While the basic principles of SEO can be explained in a matter of hours, the technical complexity is staggering when you start digging in deeper. Not to mention, if you build a bad link on a low-authority site or stuff your content too full of keywords, you could run the risk of earning a penalty and setting yourself back weeks or months of hard work. On top of stiff competition and changing ranking patterns, SEO can be an intimidating and threatening place.
Still, there are no threats in the SEO world as big as tunnel vision—when a search marketer’s fixation on one or more strategies becomes so focused and so stubborn that he/she loses sight of all the other strategies involved (including variations on the strategy of focus). Tunnel vision destroys SEO campaigns, and here’s why:
There are too many factors involved in SEO to get fixated on just one. For example, content marketing is a big part of what makes strategies successful, but if you only focus on it, you’ll lose the potential benefits of manual link building, social syndication, and probably dozens of onsite hiccups stifling your growth. Similarly, if you only focus on writing content based around keywords you want to rank for, you’ll lose the advantages of appealing to your audience. There are hundreds of different ranking factors, so the more diverse your approach is, the less likely it is that you’ll miss any.
Imagine you developed tunnel vision back in 2010, before the Panda and Penguin updates revolutionized modern SEO. Your strategy might have worked perfectly for years, but today, that strategy would be so obsolete it probably wouldn’t generate any meaningful traction for you. Google’s update release momentum has slowed, but that doesn’t change the fact that SEO is always changing. There are always new audiences, new trends, and new technologies to consider, and that means you need to be flexible in changing and adapting your strategy. Tunnel vision prevents you from doing that.
This serves as a separate problem, but influences the degree to which tunnel vision can take hold. Results are notoriously hard to read in SEO, as there are almost always unpreventable, unfilterable outside factors that can influence your measurements. Did you rise in rank because of your new strategic direction or because one of your other competitors screwed up and dropped off? Is your increase in traffic a sign of recurring interest, or a fluke in user behavior patterns? Tunnel vision means you read fewer metrics than you should be reading, and means you’re more likely to misinterpret the results you do read. Again, diversity is valuable here.
One of the biggest keys to success in SEO is experimentation. You have to try out new content topics, new angles, new headlines, new pages, and new calls to action if you want to succeed. Measure the performance of these new experiments against your long-standing variants, and you’ll wind up with a clear winner—keep the winner, experiment again, and continue the cycle, and you’ll theoretically keep seeing better and better results. If you’re cursed with tunnel vision, you’ll never have the chance to experiment, which means you’ll never get to see those different, better results.
Search practitioners often recommend businesses to target highly specific niches, cover topics that nobody’s covered before, and develop a unique brand voice that can’t possibly be mistaken for a competitors. This is because in the SEO world, the differentiators always rise to the top. Differentiation isn’t created out of stagnation; it’s created out of boldness and willingness to be different. Tunnel vision prevents you from doing that, and almost forces you to remain too consistent throughout your campaign.
Nobody intentionally creates problems for themselves in the SEO world. Most problems sneak up on you. It might be a bad link you didn’t realize was built, or a piece of duplicate content you forgot to canonize—these problems are hard to detect, even if you’re watching for them. If you have tunnel vision, you won’t be watching for any problems other than what you’re used to, and it becomes even harder to detect these creeping issues.
This is a general idea that fits well here, and it’s a major threat because it allows tunnel vision to persist. The biggest problem with tunnel vision is that most search marketers don’t know when they have it. If they did, they’d probably work to eliminate it. There aren’t many clear signs or symptoms (other than stagnating results and hard-to-find issues), so the problem sticks around indefinitely, and there’s no easy way to tell if you truly have tunnel vision or you’re just partial to one particularly effective branch of your strategy.
If you suspect yourself of developing tunnel vision on a particular strategy or pattern of execution, there are a few things you can try to break free. First, take a step back and audit your current efforts to find any stubborn consistencies or opportunities for growth. Then, read up on the latest SEO news and consult with others in your industry. We all have to watch each other’s backs to make sure we’re all at the top of our game, and no one is exempt from the threat of tunnel vision.