Everything You Need to Know About SEO is …

(Drum roll please) … Absolutely nothing!

If you don’t know what SEO stands for, now you know that you don’t need to know. But in case you’re curious, SEO stands for, or maybe I should say stood for “search engine optimization”. The acronym implies that there are people who are smart enough to optimize Google. Even if someone knew exactly how Google works …

Wait a second. Google has so many moving parts and is increasingly incorporating machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) into its algorithms, I’m quite certain that even at Google, nobody knows exactly how Google works. The thing about AI is that as it learns, it can’t explain why it does what it does. And even if it could, Google algorithms change at least 500 times a year AND search results are customized to each of us based on at least fifty-seven different variables relating (mostly) to our past online behavior (see the Ted Talk titled “Beware Online Filter Bubbles”).

However, not long ago a social media practitioner (I refuse to call anyone in this field an “expert”) named Rand Fishkin ran an interesting experiment. I’ll spare you the details but boiling it down, working with the phrase “best grilled steak” and a few hundred Twitter followers, Fishkin discovered/proved that after a click on any Google search result – to the corresponding webpage – Google is measuring how long in time a visitor spends interacting with that content. If the searcher returns quickly to Google (presumably to pursue a different search result), it’s a “short click”. If the searcher instead returns slowly or not at all, it’s a “long click”.

What Fishkin found is that audience interaction with content (AKA short clicks vs. long clicks) directly affects subsequent search result listings/rankings and it happens within minutes. We don’t know exactly to what degree overall human search behavior affects results for individuals vs. the collective, but it’s likely to be a bit of both.

Here’s the key point: Your business must create content that is useful (relevant, interesting, valuable …) to your target audience or the audience will not engage, and therefore Google will not bring you traffic. It’s as simple as that. Best grilled steak!

How important is Google? Well, every day half of all Internet traffic starts with a search. Astounding! And Google (including YouTube, the #2 search engine), controls most of that search traffic. By most, I mean they have 92.62% market share as of mid-2019 (according to Wikipedia, so it must be true).

Here’s the problem: Your target audience doesn’t care about your business (sorry to burst your bubble). They’ve got their own objectives, challenges and problems. More than ever before, we’ve got to put ourselves into their brains and understand what kind of content, most likely something that’s educational, is useful to them. Best grilled steak. That’s a hard thing to do!

And now we get to why SEO is irrelevant, if it ever even existed other than in marketing brochures. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of Google? I just Googled it, so unless they bungled the search results (pretty unlikely), their mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Notice the word “useful”. If your business provides information that is more useful to your target audience than what anybody else provides, Google will deliver that information to your target audience (or more accurately, deliver that target audience to you). Five hundred algorithm changes per year be d****d. Machine learning and AI … who cares?

You’ve got to ask yourself, “Can I hire an outside firm that understands my target audience(s) (customers, partners, potential employees, etc.), better than I do?” If your answer is ‘yes’, have at it; such a rare firm is, no doubt, worth the investment. Best grilled steak.

If your answer is ‘no’, then you’ve got two choices: i) Start creating really valuable, highly useful content for your target audience(s) … or ii) Let the 50% of Internet traffic that starts with a search go to your competitors instead.

All that said, there is one very important point about helping Google do its job. In your content, you’ve got to use the actual lingo (AKA “keywords” or phrases) that your audience searches for. If you use terms that they do not use, or if nobody ever searches for the terms you use, well … you’ve got nothing.

Happily, Google provides a free tool as part of their “Ads” system that shows monthly search volume, in any and every geographic location, for literally any word or phrase. It’s called “Keyword Planner”. Use this tool to understand how your audience searches (ideally selecting higher volume phrases with lower competition scores) and then use that language in your related, relevant, incredibly useful content.

Here’s my new definition for the TLA (three letter acronym) that is “SEO”:  Serve (your target audience) with Educational content (that’s highly useful and valuable to them) and Own (your competitors). Best grilled steak!

P.S. – For those who noticed my reference above to “YouTube, the #2 search engine,” I leave it to the reader to decide what I meant. Happy trails …

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