Of course, many business people are obsessed with SEO and how they can leverage it to improve their search engine rankings. But what they often overlook is the difference between Search Engine Optimization and the Human Touch.
Search Engine Optimization is an Art, not a Science
As I discussed in my last post, focusing on the 'game' of SEO is a huge mistake -- Sure, there are many things you can do to gain a small improvement in your website's organic search optimization, but focusing on minor details without nailing the essentials is the equivalent of washing and waxing a Corvette that's got an empty gas tank. It might make your heart race to look at it, but it isn't going to get you very far.
The same is true with Search Engine Optimization. Read any cogent guide, article or book on SEO and you'll see the first thing they say is that your web pages need to feel natural when read by an actual human being. But then, they'll typically spend the balance of the document giving you specific guidelines for on-site search engine optimization that results in pages that look, feel or read as anything but natural when someone visits the page.
Why is that? Well, it's mainly due to the murky nature of how folks like Google evaluate websites to deliver Search Engine Result Pages. After all, if you deduce that putting your keyword into a page or post a minimum of five times improves your position on a search result, aren't you going to feel compelled to do just that? Of course, it's only human nature after all to want to get the best result from whatever work you're doing. But that's where the problem lies: Search Engine Optimization is an art, not a science; If you think you can reduce SEO to a series of checklist items, you are not going to be successful in the long run.
Here's the problem: Following these kind of guidelines without considering the human element when implementing them leads to fundamental problems when actual people visit your page.
Search Engine Optimization with a Touch of Soul
Let's illustrate what I'm talking about. Here's a snippet of page content that's following my example above... gotta get that keyword in there five times after all:
Keyword: quality car parts
...if you're looking for quality car parts, you'll want to find a supplier that you can trust. Not every provider of quality car parts has the experience and reputation to give you the confidence that you'll get the quality car parts you require. And what could be more important? You don't want yourself or the people you care about to be driving on today's crowded highways without being sure that there are quality car parts under the hood. Finding quality car parts is an important job...
Wow. I may have exaggerated the 'keyword weighting' here just a bit, but how many times have you seen a web page like this? Pretty often, I'd guess. And if the advice of having the keyword in the page content X number of times is valid, the text above certainly gets the job done. Only one problem -- page content like that above lacks any sense of the human soul. Very few potential customers for 'quality car parts' will fail to notice that the term is shoe-horned into the text far too many times to be natural. And when they see that, they're going to feel that they're being played and will lose the critical sense of trust you need to get that site visit turned into a conversion.
Balancing Search Engine Optimization with the Human Touch
"But Robert," you may ask, "What's the solution then? I'm not willing to ignore proven SEO techniques. It may hurt conversions, but if people don't visit my pages, I can't convert them anyway."
Well, if we look a things in absolute terms that might be true, but if you know anything about Search Engine Optimization or marketing in general, you know that nothing is absolute. Success lies in finding the most beneficial path between competing interests. In this case, SEO needs to be balanced with the human touch. You just can't have that keyword hammered into page content that way.
So what can you do? Well, put on your "I'm an actual person" goggles and let's take a look. Here are a couple of alternatives that you may not have thought of:
- Add more content and spread the keyword out. Don't ignore your built-in 'bull s*!t' detector. If the text doesn't sound natural to you, it simply isn't properly optimized.
- Create your own SEO rules and see if they work better. Again, remember, Search Engine Optimization is an art, not a science. So, perhaps you could vary the keyword a bit. If you replaced 'quality car parts' in a couple of places with related keywords or word phrases like 'precision manufactured car parts,' 'brand name engine components,' or 'high-end spark plugs and wires,' the text will be more natural, and your conversions may see a significant increase.
The first idea is easier to implement, but could be less effective if the repetition of the keyword still stands out to site visitors. The second takes more effort, but if you measure your overall results, you might find that even if there's a slight dip in page visits, the net increase in conversions far outweighs the deficit.
One last thing to consider, the 'accepted wisdom' of effective Search Engine Optimization doesn't always stand the test of time. If you tilt your balance of focus even slightly towards the human touch over rote rules of SEO, you're much more likely to find success over the long haul.
Don't compete — DOMINATE.