The art of SEO


Right now, as we speak, the world is locked into one of the most important conflicts in recent human history. It is a war of words, thoughts and ideas.

But… for the purposes of keeping things brief, I’m just going to talk about one aspect – one which is a pain in the neck for business owners who have less and less time to understand complex information about their industry.

The obsession of turning nice simple ideas into complicated business terminology is impossible to ignore or deny. Working hard is no longer rewarded with a hearty back slap from a boss – now it’s called ‘meeting your KPI’s’. Making big business decisions about purchasing is no longer taking a chance – now it’s called ‘CAPEX’. Running a business and planning ahead for the future is no longer called being smart – now it’s called ‘ERP’ (Enterprise Resource Planning).

These phrases by themselves are not a problem, but recently one acronym in particular has been causing problems because of its popularity.

Yes, fine, I admit it – this article is about SEO… but this time, there is a twist!!

A remedy for what ails ya

In 1972 Harry Nilsson released a song called ‘Put the lime in the coconut’. Despite being relatively popular, and having been used in many films (notably Tarintino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’), it never reached critical acclaim in the US charts – it topped out at #8.

The song is a simple story about two children who decide one day to make a new drink out of coconut milk and lime juice but, upon drinking it, they get a terrible stomach ache, so they call the doctor. Unfortunately, it’s late at night and the doctor, annoyed at being woken up, tells them to drink a mixture of coconut and lime to solve their problem – the very thing which has made them sick. They ask again and again for a different remedy but the doctor only has one answer. Thus, the children drink more of it and consequently end up in far more pain.

In many ways this story is a strange one. Firstly, it is obvious the doctor has not listened to the problem (or one assumes he would not be telling them to use the poison as a cure). Secondly, the children know that what he is telling them cannot be true. Thirdly, the doctor only has one cure to solve all problems, which is absurd by itself. Finally, and most strangely of all, the children actually do as he says, even though they know he can’t possibly be right – just because he is a doctor.

A citrus related digression

You may well wonder at this point why I jumped from what one might term ‘acronymisation’ and its introduction to business, to a song about two children calling a doctor from the 1970’s. The truth is that the story is quite a good characterisation of the dilemma.

Consider a Doctor is someone who has particular knowledge (or expertise) and offers advice to solve medically related problems. He offers a service. More and more companies are taking a similar role – except they are offering advice to solve business related problems.

One of the areas many businesses have problems with is the digital world, and one of the key ailments is SEO. How to be at the top of Google. Much like the doctor in the song though, many businesses who offer this service have become complacent – not listening to the ailments of patients and often prescribing courses of action that are either ineffective or can even have a negative impact.

In the 1990’s and 2000’s the internet was rife with SEO businesses offering the world to get their clients, shouting about how they could get to the top of Google searches. The problem with this was the way that they did it – by manipulating the search engine. This quickly became something Google fought against – labelling the practices ‘black hat’ and banning businesses who used these shady practices entirely. As recently as 2011 J.C. Penny, the large American retailer, was exposed by the NY Times for ‘juicing’ the Google results with paid links.

Even today these shady companies exist, and often we meet clients who have paid for traffic to their site, to like their Facebook page or boost their Twitter followers. But, much like the children in the song – asking how to solve their stomach ache by drinking the same drink that made them ill originally – these businesses are offering a solution which will make their current bad situation far worse.

So what is the answer?

‘Put the lime in the coconut’ is a cautionary tale. It teaches that there are pitfalls with doing ‘the best thing’ – namely that a ‘best course of action’ is sometimes not tailored to the current situation, and that just because someone has supposed authority, depending on the context, they may be entirely wrong (which is something which always needs to be considered).

The question is – how do you know? How could the children in the song recognise that the suggested course of action would ultimately lead to more bad things happening, especially since they were already in pain?

In a perfect world, the best idea is call another doctor and get a second opinion (and alternative remedy). However, without knowledge of the reason they were sick, it would be impossible to weigh up the options properly and make the best decision.

In the real world, the only true remedy is education. If the children knew more about the process whereby they had become sick, they may be able to use this understanding to find a fitting solution. Similarly, for those that want to avoid those remedies that will cause more harm than good – the best advice one can give is to become educated – learning a little bit about the reasoning behind actions, rather than just being interested in the outcome.

For some people, this is a step too far – a venture into a world of techies and nerds, but of the acronyms in business – of which some will naturally die out and some become more important – SEO looks set to stick around for a long time.