Search Engine Optimization.
It’s the fish oil of the Web, promising healthy traffic to all who abide by its tenets.
Yet I despise it.
I have seen too many clients shoe-horn key phrases into lackluster headlines, bloat body copy to the all-magical 250-word minimum, and dumb down graphics so they are findable by search bots. As a writer, I so loathe repetition — especially when it’s gratuitous — that I joke that SEO stands for “Say Everything Over and Over.”
Yet I know that many a mom searching for something has gone from Google to shopping cart in mere minutes, in large part due to smart SEO.
So what separates smart SEO from misguided SEO?
I have my hunches. Principally, that in appeasing the SEO Gods, you need to ensure you don’t lose your appeal to real people. Instead, I prefer RPO, what I coin Real Person Optimization. Tell stories that are memorable. Refresh your site regularly. Don’t overwhelm with sales copy. Have a social media strategy that’s smart. Even better, practice RLPO — Real Local Person Optimization. Since more than 20% of searches have a local intent and 80% of smart phones will have GPS by 2011, where you are is as important as who you are.
Yet I’m a newbie here. In order to advise clients well, I decided to get off my SEO-conflicted soap-box and check in with a true expert. Todd Nemet worked at Google in Sales Engineering for years. I love his advice:
- SEO should always be subservient to business goals (and UI design). In an ideal world they all point in the same direction, but when there is conflict, the business goals should trump.
- Focus on creating good content and using social media to promote it to like-minded people. If you spend time writing meta keywords or hiring someone to do it for you (which is even worse), then there will be no content to keep people on your site once they find it anyway.
- Never trade links or take money for links. This is never a good deal since you will face penalties eventually, especially if it hurts the user experience if they can’t get to relevant content.
Whatever SEO strategy you decide upon, be sure to do two things: set up analytics so you can track traffic, and then make conversion king of all metrics. More eyeballs are nice, but more buyers prove you’re delivering on the search terms that lead people to your door.