In a previous article, I went over The Number One Rule of Pay-Per-Click and why it's so easy for people to break it. This time around, it's organic search marketing that's in the hot seat. Once again, it's not at all unusual to find businesses eager to break this rule into pieces.

These days, most business owners have at least an inkling of what search engine marketing is all about. They've probably had some experience with the idea of pay-per-click marketing and they may even have a vague idea of how organic search optimization can help their site show up higher in the rankings at various search engines. Ask these folks what the number one rule of organic search marketing is, and you're probably going to hear about how you need to add content, or how links are essential.

They're on the right track, but all the content and link building in the world won't do them a lick of good if they break this rule. So what is the number one rule of organic search marketing?

Speak your customers' language.

It sounds like such a simple concept, right? You'd be surprised how many businesses have a hard time with the idea. Almost anyone that has been in search marketing for any length of time has at least a handful of stories about clients that presented them with enormous lists of keywords during their first meeting. It's usually not long before these lists are chucked out the window. Most business owners are just now starting to understand that it doesn't matter what terms you *think* your customers use to find you, or even what phrases you *want* them to find you with. What matters is what phrases people are searching for.

I had a client once a few years ago that absolutely insisted that I optimize his site for a handful of phrases. I told him that I *could* optimize for those phrases and I could probably even promise him one of the top few spots. Mostly because no one searched for those phrases and there wasn't an ounce of competition for them. Then I pointed out that it wouldn't make sense to put a billboard for his services in Antarctica, because no one that might do business with him was going to see it. Eventually, he got my point and we started working through the list of what *was* being searched for in order to find the phrases that were actually appropriate to his offerings.

In an instance just this past month, I spoke with a client about a few phrases that we'd begun optimizing their site for. The client was concerned about the word choices that we used because it contained the phrase "older women." To his credit, he was concerned that the use of that phrase within the text of the site copy might offend some readers. After all, most women don't wish to be referred to as "older." He wondered if we might be able to find some word choice that was more politically correct. I explained that we could, but that this was the phrase that his target audience was using to describe themselves, thus, it was essential that we work it into the copy.

This problem is especially common in high-tech areas and with consulting firms. Buzzwords abound in the industry and everyone is always trying to make their services sound more impressive than their competitors. Try to remember the last time you visited a consulting site without reading phrases like these:

  • actionable business insight
  • disparate islands of data
  • model-driven composite applications
  • organizational boundaries

While copy full of such phrases may sound impressive, it's highly unlikely that it's going to attract any type of organic search engine rankings for anything that people actually search for. If you really want to impress people, dominate the search results by speaking with words that potential clients actually USE.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
May 11, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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