As with so many other technologies in our tech-crazed world, search engine optimization (SEO) technologies are way ahead of our abilities to use them for a rational purpose.

As soon as we conceive of a new business, or hire a marketing whiz to take an old business "to the next level," we are consumed with keywords, search rankings, and social media, as if doing exactly what the rest of the world does has ever made anyone rich.

SEO consists of Web tools and content strategies designed to help your target audience find your site by using Internet search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

SEO has the power to dramatically increase Web traffic to your site. But for that very reason, a search-optimized site can actually hurt your business rather than help it grow profitably.

How can SEO hurt your business? Consider a site that is not user-friendly, is repulsive to visitors (or attractive to the wrong kind), isn't competitive, or is lacking a clear value proposition and the support required to respond to inquiries or follow up on leads. So, do you really want to drive traffic to such a site?

In short, SEO works best when it is the last, rather than the first, item on your website checklist.

Yes, there is no end to how much you can spend on market research and usability testing. And yes, many businesses, especially smaller B2B outfits, don't typically run the risk of seriously damaging a brand because of a cookie-cutter website.

Even so, three commonly overlooked steps can vastly improve your site's performance—before you SEO.

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Olga Taylor is a freelance writer and a former vice-president of marketing and business development for Quartesian LLC. Reach her via