Monday, April 24, 2006

Search engines: search engine optimization and search engine marketing

I occasionally take on a small contract to help businesses improve their online marketing. Some people ask why I don't try to earn a living at this, since I am stay involved in the SEO community. The short answer is that I don't like the responsibility of having to maintain someone's Web site.

Proper, full-blown search engine optimization requires a lot of hands-on work. You have to make sure that the Web designer(s) include content that search engines can find, index, and use to find more content. It's not just about links. Optimization comes down to details like word choice, word emphasis, word positioning (should I put "green eggs and spam" or "spam and green eggs"?).

Search engine optimization begins with goal setting. You have to know what you are optimizing for. Goals cannot be limited to "we want the top position for our keywords". That's just bogus. It means nothing. Do you have the right keywords? And if you do have the right keywords, what does the search engine show people when they see your site in the search results.

Which links are you more likely to click on when you search for "girls, girls, girls":

Link 1: Girls, Girls, Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls

Link 2: Girls, Girls, Girls. We've got more pictures of girls, tips and tutorials on how to meet and date beautiful girls, links to great Web sites where girls hang out....

If you're a lonely guy searching for girls on the Internet -- well, first of all, get off the Internet and go meet some girls at a local college or something. But if you're looking for stuff about girls on the Internet, aren't you more likely to look at the site whose description tells you they have "tips and tutorials"?

A competent SEO specialist knows that you have to pre-sell the surfer with the search engine listing. Many people who practice SEO understand that directory descriptions, often limited to 25 words or less, have to be conceise and compelling. But they fall short on title tags and meta descriptions. They cram them full of keywords hoping they'll get good rankings.

But what good are rankings without conversions? Search engine optimization is about selling. You are selling from the first moment you propose you optimize someone's site all the way through getting that last check as you say, "Bye, and thanks for all the business!"

You have to sell people on the idea that clicking on the link is good for them. You have to sell people on the idea that the page they have clicked to is what they are looking for. You have to sell them on the idea that following your call to action is the right thing to do.

I visit a lot of Web pages and believe me, the wrong-way selling that permeates the Web is killing people. The last thing you want to be doing is requiring people to scroll through 15 pages of endless B.S. hype and pseudo-testimonials (they always come in ugly yellow boxes). Don't put the, "Are you convinced now? Just click on my PayPal link and pay me $39.95 for my valuable eBook!", at the bottom of the last page. Don't put it at the bottom of any page.

If someone is willing to scroll past all the B.S., you're lucky. You're not smart, not clever, not cool. You're just plain stupid and lucky that you got someone to go that far. It's like a guy trying to ask a girl out for a date by looking down at his shoes and saying, "Gee, Louise, I guess since you have all those manly men knocking on your door you don't want to go out with a small, mousy guy like me. I'll just wait until you are lonely and desperate like I am and maybe then you'll see what a really great guy I am and we can maybe, I dunno, go see a movie or something."

And you're waiting for Louise to scream out, "Ohmygod! You're the sexiest man alive! I want you! Take me, you tiger! Take me now!"

If it don't work so well with getting a date, why should it work so well in selling eBooks. I just don't believe people who put up pages like that really know how to sell merchandise online.

If they do it because they "need content", the best content to get is a customer review. The world's largest online retailers (Amazon and eBay) allow customers to post feedback and reviews. Is it any coincidence that people buy their merchandise?

Indexable content can be compelling if it's honest, to the point, and doesn't try to flim-flam people. You don't have to waste everyone's time by extolling the virtues of your unnamed, unpriced product for 14 pages while boring people to tears with repetitive B.S. testimonials like, "I think Michael Martinez is the greatest! K. Smith, Wisconsin".

Puh-leeze, get a clue.

When you sit down to plan your next search engine optimization campaign, remember that what you serve up to the search engines is just the beginning. You have to provide good, compelling content and be sure that it's content people are actually looking for. If you're hiring SEO specialists, I might give you a shot, but frankly, many clients pay an SEO for advice they won't follow.

I'm serious. One of the most common complaints among SEOs is that they take on a contract, the client won't give them control over the site, and then the client won't make any recommended changes. Some SEOs use external content to manipulate search engine positioning. And you know what happens to that content when you stop paying those SEOs? It goes away. Along with your good placements (assuming you actually had any).

I've had people come to me for advice, pay me to do research and offer advice, and their Web sites today look the same as they did when they came to me. I don't like taking money from people who aren't serious about search engine optimization. Maybe you are. Maybe you really want my help. Frankly, I have found more enjoyable challenges in life. Most of you will have to get by with what you can find on the Internet.

You're rolling the dice. Good luck to you.


Post a Comment

<< Home