The Three Legs of the SEO Stool

There are some 500 ranking factors in search engine optimization, but SEO is effectively dead, so what does that mean? Essentially 1) there are three factors that outweigh the rest. If you’re doing these three things consistently and continually, you could forget everything else and be in great shape. 2) if you’re doing them primarily or only for SEO, they’re going to suck, and then their SEO value actually plummets.

In short, all the highest SEO ranking factors are human-motivated and human-centric. Their actual SEO function is ancillary. The moment you try to make the SEO benefit the primary reason for the activity, they stop being good and then stop being useful. In other words, SEO isn’t very relevant to SEO. What’s most relevant to SEO is doing several non-SEO things, really really well. Shorthand for that is “SEO is dead”.

Welcome to the Stool

Here’s how to think about this effectively. There are three legs to the marketing stool if you also want an SEO benefit to all your marketing activity. Each well effectively for their own sake, perform well for SEO. Each done in concert with the others produces a sum effect greater than their individual parts. That’s the case for a marketing strategy based on the stool.

Marketing Priorities

Backlinks (PR)

Backlinks are the most important SEO ranking factor. Backlinks are links from other, high traffic, high-value websites with heavy engagement, back to your website. There are all kinds of dysfunctional link building schemes, but none of them work consistently or well. All are shady, dodgy substitutes for the real thing. What generates the highest value and most lasting backlinks is quality articles, quotes, and mentions in online publications. PR is designed to do a whole lot more than this, and should never be done mainly with SEO as the motive. Its main functions are to increase company recognition, reputation, and reach. But the SEO benefits are unparalleled. PR is also a powerful way to put eyeballs on a company’s content and attract interested followers to its social media. A couple of major PR hits can really move the needle. Most companies say they don’t know how to exploit those links. The other legs of the stool are meant to help.

Content (Blog)

Content is an unparalleled necessity, not just for SEO, but as the raw material of audience engagement. To be effective, it has to be fresh, frequent, original, substantive, and compelling. Shortchange it in any of those categories, and its marketing value is deeply diminished, both from a human and SEO standpoint. Merely creating content doesn’t adequately address the distribution of content. Search becomes a more viable method of connecting, but social media becomes a logical distribution platform. Blog content also becomes a major inspiration source from which to draw new social media content, turning it into smaller chunks that travel farther and are more easily consumed.

Engagement (Social)

Content engagement is a profound signal to search engines. Some of that engagement comes from search, but it’s much easier (when coupled with social audience building) to produce in social media. In this way search and social work in tandem. In fact, social has become a form of search, with major social and search platforms joining forces to exchange data that improves how they rank content. Social also provides for distributing smaller, more frequent, snackable content pieces that can produce significantly higher reach, improving brand recognition and association of the brand with a set of propositions and values.

PPC Ads (the fourth leg)

Pay per click ads isn’t technically SEO. In the wake of SEO’s demise, many SEO companies now specialize in ads. But ads are paid media and stand apart from organic and earned media like PR, blog content, and (non-PPC social media). That said, paid and organic media work most effectively in concert. In search, PPC ads convert much higher when supported by organic results, and vice versa. In social, paid and organic content combine the twin intentions to grow and nurture an audience. This is another reason the old SEO is obsolete, and the new “SEO” is a mishmash of ads and the three stool legs. Once ads were understood as a type of content that cannot exist in a vacuum, without a significant loss of effectiveness, the days of “just ads” or “just SEO” were both effectively numbered.

Campaigns Tie The Legs Together

Most companies assemble a constellation of marketing efforts that quickly becomes a cacophony of activity, each channel going a different way. Creating effective campaigns that can be used across all channels (PR campaigns, blog campaigns, social campaigns, ad campaigns) isn’t easy. It takes an investment in strategy and an ongoing investment to get the specialists in each channel trading intelligence and insights, so that, along with a Sales department, each one strengthens the other.

Avoid the Wobbly Stool

Likewise, companies that reach for a one-sided strategy create a wobbly stool. Remove any one support, and each of the other legs can’t perform optimally. Ideally, a marketing strategy puts a specific measurement on each of the channels in play. For example backlink search ranking on PR, authority ranking on social, organic traffic on the blog, and cost-per-click traffic on ads (if using ads). Those numbers are configured to achieve a unified result each quarter. For instance, Q1 might be audience growth. Q4 might be conversions. Pull out any one of the legs, and the whole stool falters, with the company sitting on top of it.

For help assembling and evolving your marketing strategy, the steps are simple: open your brand to new leadership, commit to a marketing budget, and reach out to MadPipe. We’ll build you a stool that stands up over time and supports your brand and its Sales department.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.

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About once / month, corporate storyteller and digital ecologist® Daniel DiGriz weaves together interesting business stories, analytics, & examples for organizations committed to achieving their goals.


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