Is it possible to become an expert at something that’s for the most part a closely guarded secret? This is what I’ve been asking myself about SEO.

This year I decided to get smarter about the topic so I can be a better advisor to my clients. SEO is search engine optimization, and it’s the art and science of making sure web sites are found by search engines—and therefore by searching people.

Anyone involved in creating web sites seems to want to talk about SEO, but that doesn’t mean they fully understand it. I discovered there are no definitive rules for creating high-ranking web sites. That’s because Google – the leading search engine by far – uses continually evolving proprietary algorithms that determine which sites are listed first when you search online. One of the reasons they don’t share their search parameters is to prevent people from trying to “game the system.”

However secretive they are about their algorithms, Google does share what they hope to deliver to people who are searching the web: Quality web sites that answer your questions thoroughly and reliably. Google makes assumptions about what defines a quality web site. This includes technical aspects like links, structure, and crawl-ability. But a big part of SEO is the content – words and images.

Search engines are looking for sites with engaging, relevant, and thorough content on search topics. This makes me feel great, because relevant and engaging content is what I’m all about. But it’s also got me thinking. Should the goal of every web site be to “win” the search engine ranking game? I think it depends on the objectives of your site.

Before I start writing web content, I try to understand two main things: What’s the objective, and who’s the target audience?

What does your web site need to do?

If you’re a real company, you have a web site. At a minimum, prospective customers, partners, vendors, or employees expect to find you online. Web sites can be set up to do all kinds of things, and you should define your objectives before you design your site. Consider how the focus of your content needs to differ depending on whether your site is there to sell products, generate leads, educate, locate, or entertain. SEO may not be as important for a web site that exists primarily to support a brand image, for example, or a company whose sales primarily happen at retail. So, before you spend a lot of time generating content, ask yourself: What is the function of your site?

Target audience drives content.

Important question number two is target audience. Before writing any kind of marketing content, you should understand who you’re speaking to. Is this a consumer or business buyer? What are their needs and their mindset – what are they looking for when they search the web? The better you’re able to define your target’s age, gender, life stage, and interests, the easier it will be to write content and select imagery that speaks to them. I remind my clients that this isn’t an exercise in stereotyping; it’s about understanding what truly appeals to the people most likely to be attracted to what you offer.

While true SEO may be more or less relevant depending on what you’re trying to accomplish with your web site, the fundamental concepts are useful for any brand. It’s folly for your web site to try to do it all for everyone. Well defined objectives and smart targeting are the keys to a quality site and effective marketing. Great content starts with understanding where you’re going and who you’re speaking to. A relevant and engaging web site is not just what algorithms and bots are looking for. It’s what humans are looking for – and what they deserve.

Would you like help creating a more engaging web site? I’m happy to help!

Copyright Liz Behlke 2019