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?
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?