A Fisherman’s Tale: The Swan, SEO Prospecting & SEO Beauty

Yesterday while fishing, my teenage son and I captured a swan (pictured right) and safely removed a hook from its eye. The swan was a full grown male we had met the previous outing. Apparently we were brave or foolish to do this, because I’m told swans are dangerous and can break a man’s arm with their wing. Knowing this reputation I was relieved and pleased that it all went easily and safely.

Lucky for the swan, and for us, our fear did not prevent us from doing what we both knew needed to be done: helping a swan with a fishing hook in its eye (actually just in front of the eye, so thankfully no lasting injury to the swan).

Even the distress I thought we might cause was not enough to stop him returning immediately for more of the bread we used to catch him. It touched me to tears that he hadn’t changed his ‘opinion’ of two well meaning fishermen. I say fishermen, but truth is we’d just as soon chat about video games or feed the ducks and swans, as catch the carp dwelling in the deep.

To complete this story: my son Jack bravely removed the hook while I held the swan’s head steady. It took a firmness and clarity action on Jack’s part, as well as a willingness to put his fingers next to the beak of an understandably upset swan. With my encouragement, Jack eased the hook cleanly out the way it had entered. Not a drop of blood, or I think, any pain inflicted. I let the swan go and he was away, but feeding from us immediately, which is when I took the photo.

SEO Myths and SEO Fear

I tell this story because as I see it, SEO is frequently fear based due to SEO myths. In the same way that fear of an idea about swans breaking arms might have kept us from doing what we knew was needed.

Fear breeds myths and myths create fear. If you start to Google SEO you will be deluged with ideas about what is thought to be important for SEO. So many ideas that it is easy to get lost in them, and to end up doing nothing but SEO. Forgetting the most important part of this, and indeed SEO itself: which is to provide something of value, worthy of Google sending you visitors.

SEO Prospecting

I dub this approach “SEO Prospecting”. The mindset is one of keeping up to date with the latest insights, discoveries and creative SEO techniques, with the main focus on boosting one’s ranking in Google, Bing and Yahoo! But mostly Google, because it is so dominant. For most small business this is a mistake as I will explain.

The SEO prospector looks for gold-SEO-nuggets and sprinkles them across his website and the web in the hope that they will deliver the prize he seeks. A ‘strike’, the big one, the mother load of a page 1 search result for his customers’ favourite keywords, perhaps even the coveted no. 1 SERP (search engine result position)!

What Would Happen If You Struck SEO Gold?

Just for a moment, suppose you find such an ‘SEO trick’. I acknowledge that the true prospector calls this an ‘SEO technique’, and so will defer. Consider this. The ‘SEO technique’ must be something hardly anyone else is doing in your market (or it won’t work), and let’s suppose it gets you to page 1 for the high traffic keywords you have been targeting.

You’ve made it! Or have you?

Do you see the problems you just landed yourself with?

How long before competitors start doing this? How long before Google tweaks it out of effectiveness?

It get’s worse. What if SEO prospecting caused you to neglect your products and website effectiveness, by putting too much effort into SEO prospecting. What kind of conversion rate are you going to get when this temporary surge in website visitors happens?

SEO prospecting is a ‘fail’ unless you can stay ahead of the pack and at he same time maintain conversion rates, by creating product value and website effectiveness.

Even if it works for a short time, as soon as your ‘SEO technique’ loses traction you’ll be off prospecting again. In fact you better not let up at all, or some other prospector will get there first. And you had better implement every other well known SEO technique too. Do you see how myths and fear gain power once they start?

Do you want to dedicate you time to chasing new SEO nuggets to keep your SERP rankings up? Like a drowning man thrashing to stay afloat with only a millstone for help. That’s the real ‘prospect’ you created, unless you choose what I’m going to call “the way of SEO beauty.”

SEO Beauty

The way of SEO beauty is the swan. You will never create the beauty of a swan; take a pause and look at the photo! But you can let the image of the swan be an inspiration for your products and website.

Focus your energy here, on beauty. If you do, effortless activity will replace fearful prospecting. You’ll instinctively know what needs to be done (as Jack and I did on Sunday). This knowing will take you past the fear induced by all those SEO myths: the fear that the SEO prospectors will beat you unless you beat them. The fear of losing out in the race to find the big strike, which as I’ve shown, is not as big as many imagine it will be.

Now I’m not saying that SEO prospecting is a bad strategy for everyone. Some will make money off it, for some SEO prospecting may even be their beauty! But if not it will be hard work. It will feel necessary to work at it 24×7 and will lack enjoyment. It will feel like thrashing in the water to stay afloat under the weight of the Google millstone. I think this is why there is so much bitching about Google in the SEO community, but that’s another story!

How To Do Small Business SEO for Success

Most of us are not really SEO prospectors. If your beauty lies elsewhere, the good news is that you don’t need to be one to market your business online. You can be successful online while creating value in what you love—the thing that drew you to create a business in the first place.

If you know what beauty you want to share, great. If not, figure that out before you get lost in SEO prospecting or some other distraction.

Create beauty through your business, and ensure that your website and products offer this to your customers, rather than just great SEO. Deliver on value, experience, engagement, all around the beauty in your business. Do SEO as well. It is part of providing value, just like advertising to raise awareness, but only do what is necessary. Once Google begins to share your beauty with visitors, the other qualities of your products and website will build your traffic and improve your SEO—effortlessly—or if not quite effortlessly, at least without the millstone!


Work out what beauty you want to share through your business, and focus on this. Notice when you get distracted, or if you get hooked on myths and fear, so you can come back to your ‘way of beauty’. Combine this with just enough SEO, along with other marketing.

Instead of joining the SEO prospecting gold-rush, create nuggets of beauty and value in your products and the way you engage with visitors to your website. Do just enough SEO to help your customers find these nuggets and they will come, and with forethought, get them to help improve your SEO and market presence (e.g. through sharing, social engagement and building community).

My advice to swans, small businesses, and fishermen is: don’t get hooked. By the way, here’s the hook that got our swan. Hooks can be scary!

Please share your own heroic tales in a comment, as well as any lessons you’ve learned for your business. I’d love to hear them, as well as the beauty you share. And if you think a swan can break a man’s arm it may be time to check that out on Google. Or if you are faced with a similar situation to Jack and me, see if you already ‘know’ what’s needed.

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