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Search engine optimization is not communications.

February 18th, 2009 by mdmcginnis

Though they are also good technicians, many of the best Web people are communicators at heart. And truth be told, many business communicators are poets or essayists at heart. But search engine optimization requires you to take off your journalist’s hat or your poet’s beret, at least temporarily. You’re facing a whole different animal.

Don’t misunderstand me. One form of communication does teach you about other forms. When I was trying to write appealing news releases, I was grateful for my experience writing short stories. When I was writing Google Adwords, I was grateful for my experience writing haiku poetry (don’t laugh). In fact, I needed more of those experiences. Maybe the Mays School of Business should add a creative writing requirement to their MBA program?

“So why can’t I use my creative abilities,” you may ask, “to write headlines and titles that will get high rankings on search engines?” Don’t worry, you’ll need all the creative abilities you have to write Web pages that will get high marks from your visitors. But search engine spiders don’t appreciate fine art. Not unless it has alt attributes.

Search engine optimization ultimately is concerned only with keywords. A great copywriter will ask, “What words can I use to touch the minds and hearts of my potential customers?” A great search engine marketer asks only, “What words are my customers already using when looking for what I’m selling?” His or her marketing sensibilities suggest new keywords to begin researching, but in the end, the only thing that matters in search engine optimization is research. You just want to know what keywords your customers are using, and have no practical interest in what keywords they could be using or ought to be using. Not until they start using them.

Marketing communication is the opposite of search engine optimization in that marketers need to find new words to get their message across. Search engine optimizers need to find old words. Headlines such as “Just do it” and “It’s everywhere you want to be” capture the imagination in print and on television, but headlines such as “running shoes” and “credit cards” capture a lot more visitors in Web searches. People don’t search for “just” when they want shoes. People don’t search for “everywhere” when they want credit cards.

Search engine optimization is more like choosing Yellow Page categories than writing Yellow Fever: A Novel of the American West. A plumber who specializes in fixing clogged restaurant drains could get repeat business if he’s the fastest, funniest plumber in town. But to find new customers, he would advertise in the Yellow Pages under “Plumbing Contractors-Commercial & Industrial”. There is no category for “Plumbing Contractors-Quick” or “Plumbing Contractors-Humorous” because nobody looks for plumbers there. Notice also that there are no Yellow Page categories for “Research-Cutting Edge” or “Schools-Out Of The Box” or “Consulting-Buzzwords-Miscellaneous”.

So what research tools do you use to find the keywords that people are searching for? These days, I usually depend on the Google Adwords Keyword Tool – free, no Adwords account needed. I’ve also had a subscription to Wordtracker – even their free version is illuminating.

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 Search
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2 Comments to Search engine optimization is not communications.

  1. One of the best summaries of SEO I’ve ever read! Right on, mdmcginnis 🙂

  2. Corinna on February 19th, 2009
  3. […] keyword research using Google’s tools February 20th, 2009 by mdmcginnis As we’ve said, search engine optimization doesn’t have all that much to do with your own creative ideas. But it has a lot to do with […]

  4. Doing keyword research using Google’s tools | Aggie Webmasters on February 20th, 2009

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