How to Counter Your Ignorant Boss’ Misconceptions About SEO

Any in-house SEO professional (or consultant) who has been in the industry for even a short time has likely had to dispel misconceptions and inaccuracies about SEO to a senior manager, budget holder or client.  These misconceptions can often be so embedded that they result in an underfunded, under-resourced and under “mind-shared” SEO program.

To address many of these misconceptions — and also have a little fun with the SEO-ignorant Boss — we put together a sample interaction between “Ann,” the Director of Online Marketing at medium-sized clothing retailer ACME Co., and her VP of Marketing, the ignorant, budget-holding, SEO-deficient boss. This fictional conversation takes place when they get together to review Ann’s marketing plan for the year.

Whenever possible, we supported Ann’s arguments with empirical or knowledge-based responses so as to arm you should you ever encounter these objections yourself. Since we know it can be frustrating for knowledgeable SEO professionals to have to repeatedly counter SEO-ignorant management objections, we thought it would be fun to add in italics what Ann is really thinking and perhaps wished she could say.

ignorant SEO bossIgnorant Boss:

“You Don’t Get Customers/Revenue from Search.”


ann-thinks-wtfAnn Thinks: Please, can you start looking at the actual data and facts before forming an opinion about one of your key marketing channels, rather than believing every headline you read?


ann-explains-seoAnn Says: Actually, that’s inaccurate. Here’s data from a Shareaholic study of 270 million site visits that shows natural search accounts for nearly half of all site visits, which is 5x more than all social visits combined.


Natural search visitors convert better, too. Hubspot’s data shows they have the best lead-to-customer close percentage of all channels:



ignorant SEO bossIgnorant Boss:

“We’re Not A Big Brand, So We Have No Shot In The Search Rankings.”


ann-thinks-wtfAnn Thinks: If I see a dog, does that mean I am familiar with all the characteristics of a cat just because they both have four legs? Just because your past experience has been with marketing channels such as TV, where a massive marketing budget is the cost of admission, doesn’t mean it’s true for every other marketing channel.


ann-explains-seoAnn Says:  It is a myth, albeit a persistent one, that you must be a massive company listed on every stock exchange with billions in annual revenue to make real headway in the search listings.  The truth is, although brand recognition helps when it comes to building a robust link graph, search is the great equalizer with an open playing field to those organizations that choose to focus on it.

Take a look at this example SERP for a high volume keyword (“web hosting”).  It shows how small- and medium-sized companies can do quite well in the SERPs.  There are many such examples across industries.


ignorant SEO bossIgnorant Boss:

“Why Don’t We Do Google Ads Instead? We Can Get Traffic Immediately Without All this SEO Business.”




Ann Thinks: Just because a 99-cent hamburger gives you immediate gratification doesn’t mean it’s in your long-term best interest.


ann-explains-seoAnn Says: Paid search ads will give you a more immediate return in some cases, but that is one of many factors to consider when considering investment in Paid vs. Natural search.


Consider the following factors:

  • Clicks take place in natural search: comScore data show that up to 92% of clicks take place in organic vs. paid search.  Studies show a large part of this is because searchers are focused predominantly on the natural search results.  This means a brand’s focusing on paid search means they are not appearing in the real estate where a majority of searcher attention is given.



Image Source

  • It Costs $$$ to Feed the Paid Search Machine:  Paid search (as the name implies) is not free. It must be constantly fed money to continue producing results. (There’s a reason why Google generated nearly $50 Billion dollars in revenue last year.)  Stop feeding the Paid Search machine, and it stops driving traffic. Contrast that with natural search — while it is not free and does require an often significant upfront investment, it is an ongoing source of earned traffic (with some regular maintenance).
  • More than Half of Search Queries Have No Paid Ads: Given that more than half of all search queries return no paid ads at all, the only way to reach the more than 1.5 Billion queries per day that that represents is by appearing within natural search results.


ignorant SEO bossIgnorant Boss:

“We Have a Good Brand and Rank Well for It, So We Don’t Need SEO.”



ann-thinks-wtfAnn Thinks: That’s like saying, “The people in my store are already buying some things so that’s enough business for me.”



ann-explains-seoAnn Says: It’s pretty normal to be ranking well for your own brand, and searchers who are specifically searching for your brand are likely to already have made a decision to purchase from you. It is the searchers who are searching for terms relevant to your industry, who have not yet made a purchase decision, that you want to capture through SEO.  Even a rudimentary scan shows that our brand is not highly visible for the kinds of terms that would generate significant traffic and revenue.



ignorant SEO bossIgnorant Boss:

“SEO is Dead! Everyone’s Investing in Social; Isn’t That Where We Should Be Putting Our Money??”



ann-thinks-wtfAnn Thinks: Did your mother ask you, “If everyone else was jumping off a bridge, does that mean you should to do it, too?” a lot?



ann-explains-seoAnn Says: There’s no question that Social has a place in the marketer’s toolbox, and with the recent emphasis on content in the industry, it is a critical distribution channel for the marketer’s content.  But if you look past the hype and step out of the echo chamber, you’ll see that in most cases, search still represents a far greater opportunity than social.


First, based on Conductor’s analysis of more than 31 million referral visits, you can see that organic search accounts for 7 out of 10 visits, whereas social accounts for 1%.


Looking at it from another angle, you can see Adobe’s analysis of billions of visits to over 500 e-commerce websites: 34% came from search, while 2% came from social.


Conclusion: Arm Yourself To Counter The Misconceptions Of The SEO-Deficient Boss

Search Engine Optimization is an industry rife with misconceptions, both about the practice itself and about its utility relative to alternative marketing channels.  These persistent misconceptions, coupled with disproportionate media coverage of other, sexier channels, leave the ignorant boss particularly susceptible to inaccuracies.

Arming yourself with intelligent, metric-backed responses will give you the best chance of countering your boss’ misconceptions and ensure you get the buy-in and support you need to succeed.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | Search Marketing | Search Marketing: General


About The Author: is Director of Research at Conductor, Inc, an SEO technology company in New York, authoring insightful research on trends in the natural search industry.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Nick Stamoulis

    Change boss to prospect/client and I’ve had many similar conversations over the years. Sooner or later we all have to face this conversation where what we want to say is the not-so-nice version of how we should phrase it. The key thing to remember is that people don’t know SEO the way you do and you have to break down the myths and give them the facts.

  • Scott Clark

    Small typo I think? “in natural vs. organic search”-> “in natural vs. paid search”

  • Pedro Martheyn

    On-going conversation with clients! Great post. I’m just going to start sending them this link

  • Jen Marie Robustelli

    hey Scott, good eye. Unfortunately I can’t fix it since it’s in the hands of SEL editors now. Thanks for reading!

  • ronniesmustache

    - 1&1 Hosting isn’t a “small company.”

    - re: “This means a brand’s focusing on paid search means they are not appearing in the real estate where a majority of searcher attention is given.”

    That’s not a true statement

    - “Arming” yourself w/ heat map images and com score studies that are almost 3 years old, isn’t the best way to gain credibility (e.g., Ann vs. D-bag boss).

    - You and I know that the Google organic traffic faucet can be turned off at any time. Often for reasons that have nothing to do with the SEO/marketing professionals. What will Ann do then? She told everyone that PPC is for chumps. “Bye-bye, Ann. We no longer need your services here.”

  • Nathan Safran


  • Mark Bowers

    “First, based on Conductor’s analysis of more than 31 million referral visits, you can see that organic search accounts for 7 out of 10 visits, whereas social accounts for 1%.”

    Right-o, but this certainly doesn’t take in to account the SEO benefit of social signals, which seem to matter more and more every year.

  • Martin Oxby

    We are noticing these sorts of queries more and more with our clients at Summit Web. The thing from a client (rather than a boss position) is that they sometimes catch a snippet of something and make a conclusion based on incomplete information. The most recent one was ‘there’s no point doing SEO now’, which demonstrates our responsibility as Marketing Agencies to inform clients and prospects as to what ‘SEO’ actually means, rather than what historically people have thought it meant.

    These misconceptions aren’t going away any time soon, so it’s good to have a defence – but I encourage readers to make their own mini-case-studies to demonstrate the facts underlying your assertions. Time for us all to step up to the mark methinks :-)

  • ronniesmustache

    Almost 2,000 employees too.

  • ronniesmustache

    It is your job as an SEO to show your boss or clients the ROI on your efforts.

    First thing you should do is establish a clear line to the P&L.

    It beats presenting out-dated studies.

  • Ash Vyas

    That’s an interesting post and I felt Ann is really pissed off. It reminded me one of my client who told me that can’t we say Google that we are the best in industry and deserve to be in top fir every product. And it was damn difficult to make her understand the scenario. What I liked the most about this post is the thumbnails used. LOL

  • ronniesmustache

    “SEO is over…” Come on, buddy!

    I don’t like to see SEO vs PAID/PPC discussions because there is no right and wrong. For some businesses, SEO might not be more than a one-time project. For others, it might be their #1 source of business. It is for many of the companies I work for.

    For the most part, I like to see the brand I’m working with ALL OVER THE SERP. Dominating the space w/ PPC ads, PLA’s, organic results, local results, side boxes, etc…

    Big businesses KNOW that SEO is absolutely vital to long-term success. And is certainly one of the best longterm investments they can make.

    Smaller businesses may be apprehensive because there are unskilled “SEO pros” out there who are either incompetent or reckless.

    There are indeed some ignorant misconceptions about SEO, but I really don’t feel this article addresses them. The scenario presented, features an in-house SEO employee. That means that the company was sold on the opportunities SEO brings. If the SEO employee (Ann) has to justify the viability of her job, then she’s doing a lot wrong. And it’s probably just bad communication. DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE CALLED TO PRESENT YOUR PLAN, STRATEGY or BUDGET. That’s not the time to defend the legitimacy of your profession.

    I’ve done in-house and agency consulting and the most important thing right now in SEO is communication. Every person with a hand in the website (even CSR’s) need to have some degree of understanding of what the goals are.

    Push for frequent meetings w/ marketing, IT, C-level guys if necessary. Even if it’s just an informal status update. Get involved in as many areas of the company as possible. “SEO’s” can no longer run off and “do SEO.”

    It’s much easier to get buy in to new ideas when people are informed and feel as if they have a hand in the success of the SEO results.

  • Nathan Safran

    true, it is strictly a look from a traffic perspective.

  • Nathan Safran

    Martin: Good point. In addition to industry counters to the arguments, it is important to do one’s own mini-case studies to validate what SEO is or is not doing in one’s own space.

  • sharithurow

    Hi all-

    I would counter that brand search with data on navigational, informational, and transactional queries.

    A brand search is often (but not always) a navigational query. Informational queries are still the most common search query on browsers in multiple devices. Here’s a pre-print article from one of my colleagues in Germany (with citations)

    There are many other citations, but that’s a good place to start.

  • ronniesmustache

    The heat maps are old though.

    Say your selling Oakley Sunglasses, Sony Headphones, or even ‘microfiber cleaning cloths’…

    Your non-paid options are pretty limited. Especially on tablets and phones.

  • sharithurow

    There are still many, many research citations you could use for navigational, informational, and transactional queries. Heat maps are only one citation. (Humans are quite visual; therefore, I understand why it was used in the article.)

    As I stated previously, all data should be taken into context. The article author was providing examples to help us deal with ignorant bosses (among other types of people). Even search engines put keywords into context.

    From a paper by Ryen White et al at Microsoft:

    “A query considered in isolation offers limited information about a searcher’s intent. Query context that considers query activity…can provide richer information about search intentions.”

    I just try to figure out what types of citations and other evidence I need to convince someone, and get that supporting evidence if I can.

    BTW, the keyword phrases you provided show informational intent, not necessarily navigational intent.

  • Montville Grove

    I like the way Ann thinks – great device for keeping us reading. Also found the heatmap useful.

  • Thomas Rudy

    The click density image is interesting. I’ve often had a lot of success with PPC without focusing on getting to the top spot and spending less money. However I only do this with my own sites. Clients won’t hear any of that.

  • brad curtis

    Great article with great references to back it up. Thanks!

  • elcario

    Nice post Nathan! But please let me correct your SERP Screenshot: 1and1 is not a small company, it’s part of “United Internet AG”, a german company with 2,4 Billion Euro revenue per anno and large media / advertising coverage!


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide