"What's the exact keyword density I should have?"
"How many H1 headings should be on my page?"
"How many times should my keyword appear in the first 200 words on the page?"
"How many links to I need to get a PR5?"

Questions like these are posed to the experts on SEO and webmaster forums everyday by disciples seeking the secret formula. There MUST be a secret formula for SEO, right? After all, an algorithm is just a mathematical formula! There's got to be a "best" way to do it that will guarantee a top ranking.

These people are peeved when no one can give them an absolute answer. They want to hear "12%", "3", "20", and "229" so that they can simply follow the formula and reach the top. People who think they've found the answer are dismayed to plug in everything in perfect order... and still rank on page 12 for their favorite keyword.

Painting By the Numbers Isn't Enough

The Mona Lisa has been stripped down to a mathematical formula. I'm not joking. It's been analyzed, digitized, and scrutinized until it can be reproduced with striking accuracy. You can buy a kit online that will allow YOU to paint an exact replica of the Mona Lisa. Sorta.

Paint By Numbers Hand Painting

By doing it yourself, you can save yourself well, millions of dollars (that's if the Mona Lisa were for sale.) It still takes skill and practice and you might not get it right- staying in the lines and blending is kind of tricky. But when you are done, you can have the Mona Lisa hanging in your house. Is it as good as the original? Well, not really. In an art sale, your imitation Mona Lisa isn't likely to bring in a fraction of the cost of the real one.

Similarly, following a "formula" for SEO is likely to bring you reasonably good results... as long as you don't really have any competition to begin with. Compared to the "original", the sites that have been optimized for years, your site is still likely to pale in comparison.

Computerized Reproduction

We all know computers are more consistent than humans. You can buy a digitally-created Mona Lisa that will look just like the real thing. Amazing detail, printed on canvas with brush texture... most of us wouldn't know the difference if you put them side-by-side.

However, when it comes to value, your digital reproduction is likely to have less value even than your hand-painted version, which at least has a smidgen of originality to it.

Likewise, using a computer program to "optimize" your site can create pages that are fine-tuned to the preset formula programmed into the software... just like millions of other pages using that software. Is it really optimized? No, and it's likely you made some changes in order to make the software happy that won't please your visitors.

Where are the Artists?

The inspiration for this article came from my good friend Bill Slawski, who watched a program where an artist was using paint-by-numbers canvases to create derivative works with originality. Instead of following the original slavishly, the artist used bolder colors, more layers, and went outside the lines. The resulting artwork was familiar, yet new, different and exciting.

Similarly, when you know the basics of SEO, you can create an optimization and web marketing plan that has solid roots but isn't restrained by absolutes and numbers. The framework? You need crawlable pages, solid on-page copy, and a strong linking plan. The details are dependant on the needs of the site, the nature of the competition, and as always, the focus on the visitor. If you gain rankings but lose visitors, you are taking a step back.

But There HAS to be a Perfect Formula!

No, really, there isn't. Think about this...which is better, the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo's David? We could argue all day about why one is better than the other, but in the end, you can't compare the two. They have different merits and different attributes that make them great.

In SEO, people often say, "If all things were equal"... but they are never equal! The age of the site, the amount of links, the pages those links come from, the on-page copy, the internal links, the age of the links pointing to the site and about a hundred other attributes all contribute to the ranking possibilities for a site. Each site has different challenges, different competition and different needs.

Using another site as your model for perfect SEO will never work-especially not the sites you are directly competing with. The imitation is never as valuable as the original. Will some things help? Sure they will! Just as a painter might learn from Leonardo Da Vinci's use of light, an SEO can definitely learn techniques from forums and analysis of other sites.

But at some point, you have to add some creativity in order to become BETTER instead of just trying to catch up. Test things, try something different, add better content, better marketing, a special tool or resource, SOMETHING that makes your site better than the rest and gives the engines (as well as visitors) a reason to name your site as the best.

Think about it this way... if you were a judge at an art show and you were presented with 20 Mona Lisa's and one Poppies on Blue... which one would you be most likely to notice?

Stand out from the crowd! Create a site that follows the basics of SEO then let your creativity take over. The hardest part of SEO isn't knowing where to put the keywords, it's finding a way to make the site stand out above the rest.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

February 20, 2007

Scottie Claiborne is the facilitator of the Successful Sites Newsletter. She is a speaker at the Search Engine Strategies conferences and the High Rankings Seminars as well as the administrator of the High Rankings Forum.

Search Engine Guide > Scottie Claiborne > Paint By Numbers SEO- An Imitation of the Original Is Never as Good as the Original