There are two ways to use SEO to help your organization. One is reliable and effective, the other is a glorious crap shoot that usually fails but is wonderful when it works. I'll start with the second.
The most common way to use search engine optimization is to find a keyword (like "plumbing") and do whatever you can to 'own' that word on Google. This is Google as the Yellow Pages (with free ads).
The Yellow Pages are terrific for plumbers, because if you need a plumber, that's where you're going to look. Buy the biggest ad, be the first listing, you get calls. Google is a revelation because it's a super Yellow Pages and it's free! The problem: how to be the first listing, because being the 40th listing is fairly worthless.
The answer: You probably won't be. There are 14 million matches for Plumber, and no, you won't be #1 or #2. You lost. In fact, in just about every keyword worth owning, your chances are winning are small.
(To the .00001% of the people reading this who win--congratulations. You can ignore this post.)
This method is so appealing because it's all about converting the non-converted. For free, you show up in front of people who didn't know about you and you get your shot to convert them. This is the marketer's dream.
Am I saying it's not worth trying to win? Of course not. If you can give it a shot for the right set of keywords and not spend too much or count too much on winning, then go for it. But the other method is a lot more compelling (and, yes, you can do both at the same time).
The other way to use SEO is a bit more organic. (Let's call it the White Pages approach). It involves owning a keyword that you already own. Do a search on ShoeMoney in Google and you'll find 340,000 matches. Wanna guess who's first? ShoeMoney. Why is this surprising? After all, he invented the word and he owns the domain.
Someone hears about Jeremy's site from a friend or from a blog or from some other source. They want to visit his site and they type it into Google. He told me that he gets five times as much traffic from this search term as any other on Google.
The power of this technique is that with determination and patience, you will certainly win. It requires inventing a trademark and then building a business or service or organization around this trademark that people actually talk about. You want to be able to say to someone, "just type ____ into Google."
Obviously, the only people who will do this have heard about you in some other way. So this is an amplification and word of mouth strategy, not a blue sky conversion play.
Here's the math:
If you are lucky enough to 'win' at traditional Yellow Pages SEO, you might convert a few percentage points of the traffic you get into customers. On the other hand, if you win at White Pages SEO, if you win because people talk about your unique take and use your name, you convert just about everyone. Think about that... if someone types Seth into Google, they're probably looking for me, and so when they arrive here, they stay, because they found me. If, on the other hand, they type in Cow, most of the people who end up here aren't looking for my book, so they leave.
David Meerman Scott owns the word 'Meerman'. I have no idea if he uses his middle name in real life, but it sure helps him online. Scott Ginsberg owns the term 'nametag scott'. You get the idea. It's like owning the perfect domain, via Google.
When you start to win at the White Pages strategy, it turns out that this helps you win at both. Your blog or site gets more organic traffic, which will organically raise your Google results for other words and phrases.
Step by step:
1. Make an incredible product, offer a remarkable service.
2. Associate a unique term or trademark with it. (Something that isn't generic, and preferably, not a crowded search term already).
3. Assuming that you do #1 and #2, you'll end up owning that word in the search engines. If you don't, revisit the first two steps.
The hard part, of course, is making something people choose to talk about. The good news is that this is under your control, which is better than the alternative.