True SEO Is Invisible

High quality, sustainable SEO is an invisible layer across a site, and should never be seen or felt by a standard user.

Good SEO is invisible. It’s not a thing that should be seen and looked at and exclaimed, “Hey, look at that SEO!”. It’s not a product. SEO isn’t an artifact or a section of a site. It’s not a footer link with keyword stuffed anchor text. SEO is not a finish line, we don’t do the SEO and then be done with it. We’re never done. “We did it team! We did the SEO!” doesn’t mean anything real.

SEO isn’t something you can point at, unless you know what you’re looking for. Good SEO isn’t seen, isn’t obvious, isn’t noticed. Good SEO is synonymous with a good user experience. Good SEO makes Google and all search results better. It improves the user experience, adds relevance, enriches search result pages, and makes sites easier to use, faster and more intuitive.

What Bad SEO Is

Bad SEO is a bunch of stuffed links spammed across a footer nineteen miles below the fold. It’s a gross looking link in comment spam. It’s a gross looking link spammed into an anonymous WordPress blog on the Deep Web. It’s a gross link spammed in a gross Forbes article. Bad SEO is that SEO audit, with an inventory of things that “might be wrong with the site” but have no connection to a strategy and nobody cares about. Bad SEO is that keyword research that gets pulled directly out of any old SEO tool and sorted by pseudo “search volume” and whatever proprietary meaningless metric the tool uses. Bad SEO is link building done from the beginning to build links, with the content experience an afterthought. Bad SEO is reporting on rank positions. Bad SEO is emphasizing core algorithm changes and the minutiae of things Google is continually testing and deploying. Bad SEO is Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI), whatever that is. Bad SEO is you trying to reverse engineer a search algorithm, chasing the algo, adjusting your approach based on the algo, paying any extra attention to the algo. At all.

Bad SEO is seen everywhere, all the time.

The Industry is Evolving

There was a time when I’d rant write about something like this and think how far behind the industry was, but today I see us evolving in leaps and bounds. Innovation has accelerated. SEO has gone mainstream. SEO is dead isn’t something you read about as much. McKinsey features SEO when they discuss leading performance marketing techniques for health care1. If that’s not a sign that SEO is full on mainstream…

Google recently introduced an ecommerce guide to SEO2. Their Search Central documentation is detailed, high quality, and some of the best content on the topic, period. If that isn’t a sign SEO is getting more mainstream, I don’t know what is! There used to be a time we scoffed at Google’s SEO documentation, it was so hopelessly basic and general. We had to create our own best practices for pagination, product inventory, JavaScript and duplicate content. Now, best practices are prevalent and easily found.

Google Search Console is quite useful and well supported, is high quality and full of amazing detail about a site. It’s free. Anyone can use it. It’s mainstream.

The Rock Star Guru is Fading

SEO rock star syndrome might just be dying, thankfully. It was always odd how the paid search industry never fostered an industry-famous mentality, but focused on the technology, the skillsets and the data, but SEO went heavy with gurus. Why were there all these SEO gurus? Where did they come from? It’s been downright confusing. It was like SEO experts were special wizards with arcane secrets only they understood, and were personally responsible for unlocking millions of visits from organic search. It was never that way. It’s just that SEO hadn’t matured yet, hadn’t been institutionalized, hadn’t become an accepted enterprise channel. Now it has, and the industry-famous mentality and “thought leaders” are fading, to the industry’s benefit and everyone’s relief.

Today you can find mainstream SEO content everywhere, and it’s not being produced by a handful of individuals. It’s being produced by the industry writ large. Because everyone and anyone can be an expert and there is a universe of complexity and mutli-directional positions to guide your way, and it’s only getting more complex. These are good things.

Today SEO in-house within the enterprise is a full on thing, heavily invested, and maturing more rapidly than agencies. In fact, many brands have stolen the best agency talent and placed them in their departments. This, too, is a Good Thing.

SEO Should Be Invisible

As the industry evolves, I hope we don’t lose the community, but let’s lose the rock star mentality. Everyone wants attention, some more than others. But the honest truth is, nobody is that special. And when we see an entire industry evolving right before our eyes, something amazing becomes clear. Everyone who’s a subject matter expert (SME) in SEO, you’re not special because of that. You are simply part of a growing industry. Be yourself, be brilliant, but don’t think you’re standing apart because you’ve gone deeper into JavaScript or entities than the average bear. A lot of people could not care less. They care about what moves the business bottom line. There was a time not long ago when the best SEOs were just a handful, but now they’re numbered in the hundreds. Maybe the thousands, with more entering the field every year. That’s a very good thing.


In the end, the SEO industry didn’t die and the channel didn’t fade into irrelevance. Organic search has only gotten more valuable, more important, and the industry has only gotten more sophisticated, more diverse, and more complex. It’s a wonderful time to begin a career in SEO, and for someone like me who began ages ago, it’s a wonderful time to drop back in. This industry needs mature voices and needs understanding at the C-level within enterprise organizations. But it also needs new voices and ideas, fresh young forces ready to tackle the old problems in new and refreshing ways. It’s never been a better time to be an SEO.

SEO should be invisible, but the thought and complexity that gets us to that invisible conclusion is far from ethereal. It’s robust and challenging and ever changing, and its impact on the bottom line for companies across the globe has been profound. As we prepare to enter a cookie-less environment, prepare for it to get even more gnarly, in all the best ways.

Stay curious, and keep it invisible, and let the outcome of your work show up in real, tangible business impact.

SEO should be invisible. Image by Lulu Lovering. CC


  1. The rise of digital marketing in medtech, McKinsey
  2. Best practices for ecommerce in search, Google

6 thoughts on “True SEO Is Invisible”

  1. Hey Adam, as an SEO consultant who’s often referred to as a guru (which makes me uncomfortable), I think you’re absolutely right.
    I’ve been fighting content companies that rank keywords based on KD, Search Volume, and links from high DA websites.
    I’ve been educating my customers on what good SEO is so we all can get better, when they ask me a question and don’t know the answer, it becomes a group effort to find the answer. Guess what, we all grow, we all learn and my customers like it.

    • … and that creates trust because you’re not afraid to say “I don’t know” and collaborate to find answers. This is a powerful approach that’s also sincere and more effective than the “guru” mindset. Good stuff, Blas. Thank you for sharing.

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