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What SEO-Page Optimization Really Means

August 9th, 2011

seo pageImagine that I were to ask you one question: “What is the purpose of SEO-page optimization?” What would you say — really? Many wannabe online marketers — like an Israeli online-gambling company that looked to hire me without understanding mean SEM based on the best average results and the basic strategy involved — naturally give different answers. The most common answer, I imagine, is: “To rank highly for a keyword and get lots of traffic as a result!”

Wrong. Well, okay — I will give you partial credit. No detention for you. But people who give that response focus on the digital trees rather than the overall forest. Here’s how.

Say that I own a website that sells Red Sox baseball jerseys. (Yankees fans, please keep reading — we’re all marketing professionals here!) My website may “pitch” a copy of the jersey worn by Curt Schilling, who wore the infamous bloody sock from Game 2 of the 2004 World Series after helping to defeat the Evil Empire in the ALCS in seven games. As a result, my website may contain baseball statistics, player biographies, sports news, and other items as well. Without any SEO-page optimization, Google may not be able to determine the primary subject-matter of the website — it may be Red Sox jerseys, or it may be the aforementioned stats, news, and biographies. Search engines, after all, are robots — they can only analyze the content of websites based, for the most part, on text and tags.

The process of SEO-page optimization on such a site would be the use of keywords and related items to tell Google that, yes, this website focuses primarily on Red Sox jerseys and not items like Red Sox statistics, biographies, or news. In other words, people interested in “Red Sox jerseys” should come here; people interested in “Red Sox news” should go elsewhere. In the end, the true, direct purpose on SEO is to help search engines, not you. But, do not worry: in the end, SEO in this context will benefit you as well.

The reason is that search engines like Google want to provide the most relevant and authoritative search-results to people who are looking for information, news, products, and services. If the aforementioned website would rank highly for “Red Sox news” despite not focusing directly on that topic — well, that would hurt Google’s business-goals as well as, eventually, the site in question itself (through demoted rankings). And this is the trap in which many online marketers find themselves. Say that “Red Sox news” is an organic keyword that delivers a lot more traffic than “Red Sox jerseys.” Many marketers for the site I have described will attempt to rank highly for that keyword even though it is less relevant to the site. In the end, it will not work — for multiple reasons.

First, in the globalized age of online publishing, there are countless, niche websites that focus on every conceivable topic under the digital sun. If a website focuses on “Red Sox jerseys” but tries to optimize for “Red Sox news” to gain a part of that traffic — well, there are undoubtedly other websites (ESPN and Sports Illustrated, anyone?) that will always be more relevant and authoritative on that particular sub-topic and will always have better rankings. The way to be successful is to “do what you do best” and ignore everything else. As I learned back in MBA school, it is important to understand the principle of core competency — do that which you know best and that which no one else is doing. It’s simply a matter of digital ROI. The website in question should focus on becoming the best, most-authoritative site on “Red Sox jerseys” rather than try to address “Red Sox news” at all. After all, it will have the potential to rank first (or close to that) for its primary topic; it will never rank that high for anything else. Why bother to try?

Second, as I described at length in an earlier post, it is conversions that matter, not traffic. A million people coming to your website looking for “Red Sox news” and then buying $1,000 in jerseys is less valuable than 20,000 people who end up buying $10,000 worth of items (“show me the money!”). The best way to increase sales is to focus like a digital laser on those people who are already predisposed to buying “Red Sox jerseys” in the first place (as evidenced for the searches for the phrase in Google). In other words, SEO-page optimization should focus on those rather than anyone else.

In a nutshell, most search-engine marketing (SEM) — through search-optimization software or by hand — comes down to a two-stage process:

  1. First, Google needs to know that your site focuses primarily on X. (More-general keywords will not work.) However, Google will know that there are many sites that focus on X as well. The search engine will rank all of the sites that focus on X in order of authoritativeness.
  2. So, after telling Google that your site is about X, you need to tell Google that your site is an authority on X.

And, really, the theory is that simple. (It’s just the follow-through that is difficult.) So, in sum, the purpose of SEO-page optimization is to help search engines to know exactly on what your website focuses. And then everything else — link-building, social-media marketing, quality-content production, and so on — merely serves to increase your site’s “authority” (and thereby SERPs) on that particular subject.

How to Plan SEO-Page Optimization

So, a basic SEO-page checklist would consist of the following:

  • What, as specifically as possible, is my website about?
  • What keywords are specifically relevant to my website?
  • How can I optimize my website to target just those specific keywords? (The Google external-keyword tool may help.)
  • How can I increase my site’s “authoritativeness” regarding that topic?

In other words, do not fall for the temptation to try to chase high rankings for “Red Sox news” with its, say, one million searches per month when “Red Sox jerseys” has only, say, 10,000 per month. (Insert your sector and business as necessary.) Focus only on the keywords that are relevant to you. Any else will be a waste of time and money. Despite what people who use black-hat SEO software claim, the key is to help search engines to help you. That way, everyone wins over the long-term.

Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.