Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Web Site Optimization: Get On Base With Great Content

This post was originally created as class assignment #3 for MSU's New Media Driver's License course, and posted to the course website on October 11, 2010.

When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), the goal is to get your site or blog to a coveted spot at or near the top of the page on a search. In baseball terms, that’s hitting a home run.

It’s easy to get caught up in trying to “swing for the seats” by creating some magical, perfect recipe of keywords to instantly catapult you to the #1 spot, and keep you there.  If SEO was that simple, every Google search, regardless of the topic, would return my blog at the top of the list (and I'd be Mrs. Derek Jeter).

But back to reality: every search result returned on Google (or Bing or Yahoo) is the result of choices made in real time – some that are yours to make (like the keywords or phrases you choose to use, and sites you choose to link to or comment on), and many that aren’t (like who chooses to leave a comment on, or link to, your site, or the search engine’s algorithm).

So where do you start?  Maybe it’s good to head back to the rules of baseball: It’s not a home run unless you touch all the bases. With that in mind, what’s “first base” in SEO?

Many experts will tell you, the starting point is the content you create. David Meerman Scott, for one, says “the best thing you can do to improve your search engine marketing is to focus on building great content for your buyers.”  It’s sort of that “if you build it, they will come” idea (oh no! another baseball reference!), but it’s more than that. 

Aaron Wall at SEOBook feels the same way (and I highly commend his video to all newcomers to SEO -- it's zero sizzle, all steak). He points out that the more you try to manipulate or force traffic (through duplicating content or including poor quality links, for example), the less Google will reward you with a higher placement.

A better approach in the long run (but one that requires diligence and patience) is to put your well-written ideas out there and use the social power of the web to get people talking about them.  And once again, those social media tools will only work their magic if your content is worth reading.

A related point to keep in mind, courtesy of Brian Clark at SEO Copywriting:  Your content is more than what you write on your own site or blog. Every time you comment on someone else’s blog, you’re authoring content.  As Clark discusses in his blog post “Is Commenting on Blogs A Smart Traffic Strategy?” if you comment simply for the sake of marking the territory, or to try and be the first person to comment (and therefore, to occupy the first comment spot to garner links back), even when you have nothing to add to the conversation, you won’t get the result you’re looking for.

Does that mean that if you write great stuff there’s no need to worry about optimizing your copy?  No. Back to baseball again (last time, I promise), if content with value for your audience gets you to first base, then the other tools, like well-conceived optimization strategies and social media traffic-drivers, have a better chance of “scoring” a better search result ranking. 

But we'll leave those topics for another day, and another analogy.

photo credits:  World's Largest Baseball Bat by basheertome; Bucket of Baseballs by laffy4k 

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