Building a personal brand? Here’s why you need to ignore SEO

ignore seo

By Mark Schaefer

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this idea of “personal branding” in the world today as I prepare to launch an exciting new book called KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age.

I was recently asked about the biggest decision that has helped me build my own personal brand and it is this: I have largely ignored search engine optimization (SEO). That may seem like strange advice but let me explain.

When you optimize content for SEO, by definition you are trying to “own” the most common keywords and phrases. If you become obsessed with SEO, you become just another dog fighting over a bone. It’s a battle you’ll probably never win unless you are the biggest, meanest dog in your industry … forever.

SEO has its place, especially in the high-stakes world of eCommerce, but to stand out as a personal brand today, you need to earn a sustained emotional connection with your audience by being original and interesting, not by being common. If you ignore SEO and focus on creating content that is your own and exceptional, you become a beacon.

To be known today, you must have the courage to bring your own uncommon story to the world.

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration: I took this photo in Laguna Beach, CA.

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  • Mark Koehl

    Thank you for this post, Mark. I have just started the process of reading your books and developing the social media presence for our residential real estate company. We are hoping to make lots of progress this year in developing our brand. I feel excited about figuring out how we can be “original and interesting”. I feel overwhelmed by trying to jump into the SEO game.

  • Sounds like you are on the correct path sir. I have done a lot of work with real estate firms and you have a wide open opportunity to change the game! BTW, I have a great real estate example in my new book.

  • Mark Koehl

    Awesome! I will be looking for that. Thank you.

  • John G Olson

    Suddenly I don’t feel so all alone, Mark. I’ve been moving more and more in this direction on my blog. It’s liberating. I think it’s more important to inspire people than to conform to the perfect SEO template. You’re right, you can’t win the keyword supremacy game. So why not be excellent instead? Thanks for saying what needs to be said.

  • As my favorite blogger says, be Human!

  • Hi Mark, I feel like 99% of your content resonates with me except this concept of ignoring SEO which I’ve seen come up in the Content Code and multiple posts on the {grow} blog. If I were to craft a well researched response, stuffed with case studies and key takeaways on how to leverage SEO strategies for personal branding, that SEO is, by definition, based on metrics reflecting real world value, etc., and therefore one of the most valuable tools a personal brand aspiring blogger can leverage, would you consider it as a guest post? It would include all html/css/image assets and could just drop it in (if it knocked your socks off).

  • Thanks for “getting it” John! BTW, started the book you sent me. Thanks!

  • Well said sir! Thanks for reading!

  • First of all, thank you very much for your dissent. It’s funny, before I published the “anti-SEO” chapter in Content Code I tested it here on the blog, FB, LinkedIn, etc. People unanimously agreed with the premise — even SEO folks. I knew it was a controversial position and I wanted to be sure before I put it in the book. Since I published, I feel even more strongly that I’m right. Absolutely there is a place for SEO, but to stand out in this world of content shock you really have to mine the long tail or create something new that you can call your own. You have to go where others aren’t.

    I would be happy to consider a guest post. Throw a draft by me on the email that can be found on the contact page of the website. Thanks so much for the offer Jim and the excellent comment.

  • I agree with the post, but not the title. The post is about ignoring keyword obsession, not SEO in general. Your site utilizes tons of ‘SEO’. Your site is optimized as a mobile web app, you use the most modern semantic markup, every social media markup, prefetch tags, robots, description tags, an amp version of your page, etc. Your SEO could not get much better, so great job!

    This should be titled, Building a personal brand? Here’s why you need to ignore keywords. That probably would not get as much attention though so I see why you titled it what you did. I personally clicked on the post because I thought you actually meant to ignore SEO.

  • I suppose that is a fair point but my main thesis here is that for my CONTENT to stand out, and therefor for ME to stand out, I cannot be preoccupied by SEO. My site is optimized. All this stuff you mention — I have somebody else do that stuff because it would be stupid to create this content and not give it the very best chance to be discovered. But focusing your content effort on maximizing keyword impact supresses your ability to stand out. No question. Thank you very much the excellent, well-written and thought-provoking comment.

  • Pingback: New Research Answers: Is Content Marketing Sustainable? - Schaefer Marketing Solutions: We Help Businesses {grow}()

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