You’ve heard of this before. There are two kinds of people in the world. This is true in almost every major area of life, really including an SEO expert. There’s the efficient person and the effective one. One focuses on doing things right (efficiency), the other on doing the right things (effectiveness).
For example, you have some people who become wealthy by investing money and spending strategically. Others become wealthy by saving money and spending frugally. The two can work equally well.
But which one is the better strategy?
I know someone who was a pharmacist. He and his wife bought a small-town pharmacy. It was located in a tiny strip mall in a rural part of Canada. They initially bought it for about $250,000 dollars. He dispensed the medications while his wife managed the store.
They were extremely frugal.
They cut costs and pinched pennies at every possible chance. Every expense was carefully chosen or slashed. Every stock item and every drug that filled their shelves were strategically ordered — just in time and just enough to serve that small town’s population and not one pill more.
Every staff member (which included the owners and just one part-timer, even though the previous owner had five extra staff) was paid the least possible. The pharmacy also counted inventory regularly to make sure all stock was accounted for and only the bare minimum was ordered.
When they needed something, they would use coupons and buy things on special. They would use their electricity, heat, and water as little as possible, opting to wear heavy sweaters during wintertime. They slashed every possible operational expense they could.
Store music? Cut it out. Literally. (They actually climbed into the ceiling and cut the wires.) Phone system? One line only, with no voicemail or on-hold music. Computers? A single, old clunker that was never updated.
In fact, they worked with pen and paper mostly. Every single line item on every single invoice was thoroughly scrutinized and corrected, if needed. They did their own bookkeeping, cleaned their own offices, and did their own repairs.
All this, of course, proved profitable. They had impressive margins and fantastic bottom lines. And, five years later, sold the pharmacy to a chain of stores for several million dollars, making a sizeable profit.
Was that a wise business practice? It certainly was efficient. And it certainly paid off. So yes, it you can say it was wise.
But was it the wisest, though? That’s debatable.
The experience for both staff and clients likely suffered. I wouldn’t be surprised if staff felt they were working for Scrooge & Marley. I’m not so sure that the clients felt any better, either.
Another school of thought may be to have focused instead on key areas that brought them more topline revenues, increased retail sales through stocked up inventories, bought a better computer system and software that would have saved them time and effort, and so on.
They could have invested in growing the store, provided music and a more pleasant shopping atmosphere, hired more staff so they could serve clients faster and the owners would have more time off, and so forth.
I’m nowhere near a pharmacist or retail operations specialist, and I know that, under the Canadian healthcare system, drug prices are heavily controlled with razor-thin margins. But they were a store, too. And the latter scenario could have brought them similar or comparable margins.
They could have sold the store for more money. For example, they would have had more stock, more equipment, and more assets. And they would certainly have more revenue, more clients, and more goodwill, too.
Again, this example may be completely off the mark.
But understand the spirit of the example, which is to illustrate the two schools of thought. The two are equally good and may arrive at the same end-result (i.e., the same margins and eventually the sale of the store).
But in the first scenario, things would have been more complex and difficult. You can say that the “store content” and the “user’s experience” were negatively affected — nevermind the quality of life and work at the pharmacy.
Here’s the thing.
In SEO, one can apply either one of those two approaches, too.
For example, one school of thought can be to focus on every little technical detail, every little nuance, every little opportunity to score SEO points.
Those types of SEO experts are the ones that conduct in-depth keyword research and competitive analyses. They over-optimize the site to the point that’s it’s super-fast but boringly plain. They maximize every possible keyword insertion opportunity. And on and on, ad infinitum.
Which reminds me of something I saw last night. John Mueller, Google’s spokesperson, tweeted this. It’s tongue-in-cheek but sums it up rather well.
If you were to hire an SEO expert from the first school of thought, they would try to sell you on the constant cat-and-mouse game they’re playing with Google, trying to do as much as they technically can to gain an extra edge in rankings.
They spend an incredible amount of time overthinking, overanalyzing, and overoptimizing everything, obsessing over every little SEO detail they can. They may not go into unethical blackhat techniques (some do), but they will certainly greyhat their way to better rankings and cross a few lines.
They also tend to overcomplicate things. They make SEO seem like this monolithic mountain of minutiae that only those with esoteric knowledge of Google geekery can tackle.
Maybe it’s out of a desire for self-preservation. Maybe it’s an ego thing. Or maybe it’s the only school of thought they know, and they don’t know and appreciate any other way. For them, there’s only one goal:
To be efficient.
The problem with this approach is, like the pharmacist scenario earlier, it’s a lot of work. And it takes your focus away from the things that matter in the process — things that matter to your audience as well as your practice or business.
You have to stay on top of every little change. You have to spend an exorbitant amount of time and money on countless tiny little things, obsessing over every little optimization detail, that, over time, may or may not give you results.
But it takes time. It takes work. And in some cases, it takes money — money spent on a lot of the little things (or on tactics and tools that focus on the little things). And it can impact other areas, often negatively, while you’re doing it. Especially for your users.
But there’s another way. And that is…
To be effective.
It’s the difference between cutting coupons vs. creating value. Focus on creating good, quality content, and giving users a good, quality experience while consuming that content, and you’re more than halfway there.
Of course, you need to understand what “good” is. You need to research your market, understand your audience, and provide them with content they are looking for. You also need to make it easy for them to get that content.
SEO is not as complicated as some make it out to be. Many of the “little things” are important, too. The trick is not to obsess over them.
I’ll leave you with this thought.
What exactly is SEO?
I ask because people often confuse having optimal visibility on the search engines with having optimal rankings on them. Or stated differently, there’s a difference between optimizing for the search engines and optimizing for higher rankings. Guess which one Google wants?
To optimize for higher rankings, the goal is to focus on providing the best and most relevant content possible for users who are looking specifically for that content, in the way they want it. That’s not SEO. That’s just good marketing.
SEO, in its purest sense of the word, is to simply make sure your site is findable and crawlable. Take a spin over at Web.Dev, Google’s audit tool. You will notice four areas that Google tests for: performance, accessibility, best practices, and — you might not know this because it’s a huge secret — SEO.
- “Performance” audits for your loading speed and points out any snags.
- “Best practices” include things like site security and proper image sizes.
- “Accessibility” checks to make sure users can access your content.
- But “SEO,” according to Google, checks to see if your site is discoverable and “optimized for search engine results ranking.” It’s not for getting optimal rankings but for being considered in the ranking process.
This is a subtle but important distinction.
Now, I get that some websites are massive, complex, and highly technical, and require some more tactical work than what I’m alluding to. I’m not trying to disparage SEO. I’m an SEO expert, too.
But the point is, you can focus on providing good content and a good experience to your users (i.e., creating value), as opposed to doing laborious, highly detailed content backflips reciting voodoo incantations while coding trying to appease the SEO gods (i.e., cutting coupons).
Finally, I’m sure some will contend that SEO is a blend of both. And yes, there is a technical aspect to SEO as I mentioned earlier. But doing keyword research is no different than doing market research — find out what people want and how they want it, and give it to them (and in the way they want it).
To me, that’s marketing, not SEO.