Can Inbound Marketing Replace SEO?

SEO claiming to be marketing? Or marketing painted as SEO?*

Can you replace SEO with (inbound) marketing?

Hell no! Such a shortsighted idea! Hear me out!

The idea might sound tempting though. Why?

Can Inbound Marketing Replace SEO?

Inbound marketing can’t replace SEO. Neither can

  • content marketing
  • search marketing
  • online marketing
  • internet marketing
  • digital marketing.

Why do I ask then? Let me explain.

Over time more voices proclaimed either that SEO is drastically changing or disappearing altogether.

Hence also the “SEO is dead” wave of posts.

Search engine optimization is changing so much that it effectively ceases to exist morphing into something else it seems. Does it really?

Inbound Marketing to the Rescue?

One day the niche community launched.

The foremost SEO brand of the world at that time called SEOmoz dropped the “SEO” in its name.

They focused instead on inbound marketing as mere Moz ever since. got started by Rand Fishkin, former CEO of Moz and Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot.

It was the company that has popularized the inbound marketing concept in the first place:

The inbound marketing flywheel according to Hubspot.


I’ve have written a few articles for Hubspot in 2007 already.

At that time Dharmesh even posted comments here on the blog and approached me to write for him.

Now that he’s a famous entrepreneur and millionaire he does not even remember who I am probably.

Or rather he is being too busy so he never responds.

Back then I attempted to spread the word about SEO 2.0 as more than just SEO.

In fact the early concept of SEO 2.0 (now SEO 2) already included

  • social media
  • blogging
  • engagement
  • relationships

among other tenets required to get traction online properly.

Dharmesh was one of my early readers and literally reached out to me.

Thus don’t get me wrong! Inbound marketing rocks for sure.

In a sense I’m a long standing practitioner of inbound marketing already.

Inbound is a concept I appreciate but don’t focus on. Still I’m far from dismissing it.

I’m still an inbound marketing supporter. It’s probably the best kind of marketing we ever had.

Yet marketing as a whole is problematic and by its very nature or rather culture also limited.

Why Marketing Sucks

In case you have read this blog before you might already know that I don’t like marketing in general.

That might seem funny because most people would consider me an internet marketer.

I don’t do PPC as in search marketing though unlike Google Partners.

Instead I do strictly SEO as in optimization for organic reach.

Marketing implies selling and advertising. Optimization is neutral and broader.

It doesn’t just focus on getting more money. Optimization is about making something as optimal as possible.

Some things are optimal and do not need to be sold. Just consider non-profit SEO or better church SEO.

Can you call it church marketing? What are you selling then?

Are you marketing churches or God? So you see, I’m talking more than but also semantics here.

Marketing can never replace optimization as optimization is bigger than just marketing.

It’s like saying that ZOO’s can replace nature.

Marketing is just a small commercial part of optimization.

Likewise is the SEO which is part of inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing includes SEO, social media and blogging!

That sound familar – like SEO 2 does. Yet but SEO 2 doesn’t just market. SEO 2 is much more than that.

Optimization is More than “Just Marketing”

You can do SEO 2 for any site without having to market it.

It’s also similar to the discipline of findability where it’s about finding things and people.

Marketing has a purpose, making people buy on a market. SEO 2 is about optimization.

What the people do with the optimized site once they find it doesn’t have to be buying.

These days also content marketing is a huge buzzword, implying that content has either to sell something or be sold.

Some people make content marketing appear as something new or as the next big thing but content marketing is just another term for “content is king”. I prefer content creation or content strategy.

Why would you limit your content to being a vehicle for sales?

Content is already a limiting term by itself as movies or poetry described as just content lose their art status.

They are not about dreams or emotions anymore they are just like the contents of a package.

A journalist recently rightfully complained that content marketing is a bad idea and nothing new. It has been called brand journalism for decades.

Likewise SEO has been always about content unless it was black hat SEO to artificially push empty sites.

SEO 2.0 has not really caught on as an industry term. I reduced it to SEO 2 by now.

As time passed by traditional mainstream SEO has become more and more the SEO 2 though.

How? It resembles what I described 15 years ago here on this blog.

It’s social SEO and content SEO! It’s not merely technical SEO as many experts try to convince you!

Yes, over the years many attempted to differentiate themselves from content marketing and social media management that way.

Engaging Your Audience is a Best Practice for Years

Nowadays every good SEO engages their audiences on social media and creates flagship content for a business blog and beyond.

Arguing that inbound marketing is something new or revolutionary with regard to SEO is wrong.

Inbound marketing is revolutionary compared to old school or outbound marketing which was mostly overselling and advertising along other push tactics.

Inbound marketing is about pull tactics.

You win over prospects by giving them what they want for free so that they want to buy more.

Yet SEO is not just about commerce. SEO is about fixing, improving and elevating things ideas and people that deserve it!

SEO does not focus on sales only.

It can convert readers to believers. Whether it’s about

  • activism
  • politics
  • religion

SEO is much more than marketing!

It’s also not the same as than search, inbound or digital marketing.

  • It’s not about ads.
  • It’s not about text ads
  • It is not display ads etc.

It’s not even about a market necessarily! You can optimize without selling!

I do SEO for fun and no profit for free!

* “Fruit” image by Patrik Roos.