, reminding us that visitors may come from all over. Perhaps the big idea from your article is to remind us that content marketing success doesn’t come from mindlessly following rules and formulas, but by making mindful, appropriate decisions.

    • Mike Murray

      Roger, I like your point about “mindlessly following rules and formulas.” It gets to the heart of the topic. Marketers shouldn’t neglect SEO or dismiss it. They just need to keep it in perspective.

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  • Dara Lin

    SEO is the process of optimizing your online content. For me, I approach SEO in a simple strategic form like the specific keyword research, growing traffic and of course rankings. It’s important to get client involve in the process all the time. SEO tests your ability to set correct content goals and on how you can attract multiple visitors that’s the reason why you need also to understand what you are doing especially when it comes to content.

  • Satish Veeramani

    Nice article.. congratulations.. I have been searching for knowledge to get SeO optimised for images.. this article is going to help me a lot.