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When it comes to search engine optimization strategy, there are basically two camps – those who view search engines as adversaries to be conquered at any cost and those who regard search engines as partners in their online marketing efforts. Long-time readers of my articles probably already have a good idea of which camp I fall into; however, I believe both approaches can be effective optimization methods.
Adversarial Optimization Methods
Service providers who have this "adversarial" philosophy will tell their prospects that the formulation of a search engine optimization strategy is much like a high-stakes game of chess. It’s an "us vs. them," "winner-take-all," and "every man for himself" mentality. It’s also rooted largely in technology – under this philosophy, success is defined as unraveling the latest search engine algorithm to find new optimization methods and exploiting its technical aspects for immediate benefit.
The underlying premise of this search engine optimization strategy is that you must use optimization methods that trick the search engines into showing a website predominantly in the results since the site isn’t currently offering attributes that the search engines consider valuable. The primary benefits of this approach are that it doesn’t require much work on the part of the client and that results can be realized more rapidly. These qualities both stem from the fact that there isn’t a large amount of additional content needed, nor are there many wholesale changes to make to the website when using such optimization methods.
While this is not the methodology that I recommend, it is a valid – albeit potentially volatile – search engine optimization strategy.
Partnership Optimization Methods
Those who view search engines as partners have a very different search engine optimization strategy. These service providers embrace the idea that the attributes and optimization methods that give a website high rankings in search engines are, by and large, the same ones that make the site more valuable to website visitors and potential customers.
This theory makes sense. Every search engine needs to return results that their users find to be the most relevant and useful. If search engine R&D people operated in a vacuum, they would probably find their market share rapidly diminished while they lamented about how "people are stupid". This means that each of the major search engines spend endless research dollars to determine exactly what it is that search engine users find valuable, and each has a high stake in the results of the research. No search engine marketing or web design firm has the resources or motivation to conduct studies of this magnitude. It is, therefore, highly advantageous to use the findings of these studies, deduced from common algorithm traits of multiple search engines, to improve your search engine optimization strategy and website.
I consistently hear from companies who are puzzled as to why their expensive, cutting-edge website is perpetually outranked by a site of perceived inferior quality – "our website is better than theirs" or "we are a much bigger company" are common remarks. Beauty is, as always, in the eye of the beholder. The sites that consistently rank highly are almost always using optimization methods that offer something of value to people who entered the search query. Search engines care as much about the size of a company or how much it spent on its website about as much as they care about what you had for breakfast this morning (I had blueberry muffins, but Google hasn’t called to ask).
The advantages to the "partnership" search engine optimization strategy are numerous. Rather than chase the ever-changing technical attributes that can get you short-term results, you instead use optimization methods that leverage your company’s knowledge of your industry to create something useful for the searcher. You can improve your website and offer the information and products that prospects are seeking, even if those prospects are in the earliest stages of the buying cycle. In general, you will not have to watch your rankings swing wildly based upon new spam filters and algorithm shifts, and thus will enjoy a higher level of predictability when it comes to your website (although with search engines, there are never any guarantees). Since you aren’t constantly forced to re-address your site’s search engine optimization methods, you’ll have more time to focus on other online marketing areas that need attention, such as the website’s conversion rate, an e-newsletter, or online PR.
It’s a fact that websites rise and fall in the rankings all the time. The only real constant is that the sites of TRUE value, the ones that offer something relevant and important to the searcher, are generally always near the top – even after the latest algorithm shift has sent the "adversarial" crowd into a frenzy of activity as they attempt to reformulate their search engine optimization strategy.
While it may take a little extra effort, I like to think of the relationship with search engines as a "partnership" in a real sense. We use optimization methods that apply the attributes search engines have deemed to be valuable to a website, which improves both the website and the website’s search engine rankings. The search engines, in turn, send highly-targeted visitors who have shown an interest in your industry, products, or services. Sure, it may seem that we get more out of the deal, but the engines don’t complain. They haven’t even acknowledged our partnership.