Bots or beings: which is your website optimized for?
Search Engine Optimization.
It's the fish oil of the Web, promising healthy traffic to all who abide by its tenets.
Yet I despise it.
I have seen too many clients shoe-horn key phrases into lackluster headlines, bloat body copy to the all-magical 250-word minimum, and dumb down graphics so they are findable by search bots. As a writer, I so loathe repetition -- especially when it's gratuitous -- that I joke that SEO stands for "Say Everything Over and Over."
Yet I know that many a mom searching for something has gone from Google to shopping cart in mere minutes, in large part due to smart SEO.
So what separates smart SEO from misguided SEO?
I have my hunches. Principally, that in appeasing the SEO Gods, you need to ensure you don't lose your appeal to real people. Instead, I prefer RPO, what I coin Real Person Optimization. Tell stories that are memorable. Refresh your site regularly. Don't overwhelm with sales copy. Have a social media strategy that's smart. Even better, practice RLPO -- Real Local Person Optimization. Since more than 20% of searches have a local intent and 80% of smart phones will have GPS by 2011, where you are is as important as who you are.
Yet I'm a newbie here. In order to advise clients well, I decided to get off my SEO-conflicted soap-box and check in with a true expert. Todd Nemet worked at Google in Sales Engineering for years. I love his advice:
SEO should always be subservient to business goals (and UI design). In an ideal world they all point in the same direction, but when there is conflict, the business goals should trump.
Focus on creating good content and using social media to promote it to like-minded people. If you spend time writing meta keywords or hiring someone to do it for you (which is even worse), then there will be no content to keep people on your site once they find it anyway.
Never trade links or take money for links. This is never a good deal since you will face penalties eventually, especially if it hurts the user experience if they can't get to relevant content.
Whatever SEO strategy you decide upon, be sure to do two things: set up analytics so you can track traffic, and then make conversion king of all metrics. More eyeballs are nice, but more buyers prove you're delivering on the search terms that lead people to your door.
Please leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below, even if -- no, especially if --
you don't agree with what I've written.
I just paid a $9 late fee to the library for the book What's Mine is Yours: The Rise in Collaborative Consumption by Rachel Botsman. I devoured the book in days, but held onto it in an effort to eke out every amazing insight for you, blog readers. Then lo and behold, I discover the book has a video that does a much better job summarizing than my Cliff Notes could ever do.
So go ahead and watch it now. I'll wait.
Thought-provoking, isn't it? We're rapidly moving away from a "thingification" society and searching instead for ways to share resources to save money and reduce waste.
My favorite notion in the book is the idea of "idling capacity," explained this way:
There are approximately 50 million drills in homes across America gathering dust. The average use of a drill in its entire lifetime is between six and 13 minutes. What we really want is the hole, not the drill.
When you take a look around at your immediate surroundings, you'll be amazed by the amount of waste that exists -- not just in landfills but in the stuff we own but rarely use: the car that sits idle on average for 22 hours a day; the spare bedroom that is rarely used; the evening dress that awaits the right occasion; office space and equipment that are used for less than half the day; roads used only during peak times; 80% of the items people own are used less than once a month. At the heart of Collaborative Consumption is the reckoning of how we can take this idling capacity and redistribute it elsewhere. Modern technology including online social networks and GPS-enabled hand-held devices offers a multitude of ways to solve this problem.
In the weeks since I read the book, I have encountered so much evidence of the Collaborative Consumption trend, it almost feels like a conspiracy. For instance:
- Gap announces a corporate bike-share program and creates a pop-up store showcasing urban bikes (bike sharing is the fastest growing form of transportation in the world)
- The NY Times publishes "Learning to Share, Thanks to the Web" -- an article about the various social networks cropping up that let people borrow or lend their stuff, either free or for a fee.
- A friend from San Francisco drives down in her ZipCar and dazzles me with her tale of going carless. She's saving $1,000 a month. She matches her ZipCar to the day's activity, i.e. red sports car to pick up tween nephew at the airport, then a sleek BMW for an important business meeting. The iPhone app alone is jaw-droppingly smart, making the lights flash on your car at the lot and doing other clever tricks.
So of course I try to connect the dots and think: how will collaborative consumption affect the mom market? Moms seem to be ahead of the curve in many ways: consider nanny sharing, clothing-swap sites like Zwaggle and ThredUp, and the rise in group-buying programs targeting women (which Google values somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 billion. That's 'billion' with a 'b').
How else can moms band together and swap resources?
I suspect the popular AirBnB site (basically a way to stay with people when traveling -- less than a hotel, plus more convivial) will either launch a family-friendly version or allow searches for families with like-aged kids. How much better than a hotel to stay instead where there are age-appropriate toys and a child-proofed home -- plus built-in playmates and hosts that know every family-friendly joint in town.
And how about a resource for working-parent households to trade coverage on days school is closed? Parents have at least 81 weekdays to manage their children’s care when school is not in session -- far more than two weeks of vacation and personal days can cover. A community of caretakers seems long overdue, and geo-local data makes it ever-the-more viable.
What else? A homemade baby-food co-op? A maternity clothes membership where you swap out new items each trimester? Gluten-free meal clubs? The possibilities appear to be endless.
I am the founder and creative director of Maternal Instinct, a Palo Alto agency of creative problem solvers for marketing to moms. I am lucky enough to get paid to spend my days helping big and small corporations figure out how to make moms want to do business with them. (I don’t get paid for my nights and weekends, caring for my two boys, which is far, far more tiring.)
My 20-year advertising career spans both coasts: in New York (my hometown) and San Francisco, my home today with husband Gene and boys, Henry and Benjamin. I have peddled products for every industry -- credit cards, wine, cars, magazines, jewelry, hotels, software, phone service -- and even picked up a Clio and a few ADDYs along the way.