I read Tom Foremski’s post, “Is search broken?” over a month ago, and I responded at the time by comparing the work you do for search with other ways of getting attention. But I keep thinking about the question Tom asked, and I think I have a better answer today than I did back then.
At the time, I mentioned that any kind of marketing requires some kind of work, which is true, but I think what’s needed is for us to think about what the best comparison is to a kind of marketing we know. After some thought, I think the best analogy is to public relations.
Organic search is seductive because it seems free. It doesn’t require forking over your credit card to Google the way paid search does, but it does take work. PR is similar. It’s not advertising, but it does take work on your part to get any attention.
A strong publicity campaign, just like a strong organic search campaign, starts with a good story. You need a story that people are interested in. In organic search, your content is your biggest weapon. If you deliver content that is relevant to what people are interested in (uses the words they use, for example), then you’ll succeed. If you have an especially good story, people will link to it (which draws traffic by itself but also improves your search rankings).
Publicity requires more than a story, however. If all you do is write a story, no one finds out about it. You need to issue it as a press release. You need to call up the media outlets. You need to sell your story to the media so that they decide to give it more attention. Over time, you learn more and more what will appeal to the media—that’s how you get coverage of your story.
Organic search is no different. If all you do is slap together a Web page, no one may find it. You need to use the words people use in search, you need to think about how to make your page appeal to the search engines—just as you do with publicity.
Now, I am sure there are folks out there that say to themselves, “Why is public relations so much work?” They’d prefer to come up with their story and have the newspapers run it. But that’s not how the world works. And you can spend your whole life lamenting how much work it is, or you can just make a decision to do the work. (Or make a decision not to do it.)
Search is the same. If all you do is write the story, it might work. But if you take the time to think about what you’re doing, and try as hard to appeal to the search engines as your PR person works the media, you’ll do better. Understand, you don’t swing in totally the opposite direction either, where you obsess about the search engine and forget about your real audience (just as you don’t try to please media folks but have no real story their audience wants to read).
To me, any business that has a Web site ought to spend some time understanding organic search marketing. Yes, it’s work, but it’s less work than most other forms of marketing and it really pays off. Think of it as public relations for your Web site.