When my brother, sisters and I were growing up, my father used to throw out all kinds of random euphemisms in everyday conversations. Some are expressions that you’ve probably heard yourself from time to time. One or two of them I actually wonder if he cleverly made up himself because I’ve never, ever heard them elsewhere. “Amy, you’re digging where there are no potatoes!” Huh? These expressions became such common staples in our household that my siblings and I affectionately refer to them now as
Though I didn’t entirely grasp the meaning of these expressions when I was younger, I eventually decoded these cryptic metaphors and they have stuck with me into adulthood. In fact, oddly enough I came to the realization the other day that many of these ‘Mike-isms’ happen to have a great deal of relevance in the SEO world.
“Stop Digging Where There Are No Potatoes”
What it Means As a Mike-ism: Wasting effort, energy and/or emotion worrying about something that might never even happen or that is based on mere speculation.
What it Means As a SEO-ism: In the SEO world, digging where there are no potatoes translates to the non-art of arbitrarily picking keywords to optimize your site pages for and spending months waiting for high rankings… just to find out that either a) these are not terms targeted to your audience and therefore they are not driving traffic or conversions; or b) you’ve chosen terms that have little to no search volume because you didn’t bother to use keyword research tools. Essentially, you’ve wasted the past 2-3 months digging where there are no SEO potatoes (or ‘organic’ potatoes if you will).
How to Avoid Digging Where There Are No SEO Potatoes: Quite simply, use keyword tools such as Keyword Discovery, WordTracker or the plethora of other free and paid options to decide which terms to target – not your gut. Focus your efforts on choosing terms that have a balance of sufficient search volume to fuel traffic and conversions, reasonable competition, a direct tie-in to information rich pages on your site and that are well-focused (ie. don’t be foolish and try to optimize for the term ‘car’ simply because you are a car dealer in Boise, Idaho because it will NEVER happen).
Additionally, if you have the means to run a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign for a good 1-3 months before starting SEO efforts, definitely do so! Take advantage of what my colleague Sandra Niehaus refers to as the ‘Ferrari of Search’. PPC represents a unique opportunity to test hundreds to thousands of keywords in the real market and determine which ones truly convert and produce the best ROI. During this PPC test period, be sure to use Exact Match in Google and Standard Match in Yahoo to ensure that the terms that receive reported conversions are actually the terms that were searched.
Also, run a variety of A/B tests on ad copy so that you can learn which elements resonate best with your key audiences. Apply this knowledge to your meta descriptions to increase organic click-through.
View it as a case study. Take this newfound, real-world, valuable knowledge and apply it to your SEO efforts… and this time get your SEO efforts right the first time around.
***And oh yeah… by the way, “Digging Where There Are No SEO Potatoes” is also known as “Barking up the Wrong Tree” ***
“Burning Your Candle at Both Ends”
What it Means As a Mike-ism: Doing too much and overexerting yourself.
What it Means As a SEO-ism: In SEO world, this is the practice of over-optimizing. You burnt your SEO candle at both ends when you suddenly and not-so-inconspicuously enlisted 2000 inbound links to your site – seemingly from nowhere and practically overnight. Your target keywords are used repeatedly, excessively and un-naturally throughout your copy. You’ve left no title tag, meta description, alt tag, heading tag or keyword tag unturned. And, being the overachiever that you are, you did it ALL in the course of a day… for all 142 pages of your site. Phew!
Not only have you angered the search engine gods, but you’ve also managed to achieve a hideous user experience as your copy now reads something like:
“We sell red shoes of all types. We have Nike red shoes, Reebok red shoes, Adidas red shoes and many other name-brand red shoes. If you like red shoes, be sure to come check out our red shoes.”
How to Avoid Burning Your SEO Candle at Both Ends: Know that if you are sacrificing user experience for SEO rankings, then you are overdoing it. If you’re lucky you may achieve some fleeting and fickle high rankings, but don’t think for a second that this will be a long term trend. In time, you will inevitably burn your SEO candle at both ends.
Instead, apply logical optimization techniques focusing initial efforts on well-written title tags, meta descriptions (not necessarily for ranking importance, but to entice click-through), alt tags and headings. Make copy tweaks to tie in variations of your targeted terms, but be absolutely sure that any changes you make do not diminish the quality of the copy from a human perspective.
In the midst of all of this onsite optimization, begin the ongoing process of seeking out relevant inbound links that are a natural complement to your offerings.
“Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill”
What it Means As a Mike-ism: Making a bigger deal out of something than it really is.
What it Means As a SEO-ism: Achieving Top 10 rankings (woo-hoo!), but yet those high rankings don’t drive traffic and/or conversions to your site (ohhh…).
A great example of making a mountain out of a SEO molehill, years ago a company looking for SEO services issued a ‘challenge’. They were shopping out several agencies and a so-called ‘competitor’ told them they could guarantee to get them in the #1 position in Google for ‘Ann Arbor intellectual property attorney” . They wanted to know who else could promise the same.
OK… first of all, most of us would have to agree that guaranteeing #1 rankings often equates to false, empty promises. #1 rankings should not be guaranteed, long tail term or not, as we do not control the search engines, we simply influence them.
But aside from that point of contention, I suppose ‘Ann Arbor intellectual property attorney’ sounds really great and all, but upon digging deeper it turns out to have negligible search volume:
(Source: Google AdWords Keyword Tool; Keyword Discovery confirms zero search volume as well)
By all means, anyone with SEO experience could very well get this company to rank highly, even #1, for ‘Ann Arbor intellectual property attorney’ if they chose to focus their efforts here! But they certainly would be trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. Any bottom-line focused SEO professional would rather help this company rank highly for terms that are actually going to send potential clients to their website… otherwise what’s the point?
How to Avoid Making Mountains Out of SEO Molehills: Know that Top 10 or #1 rankings are only a means to an end. Don’t assume that just because you are #1 for any given term that your job is done. It’s not.
Gauge SEO success instead by traffic, leads and sales – and make sure you are tracking online activity religiously to prove it. SEO is an ongoing cycle of executing, measuring and testing, analyzing and revising as needed to get it right. If you find that the ‘rock star’ term that you thought was going to bring you search engine fame isn’t proving to be as fabulous as you anticipated, don’t be afraid to change gears and go back to the beginning with new terms to target, if need be.
Lastly, I couldn’t help it… I felt some odd compulsion to bring in a modern day expression translated to a SEO-ism – I suppose for the sake of staying young, fresh and hip…
“Oh no you di’int!” (must be accompanied by a furiously wagging finger).
What it Means as a Mike-ism: Okay… my dad most definitely would not say “Oh no you di’int” . But it can often be heard on Jerry Springer episodes or MTV reality shows.
What it Means as a SEO-ism: What the Google Search Quality Team says right before they put you in the penalty box for black hat techniques. In use…
Matt Cutts: “White on white text? Oh no you di’int!”
How to Avoid Google’s ‘Oh No You Di’int!': Best put by Jill Whalen in a recent Search Engine Land article: “Good, professional SEO that puts users first while keeping search engines in mind would never be considered spam by any stretch of a search engineer’s imagination.”