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« The $400 model car | Main | Jeff Cerny's insight »

The problem with search engine optimization

SEO is the purported science of optimizing your webpage so that you rise to the top of the listings in Google and Yahoo!

The theory is that a huge number of people find what they're looking for via search, that virtually all of these people only look at the first page of the results and that if you don't tweak your page, you're doomed.

I just got a note from someone asking me for a recommendation, and when I said I didn't think that most SEO was worth the money, he asked me why. So here goes:

1. Because it's a black art, it's really hard to tell who's good and who's not. Andrew Goodman is good, there are people who are less reputable... no matter what, it's hard to guarantee you'll get your money's worth.

2. my real problem, though, starts with an analogy. Imagine your retail store was on a road that no one ever drove down unless they found it on a map. And then imagine that they redid the maps every week and the mapmakers refused to tell you exactly how they went about deciding which roads to draw and in which hierarchy to place them.

Could you imagine finding investors for that sort of store? Could you imagine being confident enough in your ability to grow that business that you'd want to work there?

Lucking into (and it is luck) the top slot of a great word on Google is not a business plan. It's superstition. It's blind faith.

If you want to grow your business, you need a reliable and scalable and dependable way to spend time and money and have it turn into traffic and revenue. In the real world, companies do that with real estate and with advertising. Online, it's about adwords and site design.

If you can figure out how to BUY (not luck into) keyword searches that bring you X number of visitors, and then you can figure out how to design your site so that Y% of those visits turn into customers, you win. And nobody can stop you from growing all you care to grow.

Take a look at The South Beach Diet(TM) > Online. They spend more than a million dollars a year on online promotion (keywords, etc.). They spend a bunch more on optimizing the site. The result? One of the bestselling diet books ever written (4 million copies sold) plus more than 100,000 subscribers. Marketing that pays for itself.

No magic, no superstition. Just planning and measurement and hard work.

SEOs are not a shortcut to success, at least not for 99% of the companies out there. You won't win by fooling Google into listing you first for a common search term. You will win once you figure out the simple mechanics of turning strangers into friends and friends into customers.

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