A Stoic Approach to SEO

If it’s one aspect of the SEO industry, and more accurately - the broader marketing community - that I have always found compelling - it’s that seeking wisdom is at the core of success. In this article, we explore the concept of a Stoic Approach to SEO, and what that means for aspiring marketers.
Image of Seneca the Stoic Philosopher

"You ask what is the proper limit to a person's wealth? First, having what is essential, and second, having what is enough." - Seneca. Letters from a Stoic.

Seneca was a complicated man. Who didn’t always practice what he preached. 

Stoicism, for centuries, was the most influential philosophy in the Graeco-Roman world, long before Seneca came into the picture. The Stoics saw the world as a single great community in which all men are brothers, ruled by a supreme providence which could be spoken of under a variety of names or descriptions – often referred to as “the spirit or purpose of the universe.” 

Philosophers gathered in Rome

They believed it was a man’s duty to live in conformity with the “divine will” – bringing his life into line with “nature’s laws” and resigning himself completely to whatever fate may send him. 

Seneca believed, and taught, that living in accordance with nature means not only questioning convention and training ourselves to do without all except the necessities, but developing the inborn gift of reason which marks us off as different from the animal world. That we are meant to be set free or perfect this rational element, this particle of universal reason, so that it may campaign against and conquer pain, grief, superstition and fear of death.

Roman statue in Rome

Living in accordance with nature, according to the principles of Stoic philosophy, will show us that there’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. 

In Letter VII to Lucilius, Seneca opens with a response to a question which is most relevant to the current state of…well…the internet:

“You ask me to say what you should consider it particularly important to avoid. My answer is this: a mass crowd. It is something to which you cannot entrust yourself yet without risk. I at any rate am ready to confess my own frailty in this respect. I never come back home with quite the same moral character I went out with; something or other becomes unsettled where I had achieved internal peace, some one or other of the things I had put to flight reappears on the scene.” 

There are few instances I can recall, these past ten or twelve years, that I have not felt that way when confronted with the perpetual shifts in the marketing industry.

I look at the absurdity, the narcissism, and irreverent dialogs unfolding on social media platforms and feel nothing short of disappointed with the progression of humanity (at least Joey keeps me company).

Joey B Toonz Youtube Channel
We need more people like Joey B Toonz to call out what’s happening on social media

Despite my disdain for the influencer archetypes who “the people” pedestalize for their physique or perspective, the inescapable truth is that you cannot successfully market or advertise a business without engaging a mass crowd, and “the masses” consume more media produced by these pretentious purveyors of lifestyle lust than at any other junction in human history. Our technologically integrated lifestyles enable it seamlessly, and you need hardly glance at TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube longer than 10 seconds to see someone living a life more appealing than yours. 

…but in my mind, search is the antithesis of social media stupidity. It is neither good, nor bad. It is a utility. A technological marvel that delivers an unequivocal informational resource that the mass crowd relies on, more than it realizes. Search has become an extension of human memory, an unwavering repository of knowledge, an access point to find necessary goods or services.

Search might just be the closest thing we have to an oracle, and it is drawing ever closer to sentience as advancements in machine learning accelerate at an unprecedented pace. 

I don’t think there’s ever been a period in the past twenty years of the internet marketing industry when the practice of SEO was more important. And yes, to date, SEO has died ~22 times. It seems that every generation of marketers, particularly those who came into the industry once Facebook and Twitter (Now “X” for some existentially strange reason) became prolific (circa 2009 / 2010), find some means of downplaying the inordinately important role that SEO serves in supporting businesses of all varieties. Search remains the predominant gateway to buying products online, finding local services, exploring destinations, planning travel, researching medical or health concerns, making financial decisions, and perhaps most significantly – what’s happening in the world. Google even tells us what the most popular search trends are in their annual recap:

Top Google Searches of 2023

SEO is not necessarily more complicated than it was a decade ago, but it is certainly more difficult to achieve exceptional results. The volume of organic traffic which actually reaches a website has decreased substantially, as a result of SERP ad saturation, and now the presence of generative AI. You could absolutely make the argument that developing compelling, practical, and mobile friendly websites is more difficult than ever before – and you’d be spot on. Building links through content marketing requires exceptional creativity, tactful promotion, and a profound understanding of how link authority is factored as a ranking signal. 

But now that we have robots to help us write landing pages (though some have an attitude more than others)…

Example of Claude 3 not doing a task due to ethics

…a plethora of sophisticated analysis tools, an army of coding, graphic design, and advertising specialists at our disposal through sites like Upwork and Fiverr – are we firmly in an era in which SEO expertise is not as impactful? 

Hardly.  There is no substitute for experience. 

The concept of a Stoic approach to SEO is exactly this, straight from the man himself:

“Prosperity can come to any man, but triumph over adversity only belongs to the good man. For a man to know himself, he must be tested; no one finds out what he can do except by trying. Great men rejoice in adversity.”

To be tested.. To try and fail. To triumph over adversity. 

That is what happens when you play the SEO game. Google is always changing. Nothing stays the same. The projects you build will rise, and fall. Competition (i.e. adversity) will increase, and advertising will continue to erode the volume of organic traffic you can acquire. That is the nature of things in the internet marketing industry – you must remain in a state of constant learning, in order to succeed. In any pursuit. Seneca’s ancient words still ring true, on that very subject: 

“no man can live a happy life, or even a supportable life, without the study of wisdom; you know also that a happy life is reached when our wisdom is brought to completion, but that life is at least endurable even when our wisdom is only begun.”

If it’s one aspect of the SEO industry, and more accurately – the broader marketing community – that I have always found compelling – it’s that seeking wisdom is at the core of success.

The more you learn, through trial and error, studying the works of experienced practitioners, and learning lessons through success and failure over time – the more impactful you can be in the projects you pursue. 

A Stoic approach to SEO is one that enforces the concept that you will succeed, and you will fail. That is neither good, or bad. It is simply a path to experience. And that experience is what will set you apart when it comes time to solve a dynamically complex issue, or develop a strategy that puts you in the same position as David when he faced Goliath

…but that is a story, and discussion, for another day. 


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