Stop for a moment and consider what was used to look up people and businesses before the internet.

Did you think of a telephone book? The Yellow Pages?

Before there was SEO (Search Engine Optimization) there was YPO (Yellow Pages Optimization) only there wasn’t an acronym for it and you didn’t have 1000 experts yelling at you to do it.

Yellow Pages Optimization was simple and not all that intimidating so there wasn’t a need for experts and thus nobody could make a living getting paid to do it, and there were no throngs of people insisting it was absolutely essential.

"Auckland Yellow pages" by Andrew Sullivan Kabl00ey - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - Pages Optimization was “A1 Plumbing.” The A comes before the rest of the alphabet so to compete against A1 Plumbing, the next guy used “AAA Plumbing.” And if Zeke’s Plumbing wanted to even be in the running Zeke had to pay for a full page ad.

So what happened to Bob’s Plumbing if he could not afford a full page ad and didn’t feel like changing his name to 123 Plumbing? Did Bob go out of business because he didn’t stand out in the Yellow Pages?

Not likely. Bob probably had a lot of word of mouth and referrals going for him. Bob was well known in the community as an all round great guy and fantastic choice for plumbing. He didn’t need to change his name or pay an extraordinary amount of money to boost his visibility in the Yellow Pages. It might have brought in more business, but it wasn’t the only way Bob had for bringing in business. So his business was just fine.

What if Carl had a new plumbing business, unlike Bob he wasn’t very well known. He decides that a full page ad in the Yellow Pages is the answer to building his business into the money making empire he imagines it could be. He pays the exorbitant amount of money for a full page ad. But his ad is opposite the full page ad for National Reliable Plumbing Services Ltd.  Next to them, Carl’s Plumbing doesn’t shine so bright. His phone rings a little bit more with the ad, but it turns out running a Yellow Pages ad was not the fast track to building a successful business he thought it would be. To top it all off he spent all his money on his Yellow Pages ad and it ends up driving him out of business rather than driving up his business.

Did you see that coming?

Now exchange Yellow Pages for Google search. There are a lot of similarities, and a few differences. One of the biggest differences is that Google search is a Yellow Pages for the whole world instead of being divided up into a different one per community. So right away this presents a problem. Instead of just competing with a few businesses, you are competing with ALL the businesses! Imagine if the Yellow Pages listed every single plumber in the entire world. Should Bob even bother to pay any attention to his Yellow Pages placement?

So, if Search Engine Optimization is the equivalent to competing for exposure in a Yellow Pages for the entire world does it make any sense at all for anyone other than National Reliable Plumbing Services Ltd?

Another one of the differences between Google search and the Yellow Pages are the multitude of ways you can get placement on the Google search. In the Yellow Pages Bob’s Plumbing is only under “plumbing.” But on Google search it can be under just about anything. It just depends on what the website is optimized for.

This is where the SEO experts come in. Because optimizing is a lot more complex than “A1 Plumbing.” Optimizing for search engines is a little bit about keywords, a little bit about the links pointing to your website from other websites, a little bit about how popular your website is and how many visitors it gets, a little bit about how often new stuff is posted on your site–a whole lot of little bits that are supposed to happen organically, if your site truly is worthy of being featured prominently on Google.

And so SEO has become a bag of tricks that the experts use to try to force a website into an unnatural placement, for a fee. If you Google “Online Shopping” one of the top results is naturally Amazon. But imagine if Carl wanted to start a business selling hand made doilies online, after the plumbing gig didn’t work out, and he decides SEO is the way to build his business. He hires an SEO expert and tries to become the top result for “online shopping.”

Again you can see the unfortunate end that Carl is headed for.  And you can obviously see that the attempt to optimize Carl’s site for “Online Shopping” is artificial and false. Even if Carl managed to beat out Amazon, people would land there and quickly realize they were in the wrong place and they would not be in any mood to buy doilies.

Not only is Carl getting it al wrong, but SEO is a constant race that never ends. Keeping his placement on top of “Online Shopping” would be exhausting and never ending.

The lesson that Carl has not yet learned is that a solid business is not built upon marketing tricks. But both the Yellow Pages and SEO are useful when used right. And like a simple, inexpensive placement in the Yellow Pages, a few simple SEO components are all you need to allow your website to organically grow into it’s own natural Google search placement.

Actual SEO Tips:

  1. Beware of paying for SEO. If someone guarantees top placement on search results, steer clear. Everything that needs to be done, you can do yourself.
  2. Pay attention to keywords everywhere. In your page titles, in the body text, in the tags and categories, in the pictures, in the text of links pointing to pages, in the url slugs, everywhere. Don’t do anything that seems too forced or artificial. You still want the text on your page to read like a human wrote it.
  3. Use a tool like All In One SEO plugin for WordPress. Explore everything it has to offer, like those little doohickeys that let you fill out a specific title and description–this allows you to make sure you get the most bang for your buck on your search engine placement.
  4. Keep the content fresh on your website by having a blog.
  5. Google SEO tips, because there are some really great tips out there. Pay more attention to recent posts, so you get the most up to date information.
  6. Learn from Carl’s failures! Remember SEO is not everything. Build a website worthy of attention and it will get attention. If you put all your energy into a facade, it will all come tumbling down at the first strong wind.