Lead Qualification & Strategy

SEO is a TLA (Three Letter Acronym) ๐Ÿ˜› often misused and misunderstood, despite being a subject of a good amount of hype. It's a safe bet that more people want it than are really ready for it.

Also, sometimes I feel a little bad when talking about SEO requirements. More than a few times, to avoid being clich้ I've bitten my tongue when tempted to bust out with "Please don't kill the messenger." It's true that it touches just about everything about a given Web strategy and its realization; some disciplines more than others. Having worked a number of them to some degree at least, I'm always trying to make sure I don't accidentally misrepresent, i.e. make any unintended implications that certain other disciplines are an inherent problem for SEO or vice-versa... because that's totally not the case. Not at all.

Ours (SEOs) therefore is to educate prospects and clients on what it is exactly, and theirs is to then decide if they will be willing and/or can afford to commit to it or not. It's up to our clients mostly, how much we can effectively help them or not in the long run... and with SEO, not all client types are created equal.

To help illustrate, here's a snippet of recent chatter:

Session Start (blueman:harlequin): Fri Mar 16 13:25:02 2006
[13:25] blueman: feelin much better :)

[13:25] blueman: still really sick but i can at least breath

[13:25] blueman: how have you been dude?

[13:35] harlequin: hanging in there thx; trying to stay healthy too.

[13:36] harlequin: barfed out another mfa site recently for experimental purposes.

[13:37] blueman: cool

[13:38] harlequin: not too spammy at the moment but possibly filtered for duplicate content; dunno yet. only yahoo's indexed; google and msn had taken in the domain fine but dropped it after i changed from a park page to an actual site. it's kinda fun though; whenever i do anything with ggl sitemaps; googlebot comes running like a puppy.

[13:42] blueman: hehe

[13:44] harlequin: figure sandboxed maybe? :)

[13:46] harlequin: i'll let you know if anything entertaining happens. i just might flip a switch to make all its content more truly unique, just to see if it pops back into the indexes, without linking it from anywhere other than where it is already (like almost nowhere).

[13:47] blueman: right on

[15:58] harlequin: hey man

[15:58] harlequin: can i get yer opinion on something?

[15:59] blueman: sure whats up

[15:59] harlequin: in your mind, must every site on the web need optimization?

[16:00] harlequin: interested in your take in terms of basic philosophy.

[16:00] blueman: answer: nope just the ones that would benefit from search engine traffic

[16:01] harlequin: thank you!

[16:01] blueman: hehe np

[16:03] harlequin: my take is it's not just the ones that would benefit from search traffic

[16:04] harlequin: but the ones that would benefit from natural traffic specifically, moreover the ones that are prepared to do what it takes to earn (or deserve, whatever) it.

[16:05] blueman: agreed

[16:08] blueman: hey do you have a digg account?

[16:09] harlequin: why?

[16:12] blueman: heh it's nothing i'm just asking everyone. need more diggs.

The fact is that some clients and/or projects are much more in need of and viable for the investment than others. Selling SEO to a large degree therefore kicks off with making sure the client gets what it means to run in the marathon, and has thought carefully about if they're ready for the potential rigors of competing seriously. It's not always the case, sometimes not at all... and some tryouts approach the field bringing much more readiness and potential with them than others.

For example, to my knowledge we can generally always to more for clients who are ready to bring robust textual content life-cycles to the table. Media companies whose sites put out 10+ new articles every day for instance, are perfect. These poor souls should be feeling like they're drowning in their own output; most ripe. Also, e-commerce sites with huge inventories of products to advertise and move, they're harder but can be awesome challenges to take on. On the other end and less than ideal sit gigs like Consumer Product Group (CPG) companies who are all about tasking marketers to, via rich media, digitally simulate clinking soda bottles, skin cream, zooming sports cars, bouncing boobs, fun family meals, whatever etc. ...Sure, such sensory stimulation is content which can be made robust to the human experience, but it's all presentational. Lacking eyes with which to see or ears with which to hear, search engines though are systems of algorithms and robots that evolve in benign indifference to all that. Search marketing therefore is driven by informational content, so candidates for it need to have something not just important - but also verbose and articulate - to say if they're to be seen as relevant. If they can't be brought around to that, SEO can only do so much for them no matter how deep their pockets are.

Some marketers debate the virtues of optimizing for search engines vs. humans, including which is of greater importance. Google tells marketers to do both. My own opinion is that it's all just different ways of looking at the same problem: Search engine optimization is about optimizing for humans really, in that through it online brands are posed this simple challenge:

Mean more. If expanding your reach demands expanding your content scope, so be it, and have fun with it.

For clients hip to the concepts like

  • shift from broadcast to narrowcast
  • talk with customers instead of to them, and help them talk to one another
  • build out your brand "universe" with more primary and supplemental topics

...the need can get treated as a great opportunity. All it takes is creative thinking, then creative writing especially.

Along the way brands will find though that while SEOs help expose and promote content, and nowadays some even help clients brainstorm and develop it if/as tasked to link baiting, for the most part they don't create it much themselves. SEOs must be at least decent writers, but on whole they're more often about editing/re-writing copy than making it from the ground up. This may however keep gradually changing. They used to never make any original content for clients, but in recent years they've started to take it on a bit. Eye/ear candy is great but the writing is much of what sets a site's organic status apart, so it does need come from somewhere.

Regardless, for now direct SEO work remains slightly more of technical matter. It's not one of just adding in / optimizing a few lines of code on every page. It's about much more (informational content included) and that message hasn't reached all prospects and clients, or even all agencies yet. Any core SEO evaluation needs to be taken all the way back to identifying why a company is online in the first place, as that's what first should be referenced in starting to set and manage client expectations. It's part of why usually a mark of experienced SEOs, from hats White to Black, is that they're cautious about what clients they take on. Also, how much they feel they can responsibly do so in cases where they do accept new business, can vary greatly per account.

More thoughts on qualifying SEO leads TBA to come (Augh; them pesky TLAs).

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