SEO - The Imperfect Crime

My role at work has shifted from something of a general purpose programmer working with Coldfusion and Actionscript 3, with sprinklings of other languages just for flavor, to specifically supporting marketing endeavors. In some respects, I probably was subconsciously jockeying for the position while fretting about it my thoughts. My apprehension was such that I deliberately expanded my job description to explicitly include programming, in the guise of tool creation support, so that the break would not be clean. I am still digesting that decision.

That said, there is a lot to be excited about in charting a new direction for oneself. Along those lines, I came up with this interesting metaphor in anticipation of having to explain my role to people who have never seriously thought about Internet marketing. I think that it suffices in conveying a quick overview of what's involved and might be helpful to others in grasping the big picture of search engine optimization, SEO.

First off, however, SEO really isn't a crazy concept that ought to screw with your head. The Schrödinger's Cat mind experiment is a good example of something to mess with your mind and the reason I delay checking my lottery tickets (I happen to believe that 4.35e-8 is not 0 though empirical evidence keeps suggesting otherwise). Anyway, the gist of SEO is to create a page that is most representative of all pages that are associated with a given search phrase. So how does one do that?

(There are a tremendous number of other sources of much more profound content than this on all things related to search engines; this is just meant to establish a mind set for approaching the problem.)

SEO is about committing the most imperfect crime. You want to be seen in the act, with no alibi, tons of witnesses (the more respected the better), with lots of evidence pointing your way and generally you want to look as guilty as possible in the lineup. And what the heck, you want to be so sloppy that you commit a lot of extraneous crimes along the way.

Here's how it all breaks down:

  • The Crime
  • The Cops
  • Your Record
  • Witnesses
  • Informants
  • Evidence
  • The Line Up

The Crime

You need to choose your crime carefully. If there is widespread looting in your neighborhood, it'll be hard to get caught red-handed. Every keyword phrase is going to have different levels of competition and circumstances surrounding it and sometimes crime doesn't pay. Let's say that you are trying to score well for "Orlando Airplane Charters". Scoring well for "Airplane" could be self-defeating as the increase in traffic you may fetch may convert at an atrociously low rate; so much so that it increases the cost of conversion outside of profitability. Choose your crimes intelligently and, as Baretta was keen to say, "don't do the crime if you can't do the time!"

The Cops

You gotta consider the cops. Mostly the cops that you are thinking about the folks at Google; it's a safe bet. But don't discount Yahoo and MSN completely, and don't forget there are many other search engines. Each will have their own characteristics in some unique way - really they are all special snowflakes. Much to the chagrin of team Scroogle, it is probably a safe bet to apply the overwhelming majority of your thought to Google.

Your Record

How guilty do you look. Once you get good at getting caught at this keyword crime thing, you tend to start looking guilty across the board. Your success in getting repeatedly busted is going to help keep the long arm of the search engine law aimed squarely at you. So this means that you can't just commit so great crime and expect to be caught immediately. You have to be obsessively committed to getting caught red-handed.

Witnesses

Witnesses are by and far the best way to get busted. Sure, you can caught with pages of keyword rich pages directly related to the desired keyword term, but you might be trying to set yourself up. What you really need are lots of reputable people saying you did it. Of course, be careful with this. If you start getting fingered by disreputable sorts, the kind defense attorneys eat for breakfast because juries don't trust them, then the cops might smell a rat. It gets worse if you are a witness against your witness - it just doesn't look or smell right. What you need is a professor, congressman, esteemed businessman and the like to bear witness against you. The more specifically they talk about the crime you committed, the better. The richer and more focused the anchor text pointing at you the better.

Informants

You can always expect the cops to do their job. Your bot cops are very likely engorging themselves on wiki-donuts. What you need is an inside guy, or gal, that will sell you out to the authorities. They need to create a map that tells the whole sordid story and make sure it gets put on the desk of the detectives. The most straight forward way to do this is by submitting XML site maps to the Google Webmaster Tools. This tells Google exactly what pages you have and how they can be easily found. Your informant might also arrange for witnesses to start appearing. Maybe while the bots are checking out some other crime, your guy can arrange for someone to be singing like a canary, pointing them right in your direction. Don't count on people to be witnesses as far too many don't want to get involved. You gotta push the issue.

Evidence

When the bots descend on your hide out, you want to make sure that everything is arranged so that they know you are guilty as hell. You want your keyword crime to be pretty darn obvious - but not too obvious. The general rule of thumb for getting caught is to not have your desired keywords exceed 7% of your total content. There is some debate on how hard of a limit this is, but you can use this as a reasonable limit. Don't forget that a single set of bloody gloves does not make you a murdered - ask OJ! You need to make sure that you have a mountain of forensic evidence stacked against you that says that for your keyword phrase, you are the one.

The Line Up

And a last little thought about getting busted for the keyword crime. The search engines can never be sure who is the actual culprit. So they'll collar a group of guilty looking suspects and put them in a line up. No matter how guilty you look to the engines, you have to also consider how guilty you look when you are sitting among the group of your no-good scoundrel competition. So don't ignore conversion and don't forget that eventually it'll be a warm body that makes the final judgement against you.

Anyway, this metaphor came to several weeks ago and I thought I ought to make the attempt to flesh it out. It doesn't discuss the wonder math of PageRank theory, sculpting/silo-ing, employing your criminal confederates (paid blogging and other fun), link baiting, paid advertising or any other wonderful fun. As I can, I will explore those topics as well as some ideas I have for creating tools to assist (I already spend too much time tracking performance and will have to earnestly begin attempting to automate this soon). And I continue to pursue programming on my own time, so I expect to continue blogging about Actionscript, Coldfusion, SQL and maybe try to pull some other hopefully interesting topics in as well.

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