“But we think we’re a very important vendor” isn’t enough

Alan Sugar took a bit of flak after the last series of “The Apprentice” for investing in an SEO consultancy, because we all know that just throwing a token amount of money at self-proclaimed experts each month is unlikely to “get you to number one on Google”. However, the criticism was misplaced. Even though Lord Sugar didn’t even seem to understand what SEO was, he can see a demand for a service. And I’m sure he’d argue that if people want to spend their money, why turn them away?

I had a conversation with a company last month who told me they gave £300 a month to their web designers for “ongoing SEO work”. What this was, they didn’t know, but they were scared to stop it.

So I asked them this.

You want to appear highly in the Google results for “blue widgets”, right? OK, let’s accept that the thousands of very bright people working on the algorithms at Google (and there are thousands) want to give their users the perfect answer to their query. Now, let’s suppose that the query is just the term “blue widgets”. What do you think the user wants to know?

I’m sure that you’ll agree that the answer is most likely to be something about what blue widgets are. Now, let’s do a Google search on “blue widgets”. What’s the first result? That’s right, a Wikipedia page about blue widgets. What else is there up at the top of the results? Some pictures of blue widgets. A video about blue widgets. An academic paper with blue widgets in the title. A book about blue widgets for sale at Amazon.

Have you spotted the connection? The results give users a variety of options which might help them if they want to find out more about blue widgets. Google’s software engineers have succeeded in their aim perfectly.

Now, what about people who want to buy blue widgets? Well, Google has an answer to that. The best places to buy blue widgets, it reckons, are the ones which most strongly want to sell you blue widgets. And those are going to be the ones which advertise all over the page. So it’s got that covered too (while raking in several billion pounds a month in the process).

Of course, there are a few free slots lower down the page (underneath Wikipedia and the images) for which you can compete. And they’re worth competing for. But no amount of “SEO” can get you one of those slots unless you’ve got what Google wants, and what Google wants is informative and original content. You can put as much lipstick (in the form of tags and links) as you like on a pig, but it’s still a pig. If you want Google to recommend a page on your site as the answer to its users’ queries, then give it something worth recommending. “But we think we’re a very important vendor” isn’t enough.

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