SMM  Strategic Marketing Montreal

[Newsletter #26]
More Marketing? Oh, to be more like Schwartz's world famous smoked meat deli.

Search Engine Optimization Is Sub-optimization: go for SEO


More and more people think applying Search Engine Optimization (seo) to their website will grow sales rapidly. Unfortunately many who have done so are now disillusioned. Perhaps a website is necessary but it doesn't seem to do much for their business. Here we will explore how to correct this. The answer is not just one of the current hot topics, such as search engine optimization, search engine marketing, website promotion or even Internet marketing. What is needed is much more fundamental.

NOTE - For those confused or upset by the lower case "seo", the reason for this will become apparent as we proceed.

Every one needs a website

Few people deny the need for a website for their business. Increasing numbers of people use the Internet as their window on the world. The Internet is where they seek knowledge and potential suppliers. You cannot leave the field open to the competition and not be represented.

An exploration of typical websites would suggest that some people approach the task of getting a website as they would the building of a new head office. The head office is sometimes required to give a tangible representation of the values of the corporation. It can be one of the most significant promotion tools of the company. Architects are of course delighted with such a mandate. It challenges them and allows them to use all their creativity and skills in delivering a head office all can be proud of.

A website is often developed in the same spirit. It is the representation of the company that most of its clients and potential clients will see most frequently. It can be a big part of the promotion or marketing budget of the company. Internet marketing is the "in" thing. We want to be part of it. The website designer is often given a similar mandate to the architect. The website must reflect the values of the company. We want a website to be proud of.


Why isn't my website visible on the search engines?

So the website is created and put on line. Perhaps after a period of two or three months, it becomes clear that there are not too many visitors to the site. What is wrong with our Internet marketing?

Many people are now using Search Engines. Using an appropriate keyword, a search using Google or Yahoo shows that the website does not feature in the top ten. How can this be corrected? This is where seo or Search Engine Optimization can come into play.

seo = Search Engine Optimization

Search Engines help searchers by listing the websites that are "most relevant" for a given keyword. Each search engine has a huge database of web pages to be found on the Internet. For a given search it will select its listings from this database. The results are shown in Search Engine Report Pages (SERP's to the gurus) for the desired keywords. Note this term, SERP, since it is fundamental in understanding what seo is all about. Each Search Engine uses its own secret method (or algorithm) to create a SERP that it regards as the "most relevant" list.

Search Engine Optimization is concerned with all the features of the website that will ensure high rankings in these SERP's. The process is concerned with the structure of the website and the information to be found within its pages.

Since some Search Engines, such as Google, also give extra weighting to sites with a greater number of links from other sites that "point" towards the website (the so-called Link Popularity), seo also usually puts effort into developing such links as well.

seo - Everyone can easily see the results

Why is Search Engine Optimization so popular? One reason is that the results can easily be seen. If a particular keyword is one that potential clients will use to search with, then it costs nothing to check how high up you are in the list. Presumably if people see you high up in the list, they are more likely to click on your link and go to check out your website. Some people have even suggested that a high listing for a particular key word is really a valuable asset for the company.

seo - Challenging and needs an expert

It may be easy to check the results, but it is not at all easy to win that high search engine listing, particularly with relatively common key words. However the search engine algorithms are performing purely mathematical analysis of the content of the web pages. So if you can guess how any particular algorithm works, perhaps you can set up your web page so that it ranks higher than any other web page.

This is what Search Engine Optimization experts aim to do. However the search engines have their own rules as to what is acceptable and what is not. The whole subject can become very complex. If you are interested, just check out two of the forums where the seo experts compare notes on what works and what doesn't. One is Cre8asite at Another is Free Search Engine Forums at Much of it is good basic common sense, but it can get very heavy. For example this was one recent quote, "The Second Eigenvalue of the Google Matrix identifies an important spam detection method built into the apparatus of Google." Presumably the experts can understand this ...

PPC (Pay per Click) - Throw money at the problem

If seo doesn't do the trick for very common keywords, then another way is to pay for keywords. The Overture search engine provides such an approach. Google has its Adwords, which work in the same way. You can bid a certain amount, say $ 0.05 for each click to your site when a certain keyword is searched within Google. A small ad is put at the top right of the SERP so that anyone searching on this keyword is likely to see your ad. If another company has bid a higher amount for this keyword, then their ad would appear above yours. In this way, you guarantee that your web page is featured on SERP's for the keywords of interest.

The beauty of this approach is that you only pay for the clicks bringing searchers to your website. By intelligent use of this approach, you can ensure that your returns from resulting sales are an adequate multiple of what you have paid out in PPC charges.

PPC (Pay per Click) is viewed by some experts as being outside the traditional Search Engine Optimization activity and so have coined new words to describe the totality of all these activities. You may hear of Search Engine Marketing or Internet Marketing. They are all very similar in their approach.

Does seo or PPC (or even Search Engine Marketing or Internet Marketing) handle the right problem?

Search Engine Optimization, or PPC where appropriate, clearly improves results. Your web page is displayed higher up on the relevant SERP's. In this sense, they can be said to be optimizing. You are getting a high listing on a SERP for a keyword that you believe should be important to your website visitors. Is this the right measure of performance?

The answer to this can perhaps be illustrated by a very old joke:

I was walking down the street the other evening. It was a very dark night. I noticed someone down on his hands and knees searching the ground under a street lamp. I approached and asked, "Have you lost something?" The gentleman, whom I realized was slightly inebriated, said, "Yes, my car keys." I then asked, "Is this where you dropped them?" The gentleman replied, "No, but the light's better over here."

Search Engines don't buy goods and services. People buy goods and services. They likely use the Internet in their search. You cannot neglect your Internet marketing. Maximizing the number of people who click on your website is likely to be useful. However, what you really want to achieve is better sales. The two may not be the same. For this reason, seo or Search Engine Optimization (including PPC) can be seen as sub-optimization. It is concerned with website promotion. In some cases, it may be very close to the optimization you really want - SEO or Sales Effectiveness Optimization. But not always.

SEO = Sales Effectiveness Optimization

The relationship between seo (Search Engine Optimization) and SEO (Sales Effectiveness Optimization) is shown in the diagram below. The diagram illustrates how the pool of potential visitors to your website in the top horizontal bar may arrive at your website by a variety of paths. The blue areas of the diagram correspond to what is covered by Search Engine Optimization. This is a part of Sales Effectiveness Optimization, but only a part.


As may be seen from this diagram, visitors who click on your site may have come from any of three sources.

X% have followed a link from a Directory, such as the Thomas Register or the Frasers Trade Directory. They searched within the Directory for a particular Product or Service. From the list of possible suppliers, they clicked on your website, if it is listed there. This route is unaffected by traditional Search Engine Optimization. A search engine was not involved in this route to your website.

Y% did come via a Search Engine. They saw your company name on a listing for a certain key word (perhaps even via a PPC AdWord), clicked on the link and arrived at your website. This Y% is obviously directly affected by the traditional Search Engine Optimization activity.

Finally Z% came directly to your site, because you sent them an email message with the website link included. Or perhaps, they had your business card and typed in the website link. Or perhaps, a colleague had told them of your company and they typed in your company name in a Search Engine. If your company name is sufficiently distinct, then your website should come first in the listing for this search. If it doesn't, then traditional Search Engine Optimization might help but a much better use of your time would be to figure out a more distinctive company name. In any case, this Z% who arrived at your website were not influenced by your traditional seo activity.

The effect of traditional Search Engine Optimization does not end there. What do your website visitors now do as they arrive at your site? This will depend on what they see on your site. If traditional seo was the only determinant of your website design then you may not have optimized the website with respect to selling effectiveness. Remember that only Y% of your visitors came via a search engine. Perhaps a trade-off has been made in a website design that gets Y% as high as possible, while producing a weaker website for all visitors to the website.

If you are able to track where website visitors came from in arriving at your site, you may be surprised to find out how low Y% is. So what are the Y% worth, versus what you are able to do by a stronger website design, which has a higher conversion of website visitors into customers.

Conflicts between seo (Search Engine Optimization) and SEO (Selling Effectiveness Optimization)

There are a number of factors where seo and SEO would suggest different approaches.

Perhaps the most important of these is typified by the comment, "A picture is worth a 1000 words". A website visitor may be very influenced by some image that he or she views. Unfortunately to a search engine, a picture is worth exactly ZERO. This complete contrast requires some careful website design if seo considerations are not to weaken a website's SEO potential.

Another difference that creates difficulties is that search engines prefer web pages with a large amount of text. The seo experts say that such text should have a good density of whatever are the preferred keywords for the website. This runs counter to the Usability gurus, who are trying to design web pages that allow a visitor to rapidly navigate the website to find what interests them. One expert opinion is that any website screen of information should contain only 25% of the words that an equivalent printed page should have.

Since Google is now by far the most popular search engine, a seo issue for Google is worth mentioning. Google finds the most relevant sites for the key words exactly as they were typed. If only the word "hotel" is typed in as a keyword, then websites with only the word "hotels" in their text would not be included in the SERP. Conversely if the word "hotels" is typed in as a keyword, then websites with only the word "hotel" in their text would not be included in the SERP. In other words, the singular and plural forms of the word are treated as completely independent words. Google ignores the keyword meta tag for the website. So the only way to try to cover this, if this is important, is to put both singular and plural versions of a word in the text. This does not make for easy reading.

An even more perplexing problem is where a word usage may be changing. How words are used within a website may affect its position in SERP's and its credibility. The Stanford Web Credibility Project has its 10 guidelines for building the credibility of a web site. One of these is to avoid errors of all types. They use the term "web site". However many are now suggesting it should be all one word - website. Currently about 60% of searchers on the Internet tap in "website" rather than "web site", according to So if you are involved with websites, which term will you use in your web pages.

Careful attention to detail is necessary since search engines are really only dumb computers and do exactly what they are told. Fortunately with some careful thinking a useful balance can be achieved with content that is strong for SEO and reasonably effective for seo.

Some SEO aspects not considered within traditional seo

SEO thinking brings up an extra stage at the front end and another at the back end of the seo process.

The front end thinking relates to the whole Company marketing strategy. Strategy determines what assets are put in place to achieve the objective. The word "strategy" stems from the military use of the term. A clear objective must be defined, namely:

What is the target market niche, and what does my typical potential customer look like?
Who are my competitors for this typical potential customer?
What competitive advantage does my product/service package offer to my typical potential customer?

Ideally this competitive advantage can be expressed in a short slogan. This slogan should appear front and centre on the website. It should provide a striking reason why the potential customer should be eager to listen to what you have to offer.

Note that such a slogan does not necessarily have anything to do with keywords. Choosing keywords is usually a quite separate exercise.

At the back end of the SEO process, we come to what happens when the website visitor clicks on the Home Page. Some important questions here are:

How will we structure the website so that the visitors can find what they are looking for?
How can we move potential customers towards the buying decision?
How can we set up the site so that we will know whether the website functioned well or whether we lost them at some point in the process?

The structure of the website should be designed with these concepts in mind.

Tracking how effective your optimization is

If optimization is being done, how can you check that it is working? Checking your seo (Search Engine Optimization) is relatively easy. You only need to check the SERP's for particular keywords. However the end result measures only how well you have done in the mathematical computer game you are playing with the search engines. It does not necessarily convert to the values that really matter to the company, such as sales.

Checking on the effectiveness of your SEO (Selling Effectiveness Optimization) is more complex but is what really counts in business terms. It requires that you set up mechanisms to analyze your website traffic and what happens to visitors to your site. Only by setting up such metrics can you learn how well you have done and how you may improve.


Whether it's Search Engine Optimization (seo) or Selling Effectiveness Optimization (SEO)that you want to work on, SMM will be happy to work with you. Our help can be configured to meet exactly the needs you have. Our strengths, experience, creativity and practical common sense can complement those of your company. So write us a Fast Message today, , on what you're looking for.

Barry Welford


So do you agree or disagree? Is this message right? Are you doing Search Engine Optimization or Selling Effectiveness Optimization? Is there some part of this where you have a problem? Would you have liked more information on any of the issues? Whatever your reaction, please give us your feedback. In this way, we can tune the contact of future Newsletters to better meet your needs.

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If Your Website isn't Your Best Sales Representative, Fire it and Get a Better One
More Marketing? Oh, to be more like Schwartz's world famous smoked meat deli.



Copyright 2003 Barry Welford, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Added to site 26 March 2003