keyword research

Trusting your SEM

Great natural search work doesn’t necessarily need a great product – many times it just needs a great client.

I’ve been doing some optimization for a friend’s website this week, and I’m glad to say, doing that stuff is still fun. Aside from the keyword research, and thinking about how a user would look for what the site is all about, it’s nice to have a client, essentially, who trusts you.

Often times, people who hire out for SEO know they need to get this work done – but the fact that they don’t entirely understand what is being done seems daunting. If I had to guess, I’d say it has something to do with justifying that part of the marketing budget to their bosses. I’ve also had the small business clients who are doing everything out of their own pocket, so they’re even more interested in the details of what’s being done. It stands to reason – you don’t just want to throw money into a hole because someone told you it would be a good idea. You want to know what you’re paying for.

What is generally not fun is having to explain why some keyword phrase the client is intent on mastering is a waste of effort, and why the keyword phrase they despise is actually the best way to get the kind of traffic they want. My peers and I have always called these, “ego searches.” Even though the phrase they want has little to no search volume behind it, they must have it. Frankly, I would consider just nodding my head and saying, “you got it, chief,” a form of thievery. If they insist on going this route despite my sage council, then they’re on their own. But it is often just a waste of money and working hours.

Insisting on not trying for a phrase that aptly represents them, however, is far more foolish. Years ago, I worked at a Barnes & Noble, which had a Starbucks Cafe. The Starbucks representative came out to train us, and insisted vehemently that the Frappuccino was not a “Frappuccino.” It was, in fact, a “Frappuccino Blended Beverage.” This is how we were to say the product at all times. Starbucks must have unclenched since then, because I haven’t heard this tortured piece of language since. They must have realized that no one ever uses the added, “blended beverage” when ordering one.

What if for search they decided they just had to own the phrase, “frappuccino blended beverage?” “Frappuccino” gets about 100,000 searches a month, and the “blended beverage” version gets somewhere between none and zilch. So why bother putting in the work to get that whole phrase, when no one is searching for them that way? Sure, it will go to help in the fight to own the “Frappuccino” searches, but that’s not the point – if you can’t benefit from that entire keyword phrase, ditch it. The people looking on Google for information decide how your product is referred to. If you want to change that, you’ll need to spend a LOT on advertising to change their perceptions. (After all, Kentucky Fried Chicken didn’t become KFC by going door to door and handing out pamphlets.)

For these reasons and others, I think doing the best possible work in search, or any marketing for that matter, has a lot to do with a client trusting your judgement and experience. While there are times we’re wrong, (an axiom of advertising is, “no one knows the client’s business better than the client,”) we do know the medium better than the client. That’s why we’re being paid to do the work. You should have a strong hand in your campaign, but if you are more of a collaborator than a king handing down proclamations of what can and cannot be done, you’ll see your campaign does a lot better a lot faster. In my opinion, having a client that is a partner unleashes me, allowing me to do all of the things that will make their campaign better.