I was recently emailing back and forth with a client who was trying to get their website to rank higher in Google and ended up being penalized by Google for a few mistakes they made. During the conversation I mentioned that re-gaining their position may be harder now than if they haven’t been penalized, much like earning back the trust of a scorned lover. That was a big “Aha!” moment for me when I realized that search engine optimization (SEO) is pretty much identical to mating rituals in western society. This article explains what I mean and will hopefully provide you with a much better understanding of how SEO works… and why it’s not an overnight process.
Note: Throughout this article I’m going to refer to a male courting a female to avoid having to clutter up the article with phrases like “him/her”. Feel free to exchange these references with whatever combination of sexes you prefer.
Getting a Date with Google
In western society, we follow a number of rituals to win the heart of a person we desire. Getting your website to show up high in search has nearly the same rituals, except the object of your desire in this case is Google. For the purposes of SEO, you can think of Google as the most beautiful, smart and desirable woman in the world. Everybody wants her, but she’s not easy. Let’s take a look at how one would woo a girl like Google.
Phase 1: Courtship
You’re going to a party next week, and you know that Google is going to be there. You really want to make a great impression and work up the courage to ask her out on a first date.
Get Prepared – Present Yourself Well
The first step is making sure you look presentable. You want to wear a nice outfit, be clean and well-groomed, and pay attention to the little details-like putting on a nice pair of cufflinks or matching your socks to your tie. How you look can make all the difference in the world.
SEO is the same. Attention to detail when building your website is crucial to making a good first impression on Google. This means making sure you cover the all basics:
- Having a clear and well-structured layout for your pages (wearing a nice outfit)
- Ensuring your pages are well-written and free of grammatical/spelling errors (being clean & well groomed)
- Paying special attention to headlines, titles, descriptions, and keyword tags (the cufflinks)
Stand Out – Get Noticed
You’re well dressed, well-groomed and ready to go. But that isn’t enough. Something about you needs to stand out. Immediately, she needs to know you’re different, and not just like any other guy who’s going to hit on her. What about you is going to make her do a second take when she glances around the room? For some people, it may mean wearing a funky color, having an interesting life experience to share, or maybe being blessed with a sexy accent. Things like that can get you noticed.
When it comes to SEO, standing out means offering something unique and remarkable on your website. It means going beyond just the basic 4 pages of “Home”, “About”, “Services”, “Contact”, and offering visitors something that they can’t find somewhere else. It could mean…
- Creating a blog full of unique perspectives on an age-old idea
- Offering advice on topics that competitors usually hold close to their chest
- Providing a free tool that people can use to do something really cool (e.g. Behr’s ColorSmart application)
Make Great Conversation – But Don’t Be a Player
OK. You’re as ready as you can ever be. Time to make the first approach. You see her at the punch bowl, and casually walk up to say hello. The first time you open your mouth… make sure words are coming out. There’s nothing more awkward than realizing your mouth is open and no sounds are being made. You’ll want to be confident, speak naturally, and basically just be yourself. This girl’s smart too, so you’ll need to be able to carry an intelligent conversation with her. She’s not interested in hot-shots and players who use cheesy pick-up lines and try to rush her into something too quickly. This is not a one-night-stand kinda gal.
These tips apply to SEO as well. Your website needs to make great conversation with the people that visit it. This means having lots of well-written, thoughtful and intelligent content that engages people and keeps them interested. Write to the visitors on your website like you’re speaking to them. Be conversational and be yourself. And whatever you do, don’t be a player. Being a player, in Google’s eyes, means:
- Using spammy tricks like keyword stuffing (cheesy pick-up lines)
- Writing only for search engines, making the content annoying or difficult for others to read (trying to look smarter than you are)
- Using deceptive keywords and language to trick Google into ranking you (lying about yourself)
- Building a network of sites with link farms designed to increase your rankings (using wingmen to enhance your play)
- Purchasing links on other websites to build credibility (paying another girl to talk you up to her)
Ask For The Date
The conversation is flowing, 30 minutes has gone by and it feels like nobody else is in the room. Now it’s time to seal the deal, and ask her on the first date. If you’ve done everything correctly up to this point, the next step should come fairly naturally and she’ll have no reason to object. You ask her, she says yes, and you schedule the first date a few days from now.
In SEO, asking for the first date is submitting your website to Google Webmaster Tools to tell Google you’re ready to have your website indexed in search.
Phase 2: The First Date
You arrive at the restaurant on time, and she’s just walking up to the door. She smiles and you gesture with your hand to let her ahead. You tell the waiter you have reservations for two, he picks up a couple of menus and politely directs you to a table. This is it… let’s hope it goes well!
In the world of SEO, the first date is when Google indexes your website and decides where it will rank initially. If you’ve followed the advice above, the first encounter should go well and you should show up somewhere in the rankings. But don’t expect too much at this point—it’s just the first date of many. You’ll have to go on several dates to gain Google’s trust and climb up her list of favorites.
Phase 3: Going Steady
The Next Dates
The first date went well. You’re now on the radar, and she sees you as a potential option for a long-term relationship. Now begins the fun process of dinners, movies and long walks on the beach. Conversation flows, you get to know each other better, and her affection for you grows.
In SEO, this is where the ongoing work starts. After submitting your website to Google the first time, you may find it ranks low. Don’t fret! This is perfectly normal. You’re still new and haven’t earned Google’s trust yet. Much like going steady, you build trust with Google by spending time with her. This means regularly creating new content, improving the site, and measuring how this activity affects your rankings. This process will take time and effort, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t knock it out of the park the first time around.
Impressing Her Friends and Family
If you want to be her #1, you’re going to have to impress more than just her. You have to impress her friends and family too. And Google has a lot of friends and family. Several billion to count. Not only that, but Google is very influenced by what her closest friends and family say about you. You can’t mess this up if you want to be her #1.
In SEO, this means regularly creating & promoting remarkable content that impresses both Google and her friends. The friends you need to impress are the other websites and people on social media that Google knows. You’ll know you’ve impressed them when they link to your content and they’re buzzing about you on social media. The more links you can get, the better. But keep in mind that some friends are closer to Google than others. The websites that rank higher in Google have more of Google’s ear, and you’ll have to work extra hard to earn their links back to your website.
Phase 4: Marriage
You’ve been seeing each other steady for a while now. Everything is as wonderful as it could be. You finally pop the big question, and Google says yes. The wedding bells ring, champagne is opened, and you dance the night away. After a wonderful honeymoon, you realize that your work isn’t done. It’s easy to become complacent at this stage, to take things for granted, and let the relationship slip through your fingers. You know that to keep this going, you’ll need to make extra effort to make sure that your affection for each other doesn’t wane.
The marriage phase in SEO is when you’ve arrived at a great spot in the rankings on the first page, ideally in the top 3 listings. And just like marriage, your work doesn’t end here. If you decide that your work is done and you don’t need to try any more, your rankings will slip away and you’ll lose everything you’ve worked so hard to gain. Remember, Google’s a very desirable gal. And if you let her attention slip away, another dashing lad may just catch her eye. So keep creating great content, promote it on social media, watch your rankings, and be always improving your website. This is the SEO work that needs to be done to keep your marriage with Google strong.
The lesson I want to impart is that Search Engine Optimization is not an overnight process, and there are no shortcuts for long term success.
Search engines have become a lot smarter since the first days of the web, and literally act like a person whom you have to establish rapport and trust with. They will evaluate your efforts and grow affection for you if you’re doing the right things. Try to pull a fast one on them and they’ll kick you square in the wiggler. You’ll have to work even harder to get back in their good books after they do that, just like winning back the lost trust of a friend or partner.
If you look at Search Engine Optimization this way, you’ll understand the work it takes to get to where you need to go, and the attitude you need to have in approaching it. I hope this advice makes your efforts more successful.