An Insider’s Look at the REAL Search Engine Marketing Play Book

Editor’s Note: With Lisa away, we’re kicking off a week of guest stars. Up first is thoughts from everyone’s favorite usability guru, Kim Krause Berg of –Susan

Since my High School never won a football game, it wasn’t until I went with a boyfriend to a big game between Lehigh and Lafayette Universities that I got to watch a real, honest to goodness game of men smashing each other in front of cheering crowds. I was bored out of my mind. The only part I understood was the Touchdown. Other than that it looked, well, stupid. Why was I freezing my butt off for this?

Flash forward to the present. I spent years as an SEO before switching over to the touchy-feely behavioral usability side. It matters not what I do, however. Explaining it is as impossible as describing football is to me. I simply say to folks, who ask what I do, “I help web sites score a touchdown” and they’ll nod and act like they understand.

As luck would have it, I gave birth nearly 15 years ago to a bouncing baby future football star (according to him) named Stefan. He’s teaching me football. I’m listening because as of last week, he dead pressed 315 pounds, plus I referred to baseball runs as “points” in my blog. I’m not a hard core, experienced sports mom. He got mad at me when I tried to put aloe on those marks weight lifters get above their knees. Screamed “Ouch” like a baby and everything.

For those of you who wonder at the hoopla I sometimes make over SEO and Usability, I’ll try to help you out. I asked Stefan to let me borrow his 70 page Freshman High School Football Playbook, but I had to promise not to share any details on the actual plays with you because he was afraid Bruce Clay blog readers might try to come to Pennsylvania and spy or something.

Spying. Deception. Cloaking. Keyword analysis. These are the very same lessons SEO’s learn. They’re doing battle. They can’t tell you every detail of each marketing play because Google would always win, and where’s the fun in that? (And money.)

SEO is like the Offensive line. According to the Playbook, there are 44 plays the team has to memorize. Each guy has a position and according to whatever secret coded phrase the QB (Quarterback) mumbles in the huddle, this is a cue for where each player runs. I asked Stefan what happens if the QB mumbles and they don’t all hear him right. He said they just try to bash the first guy they see.

Again, this is what search engine optimization is like. If you didn’t hear the QB or learn the proper play, you just keyword stuff away like someone lit a fire under your butt and hope for the best. Or better yet, if you don’t like where your web site ranks, you can execute a play based on data analysis and practice so its more likely the results get you closer to a conversions Touchdown.

What I found fascinating in the early days of SEO was the number of search engines and directories and all the different methods there were to get web pages indexed and ranked. Bruce Clay saved us a ton of time when he created a colorful diagram to keep up with things such as what search engines were fed by Inktomi and who was acquired by another search engine.

I kept my own less colorful text version of his chart on my Cre8pc site in those days. I had listed each engine and directory with direct links to where you submitted your pages, their fees, rules, tips and what was connected to what. The sheer volume and scope of what SEO’s have to memorize is not unlike what I now understand to be what football players also need to know.

According to Stefan, some of the Coaches’ rules are:

“You have to be aggressive.”
“You have to know the game plan.” (And if you don’t, Coach throws you off the team.)
“You must demoralize your opponent.”
“No soda. It’s ‘poison’.”

Usability is like the Defensive line. Once the Offense gets the game going, eventually the Defense comes barging in to make the kill. An efficient, well built web site has the same affect and has been known to bleed customer wallets dry and break servers. There are only 22 plays for the Defense to memorize in Stefan’s Playbook. Probably because it takes less thinking to block and tackle, konk, drive, slug and pile on top of the guy with the football.

As a Fullback and Quick Guard, Stefan has to learn a lot of plays with odd terms like Cadence, Running Game, and Pass Protection. I think a hungry macho man invented plays with names like Wedge, Molasses, Trap Blocking, Waggle Strong Protection, Zorro, Jack (Lisa’s Kitty!), Sex, Stud, Man to Man and Rocket Laser.

How so like the usability industry football is! We memorize plays like usability, user experience, human factors, engabability, accessibility, captology, persuasive design, understandability, findability, information architecture, user interface, performance, and Jakob Nielsen.

A good football game is nothing without bouncy cheerleaders and screaming, beer jugging spectators. Internet searchers and web site visitors at home or the office are not unlike a crowded football stadium watching pigskin being cradled by fully grown beefy men in tight pants. A ticket to a football game can cost as much as Google Ads and be just as coveted.

It’s our job, as online marketers and site developers, to make our jobs look easy. I think many of us do a great job at entertaining our spectators and maybe even some clients. We can’t be softies. We have to know our playbooks, understand and support teamwork, drink during work hours and smile for our clients even if their site just slipped in rank. There are wins and losses. A web site that ranks number one and has championship conversions is worth the million dollar contracts we charge.

According to The Lisa, her favorite “Bruce-ism” is “It’s not the job of SEO to put wings on a pig. It’s the job of SEO to genetically re-engineer the pig into an eagle.”

He sounds like Stefan’s coach.


Usability consultant, Kimberly Krause Berg, is the owner of, and Cre8asiteForums. Her work combines usability testing with a working knowledge of search engine optimization.

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

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