The Myth of a Perfectly Optimized Page

Aug 3rd

I frequently get asked to look at a page to see if I think it is perfectly optimized. But I rarely think you can tell if a page is perfectly optimized just by looking at one page. Most of the optimized pages I am asked to look at have no clear goal at hand. Is the page meant to be link bait? Am I supposed to buy from the page? How is the page integrated into your site? How do people find this page? What sort of brand equity have you built up?

No matter what you are doing you are always Electioneering. Does your site sell ad space? Are you trying to manipulate public opinion? In many ways just having open access to people who are willing to answer your questions is highly valuable even if that is the only aim of a page.

The key to doing well is to gain enough authority and mindshare to be in a self reinforcing market position or to have enough momentum to be able to jump from field to field. Examples:

  • What is Home Depot? A retailer? Or a large home improvement ad network? They are willing to test adding ads to their site, which may allow them to leverage their brand for high margin revenue streams and discover new products and new markets while competing retail only stores are forced to close due to shrinking margins (I just tried shopping at the local Lowes but they closed down).

  • The Wall Street Journal is going to sell front page ads.
  • Some newspaper websites include syndicated links from blogs. Recently some newspaper publishers have even decided to add links to competing content near their stories.
  • Ken McCarthy has been an internet marketer longer than I have known what the internet is about. He recently asked on his blog what Google did with their recent AdWords update. He must have got fifty to a hundred responses.

The issue with just looking at "is this page optimized" is that all markets are heavily manipulated and search frequently changes. If you just maximize one portion of your optimization process without considering the social aspects of the web, short and long term goals, or how your site fits into the web as a whole then when one of the market makers changes the rules you are relegated to leaving whiny comments about how that market maker is evil.

One of the reasons I never published SEO Book in print format is that my self image is quite low, and I never think what I do is good enough (I realize I should not have wrote that). But as time has passed I came to appreciate that the whole concept of optimization really is about predicting market changes and getting the most of the current market as you can. Any sort of optimization has associated opportunity costs and is only effective for a certain window of time. What was perfect optimization a year or two ago is now largely inefficient and ineffective as some of the market makers have closed some of their algorithmic holes.

Long term optimization would be "create high quality content that users like that would make a search engine inadequate if it was not ranked." But when you are starting from nothing, sometimes it helps to take advantage of a few market inefficiencies to help build the exposure necessary to build a self reinforcing position which may allow you to jump from field to field.

And the web is such a social medium that it requires understanding people far more than algorithms. At least for most businesses. And human nature changes much slower than the web and search algorithms do. But you can't understand how well a person speaks to / with their audience just by looking at one web page.

I might have a kick ass copywriter edit my sales letter to improve its conversion rate. I am not afraid of paying him to write it, but my biggest fear with optimizing it is that if I push conversion too much, then what will that do to the consistency of my voice across my site?

Published: August 3, 2006

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Comments

August 10, 2006 - 7:25am

Well i think the concept is very simple ' Reaching people and Reaching their likes '

"create high quality content that users like, that would make a search engine inadequate if it was not ranked"

It is not that easy to write content that reflects both users and search engines, i have always prefer my users rather than search engines as they are more important for me.

Short term goals are also important for a well planned marketing strategy...
No strategy can do better without diagnosing an appropriate goal for that.

August 18, 2006 - 6:17pm

I don't really optimise my pages per se, but I just make sure that I update my content regularly and that the content is interesting and useful enough to make people come back to my site repeatedly.

August 12, 2006 - 10:11am

Other than just getting visitors to the page, it is also important to get visitor retention. That is the mistake that many web site owners make. They pay loads for the initial burst of traffic, but they are unable to sustain it.

August 14, 2006 - 5:43am

I think a very important element that should be considered by all web designers/developers is the inclusion of client managed content modules (eg news, blogs etc). Educate the client as to the importance of fresh, topical content and allow the client to do their own basic optmisation by keeping content on-topic and up-to-date.

August 20, 2006 - 5:22pm

While it is true that it becomes more and more difficult for web sites to feature prominently on search engines now, hope still runs eternal and people will still try their very best either through fair means or foul to get noticed.

August 15, 2006 - 4:44am

I agree with every one. 5 years ago It was a lot simpler and less time consuming to promote a website. Nowdays it has become highly competative. But then again this is what we do and it is like in nature the strongest will survive.
Good luck everyone

August 3, 2006 - 8:49am

In my experience, most kick ass copywriters are women.

August 3, 2006 - 2:36pm

Page or site optimization is definitely a moving target.
I look at it as an ongoing process rather than a goal to be reached.
The only problem is convincing the customer of this and persuading him/her to keep paying the monthly bills :)

August 3, 2006 - 5:30pm

I agree with Peter, it's an evolution rather than a goal.

August 3, 2006 - 6:54pm

create high quality content that users like, that would make a search engine inadequate if it was not ranked.

I wish that was the tack many use when approaching SEM. Unfortunately most people are lazy (including myself at times) and think "How can I slide this piece of c*%@ content by the algorithms."

August 3, 2006 - 10:06pm

I believe the answer to that question will also depend on the industry. What\'s acceptable for one industry might be not acceptable at all for another one. When optimizing sites, I usually try to get a feel of that market niche and look at what other sites in the same industry do and take it from there.

August 4, 2006 - 4:24am

Aaron:
I am only about 2/3 of the way through your book and I see it and your blog as research tools in the sense that Wikipedia is a supplement/replacement for printed encyclopedias.
Because SEO is competitive by definition, if you beef up your distribution, consistency is not your problem, but effectivenss of your techniques and advice could suffer.

August 4, 2006 - 6:41am

Great post. The days of simplicity in SEO (or any aspect of online marketing) are gone. Targeting intent in users and goals for pages is required.

August 4, 2006 - 5:51pm

There are no magic formulas anymore. You actually have to work hard to make a good site. Following the basic formula for on-page optimization is a good idea though. Just not at the expense of your visitors' experience.

August 4, 2006 - 6:19pm

True that SEO has become highly competitive and a task that needs constant work, so its more of routine work than just a simple goal.

August 8, 2006 - 10:21pm

I also agree. I get sick and tired sometimes of clients who think SEO is simply editing 'keyword meta tags' and then trying to convince them that I will do a better job than the competition because I actually try and incorporate their overall goal of their website into SEO, not just rankings; but sometimes they still don't listen unfortunately. What a tough industry, there are those of us who work hard and get real results and those who just use the mis-informed to their advantage and preying on them.

August 9, 2006 - 5:16am

Good piece. We'd been considering lately the question of SEO being "more of an art or a science?" - Old Skool 'tag, link & keyword density' style SEO might legitimately have been described as more scientific in that there were formulas that achieved specific and repeatable results. The 'page intention' dimension requires human interpretation of the content ... seems that SEO is evolving into more of an artform?

October 5, 2007 - 5:54am

We always try to post the latest and greatest we can think of/that will be useful to people on our front page, and we always notice positive shift in our rank as soon as we do it.

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