The Granola-Munching Hippie’s Guide to All-Natural SEO

image of young redheaded woman

This is the fourth post in the “Content Connections” series

You may have heard the bell tolling for SEO.

It’s dying. It’s dead. It’s so 2011. Google killed it.

If you’ve read articles about this, and believed them, you have my permission to not tell anyone about your foolishness.

Because the “SEO is dead” story is dangerously, laughably wrong.

It gets passed around because there’s a sliver of truth in it — the primitive “black hat” stuff that some amateurish SEOs preach is going away, fast.

Today we’re going back to the future and uncovering the crunchy, sustainable, all-organic SEO that works today, and is going to keep working for the foreseeable future.

Peace out, man.

Go organic

The first ingredient of pure organic SEO is links. Fresh, real, relevant links from human beings who dig what you have to say.

I know we say that every week. I know you’re bored with me saying it. I can promise at least one eye-rolling comment today saying you’ve heard this before.

So stop wasting your time leaving cranky blog comments, get to work, and start creating content worth linking to, and we can move on to something else.

I’m still seeing thin, lame, and boring content out there, and listening to site owners wondering why they’re getting smacked in the mouth by Pandas and Penguins.

If you aren’t getting natural links, your content is either boring, you write lousy headlines, or you’re afraid to bang the drum with your social sharing network.

If you don’t have real links, you don’t have SEO that works. I don’t mean to harsh your mellow, but that’s the reality.

Make content, not war

So what do other web publishers want to link to, and share?

Good content. We all know that.

To be perfectly clear, good content is:

  • Useful (it solves an audience problem)
  • Interesting (it’s framed in a way that catches attention)
  • Audience-friendly (it has an interesting headline and it’s formatted to be readable)
  • Sticky (it invites the reader to settle in, learn more, and maybe take the relationship further)

All you need is (social sharing) love

Some of the “SEO is dead” nonsense comes from a misunderstanding of how the search engines handle links vs. social sharing.

Links and social sharing (like Tweets and Facebook shares) are both what Google calls “signals” of high-quality content, which is the stuff they want to put at the top of their search pages.

So what gets shared? Well, it’s the content that’s:

  • Useful (it solves an audience problem)
  • Interesting (it’s framed in a way that catches attention)
  • Audience-friendly (it has an interesting headline and it’s formatted to be readable)
  • Sticky (it invites the reader to settle in, learn more, and maybe take the relationship further)

Sounding a little familiar here?

The big search engines want to rank content that’s worth reading.

How do you know it’s worth reading? If people are reading (and sharing) it.

That means sharing with links, with Google+, with Pinterest, with whatever’s going to be invented 20 minutes from now.

If people find a way to share web content via psychic brain waves, the Google engineers will figure out how to include that as a signal.

Keep making shareable content and you won’t have to make many changes when the platforms come and go.

Spam is unhealthy for children and other living things

We all know what spam in email is — it’s that stuff asking us to make wire transfers to countries where we don’t know anyone, or selling fake pharmaceuticals with a totally free malware bonus.

What the search engines consider “spam” is somewhat similar — it’s thin, flat, stale content that’s just there to pack in a bunch of keywords.

It’s what bad SEOs think is “SEO Copywriting.” (For the sake of reference, here’s what good SEOs do instead.)

If you’re writing for search engines instead of people, you’re writing spam.

It wastes your time, annoys the people you do manage to get in front of, and benefits no one — especially your business.

If you do this now, stop. Start writing for humans only (either customers or second customers). Once it works for people, then you give it a little tweak for the search engines.

Don’t buy links, man

It’s a worse bummer than brown acid.

Link-buying used to be a part of a lot of effective SEO. Copyblogger has never done it because we’re kinda proud about not paying for lovin’, but a lot of otherwise legitimate sites quietly did.

Google hated it, but they couldn’t really figure out how to stop it.

Guess what. Google is really smart. I know three people who work for Google, and they’re all ridiculously intelligent.

When you’re pitching your SEO strategy against some of the smartest people in the world, you are going to lose.

Don’t buy links. Depending on how subtle your SEO is, it might work today, for a short time. Probably it won’t work at all. And sooner rather than later, it’s going to hurt your site.

Is optimization natural?

So is there any room left for a practice called “SEO”? Is optimization the same thing as spam?

The way I see it, SEO is like doing situps for a nudist. It’s still you, in your 100% natural state, you’re just making things a little more attractive.

Optimization today is about helping the search engine robots figure out the fine points of what you’re talking about. It’s a gentle tweak, not mindlessly stuffing keywords or playing dumb tricks.

This is part four of the Content Connections series

This post is part of a series on making connections with other web publishers — the kinds of connections that will serve your business.

It’s the other half of content marketing — what happens after you’ve created something worth reading.

To get the full series, just stay tuned here at Copyblogger. If you haven’t already, why not subscribe by email so you’ll be sure you don’t miss any of the posts.

You can read the first three posts here:

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Reader Comments (69)

  1. says

    Agreed! SEO isn’t dead, it’s simply evolving to become more streamlined. In the end, it still comes down to creating awesome content though. Unfortunately for small businesses, this concept is difficult to grasp. Maybe they don’t have faith that others will link to great content…

    • says

      You have to create something worth linking to, and then you have to create those relationships with web publishers. I think small businesses believe that’s outside their grasp, when really it isn’t. But there are some new concepts to learn.

  2. says

    Hi Sonia,

    Create good content. Create relevant content. Spruce up your headlines. Build a massively impressive network.

    You will get links, quality links, people who want to consume what you have to offer.

    Whack tactics are dead. SEO is alive and well. Because Google says so. Google simply wants you to create good, relevant stuff for people to consume, so they prosper, you prosper, and your readers prosper.

    Toss in the tiny details: keyword placement, and density, and once again, stay on topic, and your SEO game will remain tight.

    Stop writing for search engines. Search engines never buy your product, or become your friend on Facebook, or follow you on twitter.

    People do that stuff. Write for them. Then, tweak your article a tad, doing the keyword thingee stuff, and you will get the quality links you crave.



  3. says

    “When you’re pitching your SEO strategy against some of the smartest people in the world, you are going to lose.”
    Spot on! Google hires the best and brightest to fine tune their algorithm. If you find the secret to cracking it then Google will happily invite you into their Googleplex and pay you a lot more than you could ever dream of. Stop trying to “beat” the system and stay one step ahead of a penalty. If you stay white hat (aka organic) then you don’t have to worry about plotting the perfect SEO strategy that will help you fly under the radar.

  4. says

    I really dig what you’re saying here, Sonia. Very groovy ideas but heavy too. SEO is like hemp, man. A lot of benefits when you know how to harness it. We’re on a similar wavelength. Yeah, all those establishment cats selling bogus links and trying to cop a hip vibe with their bogus rap are a real downer. Don’t try to dig what we all say, man.

    You’re a very heavy chick. We should hang out some time.



  5. R says

    Great article, thank you!

    I took advice from a friend (as I was so new and clueless about SEO) and hired someone he recommended to help me out. From what I can tell, he’s putting links to my site through really random article submission sites and blog listing websites, and it seems very obvious and “fake”, you know? I am very scared it will hurt my site (like you said, it will eventually happen!).

    Is there anything I can do? Been working on my site for years and I would hate this to hurt my efforts :(

    Thanks so much,

    • says

      The main thing you want to do is to stop working with him. You probably don’t need to ask to have the links removed, but if you see your rankings start to tank, that’s an option.

      • R says

        Thanks so much, Sonia. I have seen my traffic gone down recently, so I will ask him to undo what he did.


  6. says


    I’ve heard this before (eyes rolling),,,lol. This is a good reminder that SEO really hasn’t changed much at all IF you’ve been doing it right from the beginning.

    Travis Van Slooten

  7. Jessica says

    This is why I love copyblogger! You guys know how to take something we’ve heard before and make it fresh with a new twist to it, and entertain us! Presenting the same idea in different ways allows us all to connect to the concepts better. You never fail to impress.

  8. says

    We also need to be mindful of inadvertently overstuffing with keywords. When I am writing about a particular subject, I find myself looking for synonyms for my keywords so that my blog posts don’t read as intentionally stuffed. This happens when I’m writing about something niched like mobile copywriting or mobile marketing. It’s like, how many synonyms are there for “mobile” that mean “mobile” in the 2012/handheld sense of the word, especially when you’re trying to write something tight and concise? Sometimes, it’s a good idea to count them. I try to stay within 1 to 4 keywords for every 100. It’s been pretty groovy so far!

  9. says

    The term SEO Is Dead has been around a long time. I think what has been happening lately is that the search results pages are changing. That’s where some in the SEO world have been getting a little nervous.

    For the last year Google has been making changes to the results pages. There are more paid ads than ever before. Brands are getting more real estate at the top of the results pages.

    I don’t think SEO is dead. It will always be around in some form, but earning rankings is what seems to be going through the biggest change.

    The popular point of view now is that SEO is more of a content consulting and user experience consulting field. I think that’s great. The intersection of design and content will always be important and businesses that do both should earn referral traffic from a variety of sources like search engines, social sharing sites, etc.

  10. says

    I think I’m in love with the hippie chick in this post’s image. Please tell me she’s your niece or something and not a stock photography model. 😉

  11. says

    Solid points, Sonia.
    One of the side projects I do is SEO consulting and you pretty much summed up what I tell people. When things start to feel unnatural with your SEO copy or your content topics, they’re going to look odd to your readers and to big mama Google.
    I would add an additional perspective. I always tell my clients and fellow bloggers to think about it from the perspective of Google or any search engine. Their job is to provide the most authentic looking, genuinely helpful results to their searchers. And like you said, they’re damn good at it. They have to be good at it.

    As the people who create the content, it is only natural that we conduct our business the way Google would. Our blogs and web presences should be a reflection of they way Google does business. If the search engines focused only on making as much money as they could, they wouldn’t make as much money as they do. Transversely, if we focus only on our search engine traffic when we write, we won’t get the traffic we crave.
    If we constantly keep focused on what the readers want and need, it becomes almost difficult to fail.
    Thanks again for the article. I’m fairly new to Copyblogger but I like what I’ve seen so far. Wish I’d found it two years ago when I started doing SEO!


  12. says

    Very nice read indeed. The line about buying links almost made me spit out my coffee on my laptop.

    I’m not a SEO expert but always reading up on the news that’s going on. SEO isn’t dead, new changes come out so people need to adapt to them but still pump out quality content that people want to link to.

    LinkBait is what i’m after. My parents was hippies back in the day’s. I should get Ma, to read this blog post. :)

  13. says

    All this talk about good copywriting and readable fonts – but I have to say that the emails that Copyblogger send out these days are just soooo hard to read!

    How come you don’t follow your own guidelines and write your emails in a more readable font? It looks like 6 or max 8 points. Too small!!!

    • says

      Are you talking about the emails from subscribing to blog posts or the newsletter? You really need to use the CONTACT form and talk to a staff member.

      Could actually be your settings on your end because I have no issues reading emails from copyblogger and there other business’s.

  14. says

    Sonia, I love, love, love this post! Obviously great points but the way you’ve portrayed it all I am sure it will be easier to understand for SEO newbies and my clients….Consider this one shared!

  15. says

    Hi Sonia,

    May I offer some criticism? As much as I enjoy Copyblogger (and your posts in particular) I must say I’m getting tired of “The _____ Guide To ________” headlines.

    No disrespect – just something I’ve noticed over the past few months.

    Keep up the good work!



      • says

        Hi Brian,

        Not really – I read every post here regardless of the headline (which is a huge testament to you; Copyblogger has reached “Seth status” where even the plainest headlines will work.)

        • says

          Come one, the day before we ran a post by a fake robot dinosaur with the headline BECAUSE AWESOME! And the entire post was in all caps and broken English.

          Don’t make us move faster than that. Think of the children.

    • says

      I get tired of those kinds of headlines too… but they work. I clicked. I read. Effective. 😉

      Great post Sonia! Timeless advice worth following for any SEO or business.

  16. says

    Timeless advice, Sonia. Unfortunately there are still a lot of nameless pages with hyphenated URL’s ranking really high with almost unreadable and virtually useless content. Hopefully Google will correct this on their next update.

  17. says

    Certainly, doing the seo naturally has great and long term benefit rather than buying the backlinks and that can be beneficial for shorter term only untill when google didn’t pick that up.

  18. says

    Hey Sonia,
    So finally it all boils down to what copyblogger has been preaching since forever that sustainable SEO is writing good content (that’s worth sharing and linking to)… While spammers are getting kicked in the butt, genuine content marketers are finding it very supporting. Just read Anna Hoffman’s post that says something similar to this, and before that I created a weird-looking infographic:

    (How my Blog Jumped From PR0 to PR3 in Just 7 months: )

    This (even surprised me) that as soon as I stopped paying much attention to SEO – backlinking in particular – Google started loving me, giving me a better PR and sending more traffic :)

  19. says

    The fact is search engines are getting better at differentiating between real content and garbage content. It is still possible to ‘game’ the search engines somewhat, but if you are building a real business with real content, then your quality will shine through and the search engines will find you.

  20. says

    I’m really glad that I found this article. It’s simple advice, but I will definitely try to apply the concepts.

  21. says

    its all about good content, and good content is always shareable. so what is all new fuss about it. Now Instead of good links from thousands of website now google is focusing to links from top 20 or 25 social networks.

  22. says

    With respect to my blog, I have made a conscious decision not to bastardize my writing for SEO purposes. I do all I can behind to scenes to optimize my posts, but I write the pieces to their highest and best points without worrying much about keywords, keyword frequency, etc. I want my readers to feel that they are getting the best content and smoothest writing available on the Internet, so I treat each piece as a work of art that I attempt to refine to the best of my ability. Thanks for the insights!

  23. says

    I have never really got to grips with making SEO work for me, I guess that is why I eventually gave up on it and decided to concentrate on producing content instead. :)

  24. says

    It just makes sense to write naturally. That way whatever changes end up happening in the search engine world won’t have an effect so you never need to worry. Eventually the best stuff will get noticed.

  25. says

    Great post. This was very informative. I love all your SEO related posts. That might be because I am an SEO copywriter at a website design firm in Tucson.

    I always try to write my copy as if I am taking to the audience. I find it to be the best way for me to sound natural. I was given my own office with a door because once I have written copy for a site I like to read it aloud to see how it really sounds. I guess my coworkers got tired of constantly listening to me talk to myself.

  26. says

    This article itself is a great example of how someone should write articles and get natural links!
    All the sites linking in and all the shares are a definite proof that this is a high quality post…

  27. says

    Came across this in the “best of”, great advice, I seem to spend hours a day on forums explaining why SEO isn’t dead and people whining it is just need to stop using black/grey hat methods, for anyone using white hat, SEO has barely changed at all over the years.

  28. says

    Thanks a lot Sonia for slapping me in the face with this content. Really. Loved this one.

    In the past few days crawling this Copyblogger blog, i just realized the mistakes that i’ve been doing in 2012. And that’s writing contents that are not worth sharing.

    When building my blog at the first time, i used to set the goal for writing articles that are really fun to read, easy to read, engaging and bring new ideas to the community. But over the time, i was starting to forget about my first mission and my contents were becoming bored to read. Hopefully, in 2013, i can significantly change all of my strategy, including my new articles.

    Great post Sonia.

  29. says

    Google has been pushing natural seo ever since they realised that people were cottoning onto their page rank algorithm. natural seo can be seen in their push for authorship as they are recognising those with fresh quality content.

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