Reversing the SEO Process: The Chocolate Chip Cookie Mistake

Posted by randfish

I’ve had the chance to talk to lots of folks who are just starting out building new web businesses, many of them for the first time and a few with some experience under their belt. What worries me is that a lot of these new businesses are reversing the SEO order of operations; making it 100X more difficult to succeed than need be.

How Do You Bake Chocolate Chip Cookies?

Seriously. I don’t mean a recipe; I mean close your eyes and think about the standard methodology and order of operations you follow. If you’re like me, it looks something like this:

  1. Determine what kind of cookies you’re making – crispy, chewy, big, small – and what quantity.
  2. Line up your ingredients – flour, eggs, sugar, baking soda/powder, butter, salt, vanilla extract, chocolate chips
  3. Mix together ingredients in some relevant order
  4. Form dough balls
  5. Bake for appropriate time period
  6. Remove from oven; eat

Now let’s imagine SEO as a part of your recipe – you’re trying to bake a great web business, and SEO is an essential ingredient. Let’s say for the purposes of our analogy it’s the chocolate chips.

Here’s how many websites bake their SEO-chocolate chip cookies:

  1. Mix together some of the ingredients (maybe the butter, sugar, eggs and flour)
  2. Form dough balls
  3. Bake for appropriate time period*
  4. Remove from oven
  5. Realize there’s a few missing ingredients – vanilla extract (social media strategy), salt (viral content) and, oh yeah, the chocolate chips (SEO)
  6. Sprinkle these on the cookies

Now instead of this:

Fresh Cookies
Courtesy of SavorySweetLife’s excellent post

You’ve got this:

Chocolate Chips with a Cookie

Not quite as appealing.

A website that’s pre-built its content, pre-conceived of its information architecture, pre-envisioned its marketing & communications strategy and already created its underlying code, CMS and functionality without considering SEO impact will always be at a severe disadvantage. And when it comes to links, that disadvantage is even stronger.

We all worry about a poorly built site and whether it will be accessible to spiders, but I see so many SEOs who approach a business or a site that’s got many of the basics right and think, "OK, I just need to get some links." If instead, we flipped this thinking on its head and said "wait, this website hasn’t established a strategy for link acquisition? Then we need to go back to the drawing board," the results might be dramatically better.

For every aspect of search engine optimization, there’s a critical need to make it part of the business strategy, particularly as the field gets more competitive. If you’ve put together a remarkable company, solving a tough problem with a great website, you could still lose in search (and social) to the relatively amateurish competitor who asked and answered these critical SEO strategy questions before building their business/site:

  • What does my site do for web content creators (Linkerati) that rewards them in such a way that they’ll naturally share my brand and link to my site?
  • What content is in demand (or soon will be) that aren’t sites aren’t addressing well (and how do I effectively keyword target that demand)?
  • What functionality/organization will make my site more attractive to search engines?
  • How do I build ongoing SEO refinement and growth into my business processes?

The site that answered those questions during the brainstorming phase is the one who can overtake the existing market leaders and win the rankings. Those who keep trying to sprinkle chocolate chips onto already-baked cookies will have a painful time trying to keep up.

* Notice my conspicuous lack of a pun about "half-baked" sites. I plan to use this karma on some horrifyingly bad joke in the future.

p.s. Credit for the analogy goes to the same person who bakes me most of my chocolate chip cookies. She’s pretty awesome.

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

August 10, 2010  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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