Friday, March 11, 2005

Search Engine Optimization Trash Talk

Click here for AmazonThere is one segment of eBusiness marketing that is both technically challenging and ultra-competitive. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, it's search-engine optimization. SEO is the art and science of moving certain search results up while pushing everyone else down.

SEO can mean the difference between a successful and a failing business. High search-engine rankings can mean exposure and, interestingly, less exposure for your competition.

For legacy businesses (e.g., a dental practice), SEO isn't quite so make-or-break a proposition. But it can still determine who will grow and who will wilt on the vine.

My two brothers-in-law are in dental practice with their father (yes, coincidentally, he's also my father-in-law). All are excellent dentists and my father-in-law, Tudy, served on the State Dental Board for over a decade, if memory serves. As an aside, Tudy was an excellent athlete in his younger days, having played baseball at the University of Cincinnati (he was Sandy Koufax's battery-mate) and lettered for Ohio's state championship swimming team. In any event, the family is active in the community (e.g., Big Brothers) and well-known for being among the area's finest dentists.

So, Marc, the oldest of the two brothers comes to me in a tizzy one day. He's searching for "City Dentist" on Google (city being our locale) and "City Cosmetic Dentist" and coming up with nothing, "We must be the one-hundredth search result."

Since this is one of my areas of specialty, I tell him I can take care of it for him. After all, I spent several years munching sushi with P&G's leading e-business geniuses (guys like Ted McConnell and Terry McFadden) who had some visionary ideas in this space. I've added a bunch of proprietary tools to the repertoire and can now legitimately claim some proven expertise in SEO.

Within a few weeks, the In-laws are the #2 result on "City Dentist" and #1 on "City Cosmetic Dentist". Marc starts trash-talking his competitor (we'll call him, "Wedge"). Wedge is one of these good looking guys who swung a gig on one of the TV network's makeover shows. Wedge knows what he's doing and has therefore rented out space on some of the dental link-farms to drive up his ranking.

Of course, Marc being Marc, he has to talk trash to Wedge:

"Wedge, when we get done with you, your dental practice will be nothing but a rumor."
"Wedge, your search ranking is buried deeper than Jimmy Hoffa."
"It's okay, Wedge... seeing as you're #103, I know you try harder."
"Wedge, you still a dentist in town? Cuz I can't seem to find you in Google anymore."

In all seriousness, SEO is an arduous, no-nonsense game. Real money and livelihoods ride on these rankings. If you do engage someone to handle SEO for you, make sure they can point to some real and current search results so you can judge for yourself. Just like any other business, there are those who know what they're doing and there are those who simply claim they know. The difference will be visible at places like Google.

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