Understanding the Mechanics of SEO as both Art and Science

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By Website Magazine Contributor and Search Engine Academy Co-founder John Alexander.


For those who have followed traditional search engine optimization best practice guidelines over the years, I want to share several insights particularly for business owners who are in highly competitive industries.

The definition of SEO "best practices" might be defined as follows:

- A series of a static rule sets (you follow the general rules and you should do okay.)

- Considered by many SEO professionals as the list of steps one uses to optimize any Web page

- Is the only white hat ethical way of performing optimization.

While many have heard conflicting opinions about how to optimize a Web page, it usually amounts to a list of steps handed down from one person to another. There are those that try to publish algorithm details with breakdowns of technical aspects including things like keyword density, character counts, and hordes of information – all of which changes from month to month. Many typical optimizers pay monthly fees and sign up for access to read all of these things thinking they can actually reverse engineer an algorithm.

People may make excuses saying things like: well the algorithm keeps changing, it is technically hard to optimize in my industry with any accuracy because it is so competitive, I need to keep tweaking pages every month and follow the latest algorithm changes. All of these are inaccuracies and excuses compared to the optimization of a page through mathematics.

Lots of people talk about the art and the science of SEO, but few people are aware that the real solution to saving hundreds of hours (or even months) of work, is to use good mathematics. But before I go any further on that, let me recap the part about SEO being an art and a science too.

"SEO as a science" is where most people get all hung up.

- Where do my keywords have the most impact?
- Which of the more than 200 ranking signals are most important this month?
- What do I need to change in my pages to gain top visibility with the correct audience for my product or service and hold that spot at the top for the maximum amount of time?

Since this seems to be an area where there is always a lot of questions, I thought I’d offer you a check list of places where your keywords will have the most impact and influence in search. This is not an all extensive list, since to deliver that and each calibration with any exactness, you would have to examine your own competitive landscape which will vary from key phrase to key phrase and from industry to industry. But just ensuring your researched keyword phrase is located in these on-page locations will help you a lot.

Let’s start with 10 very easy influences to start. Make sure your keyword phrase is:

• prominently in beginning of your Title tag
• prominently in H1 or H2 Heading tags
• Use it with your Body text on the page
• Use it at least in a single occurrence of link text (in a way that make sense to the reader)
• Use your important keyword phrase as a cluster of words forming the phrase (a whole phrase)
• Don’t feel you have to “over do it.”
• Shorter URLs often seem to do better these days
• Make sure you try and use your keyword phrase in about 80% of your in-bound links
• Your remaining 20% of in-bound links should be synonyms so you avoid looking contrived
Always remember that even mild optimization mixed with good keyword research can make a huge difference in your success on the technical side SEO.

Now let’s look briefly at "SEO as an Art" or the creative side of SEO.

One of the biggest parts of SEO that people refer to is the "art of SEO." While people discuss it constantly, not many really spend much time explaining SEO as an art. By the "art of SEO" I refer to the creative possibilities. From keyword research and keyword forensics right down to finding the right type of content to publish that will convert your audience of Web visitors.

Creativity can be used for instance in things like:

• Exploring which keyword data will bring in the right audience for you
• Exploring the types of content that your ideal buying audience is seeking
• Making the most out of things like high interest topics using more original creative means like working with nostalgia.
• By using creativity, you can often pull in the largest audiences for the maximum percentage of the time, while being completely different. Creativity and SEO helps separate you from the competition which also gives you advantages.

Then finally, there is a very powerful third part to SEO that I’ll only touch on here. It has to do with SEO accuracy and exactness. I may write a future article on the mathematics of performing SEO. This is one of the things our students enjoy the most in attending a workshop, but it is a fairly advanced topic.

Many people think they need to keep trying to beat an algorithm in order to win the day. This is simply not true. "You are not in competition with a search engine - you are in competition with your competitors.

Now it is thoroughly possible to optimize a page with preciseness and exact accuracy for your own competitive marketplace. You can do the optimization once, get it right the first time and at the same time, you have a complete picture of your competitors strengths and weaknesses and you can even identify any threats to your visibility, before they occur.

Why go through all the turmoil of waiting weeks or months to get top exposure on the search engines, when now it is possible to do it in a minimum number of moves. Get it right the first time without the stress or the need to constantly go back to the stale best practices list and labor on a project for weeks.

About the Author: John Alexander is co-founder and director of the Search Engine Academy, leading provider of hands-on search engine optimization training at locations across the United States, Canada, Asia and Australia. To find an SEO workshop nearest you, visit Search Engine Academy.

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4 comments

Lou 04-03-2010 9:40 AM

John, an excellent set of guidelines and insights.  I plan to pass this on to the junior members of my team at our next group meeting.  Thanks!

Jack 04-05-2010 2:17 PM

Excellent article - I really like the clear distinction made between the art and science of SEO. I look forward to your future article about the mathematical side of SEO.

Reid Peterson 04-07-2010 4:05 PM

I've learned that SEO as an art, starts with crafty keyword research that nails down the long tail for a best match of what your customers are seeking + what you can provide to them. What starts as an emotional need transforms to supply and demand which ends up clarifying long tailed keywords.

Social Branding 05-04-2010 11:33 PM

Thanks John, for such a well-thought-out article. Yes, I agree that SEO is an art and science. However, it's more of an art than science nowadays because search engines are getting more and more smarter and "thinking like humans"... so, science loses ground and only the best sites with great quality content will survive.

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