This is one of the most frequent questions I hear when I do public speaking on Internet marketing.
The falacy with optimizing for search is that “search” is not a customer. While it’s great (and certainly an ego stroke) to rank high in the search engines for keyword phrases (that you think are important) the reality is that keyword searches are not necessarily synonymous with customers.
One of the biggest mistakes small businesses make with their websites is thinking that they can figure out what keywords their customers are going to use. There are metrics that tell us what phrases and words are more popular than others… but this is not always the solution that we used to think it was. Here’s a quick example. We live in a area near Philadelphia, but really it’s South Jersey. It can be referred to as the Delaware Valley which encompasses an area that could be construed to include the Philadelphia metro. The reality is that customers don’t refer to themselves as living in the Delaware Valley, even though media does. I had a customer who had a telecom business who insisted that was where their service area was. It wasn’t until we started to divide the “Delaware Valley” into the smaller geographic areas, and referring to them as Montgomery County, Doylestown, Cherry Hill or Philly (versus Philadelphia) and using these phrases in our web content that we started to see results. Zip codes are also important if you have a business that services a very distinct geography.
But optimizing for your customer is a different process than optimizing for search, although by doing the first, you will succeed at the second.
What do you need to know to optimize for your customer? Well first, you need to know what your product is. Not what your product is to you but what your product is for your customer. A big mistake that many small business owners make it attempting to select their own keywords. This is a mistake because you are referring to your products and what you do by the terminology you use, which may be inconsistent with what your customer calls it.
When describing what your offer is, it’s ok to use several ways to describe it. There may be customers who refer to your product in different ways. Where you don’t want to use different phrases or looks is when referring to your brand. There is only one company that I know of that gets away with a ton of different treatments of its brand, and yet is incredibly recognizable, and that is Harley Davidson. You see their logo played with in many different fonts, sizes and even colors. If you had a marketing budget the size of Harley Davidson, you may want to play with your image that way, however, most companies pick a logo and brand identity, then reinforce it every where. If you take out your business card, any brochures you produce and put them in front of your computer screen, you logo should appear the same on all.
So, ask your customers – what is it that you are searching for when you look for what we sell. You may be surprised. Understanding what appeals to your current customers may not be what you thought you were selling. I spoke with one gent who thought he sold office furniture… and he paid someone to optimize his website for terms related to office furniture. That’s not what he was selling at all – he sells office planning and he is experienced in putting together efficient space for a new office. If you like the plan, he can spec and get excellent pricing on the office furniture, but he has no showroom and he is not competitive if you only want to buy a chair.
What is it you really do? What is your competitive advantage. How can you stand out from the crowd and help your prospects find you? That’s the real secret of search engine optimization. Once you understand why your customers want to work with you and do business with you, use their words to describe it, and you have a fairly strong foundation for building your SEO program.