Thursday, 21 July 2011

Establishing a baseline: What's in a name?

Before we get started in earnest, let's try to establish a baseline, so that when we look back in six months or a year, say, then we can see just where we started from.

How successful is this blog already? After just one post the answer is probably "not very", but how can we check? One way is to search for the title of the blog. Firing up Google, with "search engine optimum" (in quotes, to let Google know we are interested in that exact phrase and not in any cases where the words just happen to all fall on the same page) we get "About 6,850 results".

"About 6,850 results" is about 685 pages. We're not in the first page, or in the first three. I'll not bother to search through all 685 or so pages, since it's a fairly safe guess that if we're in there at all it's somewhere near position 6850. But take a look at what does make it onto the coveted first page: In some cases, even though the words are together and in the right order, it seems to be just by chance. The inserted punctuation is a dead giveaway: "Website for Visitor or Search Engine, Optimum SEO Optimization", "... not attract attention of search engine, Optimum frequency is 5-7%  ...", and so on.

By the way, notice that in giving these examples I'm just happening to mention a couple of times the phrase that I've chosen to focus on. I'm doing this in order to make points which are valid and, I hope, interesting to the reader. I could have quoted all ten of the examples on Google's first page, and more, but that would have been a huge mistake. It's called "keyword stuffing", and search engines don't like it. Site visitors don't like it. Search engines don't like it BECAUSE site visitors don't like it. So, make sure you don't ever do it. Even if it worked, in the sense of bringing visitors to your site (which it doesn't), what's the point of bringing visitors to your site just in order to annoy them and drive them away again? If you take only one lesson away from this post, it should be "don't do keyword stuffing". Mention a phrase a couple of times by all means, in order to emphasize your point and make sure that it sticks both in the mind of your reader and in the algorithm of the search engine, but don't get carried away.

Anyway, to get back to what I was saying, some of the entries on Google's first page seem to be there by accident. This suggests that there isn't a lot of competition for the phrase "search engine optimum" and so getting onto the first page for that phrase, even without any financial expenditure, ought to be a realistic, achievable task. Great! Let's do it!

"Wait!", you may say, "what's the point of getting onto the first page for a phrase that hardly anyone searches for?"

Well, consider this: Spotify launched in Sweden in October 2008. If in 2007 you had been offered the opportunity  to appear in the first page of any search for "spotify", would you have snapped it up, or would you have laughed? Similarly for "Twitter" in 2005, or "Facebook" in 2003, or "Fregobo" in 2011 (I just made that last one up, so don't bother searching for it. Or on second thoughts why not? 8 hits. Turning Fregobo into the next Facebook beater is something I might attempt as a future exercise, unless one of those eight beats me to it).

In other words, it's up to you to take a word, or a phrase, or a jumbled collection of syllables, whatever it is that you have to work with, and MAKE it memorable. And tweetable. And Mashable, and so on. You can do that with any random group of letters, but it isn't easy. If people have never heard of your site, and the name tells them nothing about what it actually does, they have no incentive to click on it. It's only after the initial traction has been gained that a weirdly memorable name can be an asset. Having a phrase that isn't so generic and well known that it's endlessly fought over by millions, but which is nevertheless descriptive enough to let people know what the site or blog is about, I'd say that has to be some kind of optimum.

A special "above and beyond" badge goes to @seogoogleexperts. I made my first post on this blog at 3am yesterday, and by 7am they were following me on twitter. I've followed them back, as a matter of courtesy, but please note that I'm not affiliated with them in any way. I don't know how good or bad they are at SEO, but I have to admit they're on the ball.

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