The most popular form of SEO boils down to:
- researching popular searches related to one’s topic
- scouting the competition for those terms and one’s niche
- strategic use of keywords on a webpage and in links to that page
But “Search Engine Optimization” does not only mean keyword research, even if that’s an important and powerful method. Nor does SEO only mean optimizing for Google, even if that’s usually the biggest source of search engine traffic in the English-speaking world.
“Search engine optimization” simply means techniques for getting search engines to send traffic to your pages. We can talk about linkbuilding (which I don’t do enough of), on-page optimization, image optimization, Squidoo tags, cross-linking — but it all goes back to people searching for things, and finding those things on your pages.
People. Places. Objects. Nouns.
The tao of SEO is speaking in terms that someone else cares about, wants to know about, or might look for. The more concrete, specific vocabulary you use, the more likely your words may intersect with things people search for.
Don’t just say you took your dog to the park. Say your dog is a labradoodle, and you take it to play frisbee at Peppergrass Park. Don’t just say you like fish. Say you’re crazy about ikura (salmon roe) sushi with a dab of wasabi.
Somewhere, somebody might be looking for precisely those things.
They may append certain adjectives and descriptives to the nouns: cheapest, free, unique, homemade, best, review of, top ten. But nouns are common and essential in most searches.
There is another kind of popular search besides noun-phrases: question-phrases like “how can I…?” or “what is the HTML code for…?” or “how many…?” or “how hot is…?” or “When did….?” These often make great section headers or first sentences of paragraphs.
In my creative writing, I find myself snipping out excessive use of names and description, favoring nuanced language that implies more than it says. On my Squidoo pages, I replace pronouns with nouns and say what I mean. Search engines can’t read between the lines.
Of course, people can read between the lines, so you have to be careful not to overdo it. A huge mass of nouns will lose reader interest, like reading the phone book aloud. But usually, you can state the obvious in a way that’s compelling to readers as well as helpful to search engines.
The tao of SEO is to find phrases that express what you want and need to say in concrete, specific ways that search engines notice. Then your pages won’t just rank for one or two big keyword searches. They’ll pick up all kinds of little searches, phrases that perhaps no one has ever searched before, and that your competition has not tried to optimize for.
You can’t always write concretely. Sometimes you need to write on abstract concepts, ideas, beliefs, opinions, feelings that just don’t lend themselves to specific, searchable language. But when you can, state precisely what you mean. Skip filler. Skip introductions. Get to the point.