Mike Grehan Lets Slip the Secret of Search Engine Optimization

And, in Why You Don’t Rank on Search Engines, he provides one of my favorite quotes in an article on search engines that I’ve seen in a long time:

Ask yourself, “Why would anyone want to link to my site?” Be brutal. Write down as many reasons as you can about why other sites should link to you. If you can’t convince yourself another site would want to link to you, you seriously need to question what your value proposition is and how your site promotes it (or not, as the case may be).

It’s a tough question that Mike raises, but it’s a good one. Not just the secret to SEO, it is also the secret to a successful web site. I’d probably add “bookmark” to the question, as in “Why would anyone want to bookmark or link to my site?”

Within that simple question, there are actually a lot of questions:

Who are the people the site is for?

You’ve probably heard these folks referred to as a targeted audience. How much thought have you given to who these people actually are? Is there more than one audience? If the site sells tools, does it also sell gift certificates for people who want to buy something for the friend or family member who is a craftsman? If the site provides goods or services, does it also offer customer service for people who have already become customers, and a way for those people to become return customers?

How do they know this site is intended for them?

It’s nice to find keywords that might draw a lot of traffic to a site, but are those words that you might find in wordtracker, or nichebot, or company brochures the words that people will expect to see on the site? Are the site’s page titles, meta description, and sentences that contain keywords written so that they can stand on their own as snippets of text that persuade the right people to come to your site? Is the design of the site appropriate for the audience, and does it make them feel like they’ve arrived at the right place after clicking on that link in search results?

What products or services or information does it provide to them?

If the site tries to sell something, does it provide enough information to make them feel like they are making an informed purchasing decision? Are the products or services the right ones for the audience that you are trying to sell to? How do you show them that? Does it offer easy ways to make purchases, or to contact the right person, or to share the information that they’ve discovered?

How does it engage them?

Why would someone buy something from your site today, instead of waiting until tomorrow? If you look at the other sites that fill the same niche, why would someone feel like they don’t have to look any further once they get to your site? How does it capture their attention, and their imagination? Does it offer some way to interact with the site owner, or with other people who use the site? Does the site focus on the benefits that it offers to visitors rather than the features it possesses?

How does it show that it is credible?

If the site collects personal and financial information, does it have a privacy policy and a security policy where it describes what it will do with that information, and how it will protect it? Do visitors get a glimpse of the people behind the site, and some insight into their expertise and trustworthiness? If the site sells goods, does it provide a way to make secure transactions, and does it show that the transactions are secure?

Is there a sense of the remarkable about the site?

Are visitors going to find something on the site that they just won’t see anywhere else? Does it startle them, cause surprise, provide an interesting perspective, or evoke a positive response? Will it inspire return visits, emails to friends with a link to the site, mentions in forums and chat rooms and water cooler conversations, and bookmarks?

If I asked most people who practice search engine optimization if these were the types of questions they asked their clients, I don’t know if a lot of them would say that they did. How deeply do you dig into the business objectives a site before you start doing keyword research? How much effort do you make to help a site owner create something that people would want to link to?


13 thoughts on “Mike Grehan Lets Slip the Secret of Search Engine Optimization”

  1. This is an excellent article. It really made me think. I have taken an SEO class for my degree and passed with full points. Yet it was all about optimizing a site from a technical standpoint, never did they say anything about asking yourself if it was worthwhile.

    Thank you for this!

  2. Hi Rick,

    Thank you for your kind words. A shame that the class didn’t go further than the technical elements of SEO.

    The reasons why we do SEO for a site are just as important for a site as the hows, and probably even more important. :)

  3. Hi Bill,

    I plan to read every post on this site, and trolling through your early archives happened upon this article.

    This wraps up SEO, inbound and organic marketing so neatly that I am beside myself.

    Inspirational, true, and timeless.

  4. Hi Chris,

    Thanks. I try as much as possible to ask myself, and clients, questions along these lines every time I’m engaged in helping someone make their site more visible on the Web to the audiences they’ve intended. SEO is never about just ranking well and bringing lots of traffic to pages.

  5. I really do agree with you. It’s the fundamental basics of a good website. Understand what your visitors want and provide it. Valuable information makes for good natural link baiting too.

  6. Hi Steve,

    I do think that questions like the ones that I included in the post are essential to understanding what someone is trying to do with a website. Not sure that it’s essential to linkbait, and I would suggest that sometimes linkbait focuses upon topics that aren’t always relevant to the purpose behind a site as a tradeoff to gaining high levels of traffic.

  7. Hi Steve

    Sorry if I misinterpreted what you were saying. I agree with you 100%. If you provide valuable and helpful content, chances are good that you will attract links because of it.

  8. I think that my wording may have been mis-understood. I’m not saying that it’s essential to link baiting, just that people value good helpful content and will be more likely to link to it.

  9. Hey Bill.

    No need to apologize, I have enjoyed being a part of the conversation. You have a great blog here and it’s nice to meet someone who clearly takes a great deal of pride in what they do.

    Keep up the good work.

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