It's important to consider the business implications that can be affected by SEO efforts. It's easy to follow this loop of logic:
Unless your website is your business, and the products you sell are virtual ones that are directly linked from the website (i.e. you earn money by advertising revenue on the site) then your website is just a business tool, not a business in and of itself. Keep your SEO efforts in check when you're considering your strategic moves, and never confuse 'more' SEO with real business success.
1. Pick a business name, not a SEO name
I recently worked on a job listing website for healthcare workers called workinhealth.ca. We contemplated a variety of names, some of which were purely SEO focused, like "Torontohealthjobs.ca" or "healthjobsToronto.ca."
In our planning sessions, even we couldn't remember one variation from the other and found ourselves confusing the two names. Yes, they included our target SEO keywords. Yes, they were stupidly obvious about the function of the site. But no, they were not good business names. Workinhealth.ca is at worst confused with a .com site, but our Canadian audience is well-trained to listen for the .ca instead of the .com. Even better, workinhealth.ca allows expanding in a few directions – a newsletter for the healthcare community, event and conference listings, for example. It appealed to a sense of community and commitment that we thought would resonate with our audience.
The best attribute about the name is that once people hear about the site name, they remember it. Because heavy competition was going to make ranking an uphill battle in any event, we decided as a business to focus on word of mouth, job fairs, posters and handing out magnets at hospitals to reach our targeted community. Online promotion was limited to twitter feeds, some LinkedIn groups, RSS and some cheaply purchased adwords for those rare occasions when someone is searching "Toronto physiotherapy jobs." So far, traffic is booming and word is spreading. That, more than a cheesy domain name, will lift our search engine ranking in the long run.
Lesson #1 – Reaching your audience is the key. Use the right tool for the job.
2. The real audience of your business are customers, not website visitors.
Of course these groups overlap. But in the end, your business needs paying customers. This can be tricky to define. Perhaps the customer is just an advertiser who wants access to your juicy target audience. In this scenario, your advertiser is your client and your audience is your product. You need to juggle the need to please the advertiser without alienating your audience.
Let's look at another scenario. One client of mine has a site for DIY investors. He gives away free information, definitions of financial instruments and excellent commentary. His paying clients are ones who subscribe for a specific course on the site. This is a classic freemium business model that relies on giving away free product as a marketing tool.
So, when deciding how to optimize the site, how does SEO would apply? The business clients are serious researchers and planners. On this basis, we focused on providing definitions of investment terms and optimized the site based on a selection of highly technical terminology. We could have had a chatty blog on personal finance information; but why? It's a bigger audience and we'd get ten times the traffic, but it's not the audience of this specific business. At some point, my client may offer in-person training as well to a local audience. We'll provide even more specific content then to localize the site. Our SERP ranking will never score high for "how to save money" – we are focusing on "sharpe ratio" and " forex conversions" thanks very much.
3. Don’t sacrifice quality for the sake of some awkward keyword placements.I don't need to give case studies for this. We've all visited those websites where "cleanest vacuum comparison review shopping deal discount" is what passes for a leading sentence. Yes, you can pull in more traffic, but they don't ever come back. You will forever be chasing traffic and never holding an audience. This is a fruitless, inefficient business model.
Lesson #3 - Win over an audience, and your traffic won't need to be 'driven' anywhere.
4. Less is always more
It's true that original, quality content will help search engines include your site accurately in their rankings. But I'm not even how the sensible goal of being findable degraded into the reprehensive mess of content spinning and cheap regurgitation. These practices are hopefully on the way out now that Google has promised to sink the rankings of low quality sites.
As a content strategist, though, I caution everyone from producing useless content to "improve their SEO." The resources you need to create, deploy, manage and sustain any kind of content will increase with the amount you produce. Even a low-cost blog takes a toll on your budget, and provides an expanding volume of content that can break your brand and destroy your credibility. Twitter accounts seem to be stuffed with marketers marketing to other marketers in a wasteland of unread tweets. Abandoned youtube channels and spam-dunked blogs do more to discredit you than promote you. Sure, you're driving traffic to your business, but look at what they find when they arrive!
I spend more time copy deleting than copy editing, and reining in overblown plans to deploy useless material. I have yet to see the ROI on this strategy, either in business income on in actual search engine rankings. Please, think before you type.
Lesson #4 – If you don't have something to say, please don't start talking. If you can't sustain what you've started, it's better to take down your content than abandon it.
Content Development. Project Management. User Experience Design.