SEO and the Perfection Fallacy

    January 11, 2007

In conversations, forums and conferences, I continually hear search engine optimization professionals and business executives talking about the so-called “perfect tactics.”

Everyone, of course, wants to do the right thing when it comes to SEO. Or, maybe they just want to be efficient and avoid wasting time. After all, there is a profit to be made – and the sooner the better.

The fact is, search engine optimization is far from perfect. To be perfectly honest, SEO is all about intuition grounded by years of experience.

In the end, any given approach can miss the mark. And that’s OK. This is marketing – where the mantra is “test and adjust.” Or, you can consider it a trial and error process.

Below is a quick look at 3 common search engine optimization perfection fallacies. It’s good to keep them in perspective.

Page Titles – No Arrangement Is Perfect

Not to be confused with headers or the literal file name of the page, this element is central in most SEO debates. What should be the order of the words? When is redundancy OK and to what extent? Should the company name be first, in the middle, or last? Should the business name be truncated? Should you use commas? Does it make sense to include a call to action? Can the title reference the site navigation?

Ponder these and other questions for very long and you may need to lie down on a couch and share your inner torment with a mental health professional.

The bottom line is that page titles are prime real estate and you better showcase keywords! If you have two search phrases within the page title and one of them ranks #5 on Google, you may have your answer about whether your effort is working. What if you then add the company name and that ranking drops to #22?

Try different scenarios with your page titles and see which one works in conjunction with everything else you’re doing on the website.

Content – No Amount Is Perfect

You know the clich – “Content is King.” Yes, sure, right? As a former journalist, I’m still a perpetual fan of words – I have to be careful about joking around with clients that every page should have only words and that images tend to get in the way. Balance is everything.

Some SEO experts will say you need 250 words per page. Others may suggest many more that that. I say, start with the content you already have and see how you rank. After all, those page titles I just mentioned have a way of making friends with the limited text you introduce. Like titles, content is about seeing what combination works for your particular site. If you just have a product image and you’ve made the mistake of including graphic headers, start with text headers and then add your first paragraph about the wonders of your product.

Keywords – No Collection Is Perfect

Choosing keywords and search phrases remains the toughest part of search engine optimization. With keywords, you strive to have a pretty strong roster from the start, yet you need to give the search terms some time to attract the engines through cooperation with page titles, content and other website factors. If these efforts don’t produce the results you’re looking for, you may need to swap keywords here and there.

If you go for broad keyword terms, you’ll likely get traffic (if you rank high). But many visitors will exit your site right away because your website won’t match their specific search intent. Then again, you could take and enjoy your share of visitors who were looking for what you sell in the first place, if you use narrowed, more specific search terms.

Specificity is the key to conversions. But marketers sometimes hate longer terms because they bring fewer visitors.

Looking for keyword utopia? Think Diversity. You very well may rank for a competitive keyword (soon or over the long haul). Keep some of them in play. But focus most of your attention on a range of keywords and phrases, including many that could rank well (even if they’re longer terms).

If you pick 60 terms and 15 perform well (i.e. your annual search engine traffic increases from 20,000 to 50,000), you could hardly call that an SEO disaster.

Rankings and traffic and conversions will be influenced by many other variables – some you can control and others you can’t (at least not easily). Perfection in these areas isn’t easily grasped because success also depends on variables involving:

  • similarity of root keywords in your portfolio of search phrases
  • the pages where (and how many) you place the keywords
  • how you link to the keywords throughout the website
  • keywords in the domain name, folders and page names
  • website architecture
  • incoming links (and link descriptions)
  • the age of the website
  • the number of pages in the site
  • how often the website is updated

Don’t search for perfection. Pat yourself on the back for significant growth in website traffic and profits, regardless of how you played the search engine optimization game.


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Michael Murray is vice president of Fathom SEO, a Cleveland, Ohio-based search engine optimization firm. A member of SEMPO, he authored the U.S. Manufacturers Resist Natural Search Engine Optimization and Online Sales Leads study and a white paper, “Is Search Engine Optimization Worth It? SEO and the ROI Debacle.”