SEO: Play to win

by Tom Albrighton 14 December 2009 SEO

The other day I was discussing a new SEO campaign with one of my SME clients. There’s loads of potential, with great geographical terms to target and relatively modest competitor activity. I closed my proposal with the icing on the cake: the opportunity to target generic keywords that form part of a direct competitor’s name, effectively ‘brand bidding’ through natural search.

Hearing all this, my client got excited about the prospect of ‘playing the game’ of SEO, as they put it. Like all metaphors, this was both instructive and revealing.

SEO certainly does have a lot in common with a game or sport – running, for example. You choose your ‘race’ and your ‘opponents’ by selecting keywords – long-tail terms for a quick sprint, high-volume generics for a challenging marathon. You ‘train’ by optimising on-page elements and building links, then see what ‘finishing position’ you can obtain. The preparation can be rewarding; success, exhilarating.

However, metaphors have limits. They illuminate some aspects of reality while obscuring others. We should use them only insofar as they help us understand the world as it is (or as we would like it to be). And the problem with considering SEO as a game is that it misses the key objective of the whole process.

High rankings are not the point. Beating competitors is not the point. Even relevant traffic is not the point. The point is getting more business. ‘Winning’ at SEO is only worthwhile if it benefits your business; the real prizes are outside the field of play.

While you could argue for a brand-equity benefit from strong rankings, most big firms look to ROI (return on investment) and/or CPA (cost per acquisition) as the key measures of success. SMEs and even sole traders should do the same – even if they don’t have the time or capability to gauge those metrics accurately.

Of course, as with any other game, you might decide that training and competing is its own reward, regardless of winning. But this must be a conscious decision.

Personally, whenever I find myself too involved with marketing activities for their own sake, I remind myself that I work to support my family, and anything that doesn’t further that aim is a hobby.

SEO may be a game, and an enjoyable one, but it’s not about the taking part. It’s about winning.

Tags: ,