Search Engine Marketing and Lateral Thinking Skills

Joe Sinkwitz, also known as Cygnus, has a great post explaining how the polarized view of SEO is quite naive and inaccurate in nature. Rather than explaining SEO as black or white, a more accurate representation of the SEO market is those who can think laterally, and those who can not.

A lateral thinking SEO will do what makes sense within the explained rules, but will then say to him or herself "I'm in a competitive industry" and/or "This is not an established brand", and then follow up with a very important "What can I do that will set myself apart within a search engine's algorithm?" If you dumb down what a search engine is to the level of a single database with a single data table, and a couple hundred fields, then it is easier to see what is happening. At any given point of time in an algorithm's evolution (yes, they evolved, get over it…from bubblesort no less!) certain variables are going to be weighed more heavily than others, and some that fall into certain ranges are going to be treated as red-flags.

Go read Joe's post.

Where Did Lateral Thinking Come From?

Edward De Bono coined the term lateral thinking. There is a Wikipedia article and are numerous books on the subject as well.

How Does Lateral Thinking Apply to SEO?

Common SEO lateral thinking questions:

  • why the hell is that crappy site ranking (and how can I replicate the results with limited risk or effort)

  • how did they get that sweet link (and how can I get similar sweet links)
  • how can I make that person (or group) want to link to me (and would it be worth the associated costs)
  • how can I write a second page on this topic without looking like a spammer
  • is this person naive enough to link at me if I flame them? (and if I wanted to could I get that story and link equity to spread beyond that)
  • when, how, and who should I ask for feedback on this project
  • do I have enough brand equity to where I can be a bit more aggressive without adding much risk to my marketing
  • would this link lead to secondary citations
  • how can I leverage this news coverage to lead to more links
  • would this link buy pass a hand check
  • will more aggressive spammers find this and be able to replicate it? (if so, how long will it be before this site has its outbound link authority nuked?)
  • does this page have enough authority to keep ranking even if I alter its format or purpose?
  • how might people react if I buy this keyword
  • how can I ensure this powerful page linking to me stays in the search index without looking like a spammer
  • if I buy their stuff and leave a testimonial would they be willing to link at my site
  • if I factor in the value of the testimonial link, is the site design still expensive?
  • how can I spin a story so it spreads as far as possible
  • how can I put a unique spin on something that is already spreading
  • would posting this undermine my credibility more than it would boost my link authority
  • is it worth getting this site more exposure, or will doing so drastically alter the risk reward ratio in a negative way
  • is this site worth more as a link source, a credibility source, or a direct income stream? or how should I optimally mix those?
  • do I have enough authority to make this local site a statewide or nationwide one? if no, what would be the cost of building that authority
  • how can I relate my site to this more profitable subject without looking like a spammer

Linguistics vs Profits:

It doesn't really matter weather or not you are a spammer. What matters is public perception, cost (in terms of time, money, happiness, opportunity, and attention), and the risk reward ratio of any action.

There are spots out there where you can get free high value links. There are spots where you can do $2 a month link buys for trusted links that do not look like link buys. There are spots that you can publish content to that will rank nearly immediately.

Everything associated with SEO is margin based. What are the risks and what are the opportunity costs if I do x? If you employ lateral thinking skills your margins are typically going to be better than someone who does not.

Published: January 12, 2007 by Aaron Wall in marketing


January 13, 2007 - 12:41am

Those are wonderful how-to points Aaron...exactly why I said lateral thinking seems to come naturally to you.

One that I'd add that you may agree with is "where would the most valuable co-citations likely exist offline, and where could I find their online counterparts?" That's one I rather enjoy employing.


January 13, 2007 - 12:50am

Yeah. That one is killer.

When I create content I sometimes think about where sources of power exist offline, and then tap their brand / mindshare / marketing / belief system as a source of traffic.

A couple examples

  • religious stuff is low hanging fruit (my product for religion x is such an easy sell)
  • I got a direct mail piece from a company promoting their business in a vertical which I already had a site for. In less than a week I was profiting from their brand traffic.

It is even better if you can create the equivalent online industry hub or authority source.

If you can parallel online and offline you are in for serious profit.

January 13, 2007 - 1:02am

dang Aaron, You've really outdone yourself! Flagged, starred, and all that jazz for this post.

January 17, 2007 - 5:31pm

Great post. Lateral thinking doesn't come that easy to me being so obsesive compulsive. Routine tends to dictate. But your post shows the real importance of somehow finding the time to sit back and actually think a little. Try and relax and think outside the box.

Cheers Aaron.

January 17, 2007 - 7:28pm


As a member of the OCD routine club, I like to interject variance as a part of my routine.

One thing that helped me to do this was to tell myself a fictional account: "Everything we're doing just broke and is no longer working; the world will end if I don't make this business work. Now what?"

You can come up with some pretty creative solutions to problems that you don't even know exist yet, just by putting yourself into a temporary crisis mode.

Failing that, channel one of the best lateral thinkers ever: Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver)

January 18, 2007 - 2:32pm

Cheers Cygnus - good advice. I might need to clear everyone out of the office when I try it for the first time, just to ensure no injuries to personnel.

Coming from the UK, MacGyver is purely an urban myth. But its good to know he does actually exist and can be contacted spiritually.

Florida SEO
March 17, 2011 - 2:40am

This is a bookmark I need to remember well

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