What do you do when you set out to attract search traffic? If you start by optimizing your pages, you might not succeed, because you must answer the question, "Optimize for what?" You must optimize your pages only for a specific set of search keywords. If you accept at face value that you already know the search keywords you must optimize for, you might be in for a rude awakening. You might be wrong.
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Often, we think that we know what people are looking for, but we're wrong. We think that people are looking for our product names or other names we call our products, but they might be searching for something else. People often use different words than we expect. I remember when I worked for IBM that we insisted on calling our computers "notebooks" even though "laptops" was the word that searchers used the most. So, if you spend an enormous amount of time optimizing for "notebooks" then you might be surprised when it helps a lot less than you'd expect.
If this might be happening to you, you have another option: keyword research. It's a high-fallutin' name, but what it means is that you must use tools, such as Google 's Keyword Tool or other similar tools. You enter the words you think you should be optimizing for, and see what the tools tell you. They might tell you add other words, which you can do. You can also try entering those new words by themselves, to see what they conjure up.
For some of you this is basic advice, but small business owners come up to me all the time convinced that search optimization doesn't work precisely because they've skipped the step of keyword research. I think they do this, in part, because search experts (me included) sometimes spend so much time talking about optimizing title text and ensuring spiderability and attracting links and using social media that we forget the "marketing" part of "search marketing," causing people to hear only the "optimization" message. If we don't (as an industry) help businesses to identify their customers' needs, then we are selling a cure for a problem they don't have (yet).
Don't assume that you (or your clients, if you are in the industry) know what people are looking for. Find out what they are really searching for before you optimize, because it doesn't help to optimize for words that aren't the right ones. You'll attract mostly the wrong people, or perhaps no one at all.
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include ClickZ Live, RKG Summit, Ticket Summit, Webdagene, the CiTE conference, and the Forrester Marketing Conference.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc., and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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