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August 4, 2008

Teaching SEO that “Everyone Knows”

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Editor’s Note: Our guest blogging week continues! Next up is Carolyn Shelby reminding us of the need for getting back to basics. Everyone say hello! –Susan

I’m sitting down to write this guest post while TheLisa is on a much deserved vacation, and, of course, I’m waiting until the very last minute.

I blame my procrastination on writer’s block. I hate-hate-hate the whole echo chamber thing, and I hate being a me-too-er. Blah, blah, blah, self-pity, blah, blah, whine, blah. You get the picture.

As I was wading through my thoughts and flailing about for a topic, I decided I needed some clarity. So I began with a clean sheet of paper and a fundamental question:

“In context of search, who am I?”

  • I co-host SEO 101… so I discuss the fundamentals of SEO.
  • I talk to newbies and the non-savvy and help them move along the
  • learning curve.
  • I explain the basics of SEO to non-search people.

I recently gave a talk on the basics of SEO, SEM and Social to group of about four dozen old school marketers. Of the nearly 50 people in attendance, less than a handful claimed to know what SEO was, and upon further inquiry it turned out what they thought and what it is were not the same thing. Their industries varied widely, and they were at varying levels in the corporate food chain, but the one thing they all had in common was their desire to understand SEO and SEM.

No one cared that I was going over things “everyone knows already”, because they *didn’t* already know.

These people cared that they were moving out of the realm of magic and into the realm of science. They cared that they were going to be able to go back to work in the morning and not feel lost when talking to the IT department about the Marketing department’s needs for the company website.

I ended up speaking for 53 minutes and even then, there was a rush afterward to ask more questions and get more information. These people wanted to learn the basics. They were hungry for the fundamentals that “everyone already knows.”

So it turns out that my inability to come up with suitable blog topics is a result worrying too much about making sure search people liked my writing and subsequently losing focus on my real audience. For me, my real audience is the neophyte. My audience is people who need to learn the basics, not the seasoned professionals.

Writing is like being a minister… do you win more souls when you preach to the converted or when you bring the Word to the unwashed masses?

So having had this little epiphany, does this mean I should never again preach to the choir? No, when I have something to share that is not echo-chambery or me-too-y and substantively contributes to the academic discourse; then it is perfectly (to continue with the religious analogy) good, right and salutary to write for the benefit of colleagues and peers.

So what’s the moral of the story?

Understand and define your audience, and then focus on doing what’s best for THEM.

Knowing and understanding your readers makes it easier to come up with useful topics (and helps prevent writer’s block). In my case, circulating in non-search circles and situations helps me further understand my core audience, which in turn helps me refine my writing so I’m providing them with a better experience and better serving their needs.

Carolyn Shelby has been professionally developing Web sites and helping businesses integrate offline and online marketing since 1995. She is the co-host of SEO 101 on WebmasterRadio.fm and is the Director of Natural Search for Chicago-based BeFoundLocal.com





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