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BACK TO BASICS: I Don't Want to Talk about Title Tags

by Dærick Gröss, August 16, 2010

After years of meeting with clients at every stage of creation and implementation of their SEO projects and campaigns, I've started to notice a pattern. Recently, I had the occasion to meet with the project team of a prospective client at their main offices. In the meeting we were discussing the various elements of an SEO campaign; somewhere in the middle of covering some of the foundational SEO considerations, the marketing director for the agency interjected with this straightforward (and increasingly common) statement: "I don't want to talk about Title tags."

What he was really interested in was getting to the "good stuff." He knew all about Title and Meta tags. He has been to SEO courses and seminars and trade shows. He reads all the blogs. He has all the books. He gets it. He was uninterested in hearing us talk about their site and project on a basic level as if he were a layman who just didn't understand. He can get that advice from any SEO practitioner. He wanted to know what we were really going to do for his site, what we were going to do to actually make a difference on his rankings.

This is a sentiment we're encountering more and more, and it is easy to understand why. The world of search engine marketing is becoming more sophisticated and complex by the day. Companies are spending a lot of pretty pennies to compete and want to know they are dealing with the latest and greatest, the cutting edge of marketing know-how.

The problem is, foundational SEO, including Title tags, is vital to a website's success and rankings. If there is an issue with on-page content, we wouldn't be doing our jobs by overlooking it. The advanced level SEO has the best effect when implemented on a strong foundation of an optimized site. Rather than arguing about the value of basic SEO, address the on-page issues at hand so that the building blocks of a strong site are established.

Developing Your "A" Game

Free Throws are like SEO Fundamentals

When the conversation takes this turn, I typically flow with it. After all, his basic implication is correct. As a task on its own, fixing your Title tags isn't likely to significantly increase your rankings. So I like to talk about the big picture at this stage, how an SEO campaign can be like an NBA team playing through the season, with the goal of making it to the Playoffs. This usually gets an enthusiastic response. In most cases, there is at least one person on the client's team that can relate to the comparison, and together we create any number of analogies.

I point out that the site's pages are like the players, some may be more key than others but they all work together to make a united team. The client's site is the team, and the other teams in the league are the sites they are up against (their competition) for their primary keyword sets.

We'll joke over which page is which player, which competitor is which team, and what kind of a season they've been having so far this year. We'll talk about the Playoffs and how to get there. We'll discuss their other marketing efforts, like traditional advertising, PPC, social media efforts, etc. We talk of holistic approaches and how they are integrating everything as a unified marketing and brand awareness campaign.

Typically heads nod at this stage and someone usually asks about how to get started and what will need to get done first. My answer to this is, "Free throws."

Emphasize Fundamentals

The clients are still smiling at this point but it is clear they don't follow my analogy any more. When you see an NBA player step up to take a free throw, you expect there is a better than 50/50 chance he is going to make that shot. He doesn't make it due to dumb luck. He makes the shot because he's had lots and lots of practice. Picture what a team does between games: practices, drills, exercises, tactics, reviewing the other teams, etc. The games are really the exposition. All the work happens before the games are played. All players are put through their paces to be the best players they can be before they ever step onto the court to face an opponent.

So what does this have to do with free throws? A free throw may only win the day in the closest of games, but ask yourself this: Is there a player out there playing for the NBA that can't make a free throw? Is there a team out there that doesn't make each and every player practice them over and over and over? Why is that? If free throws don't win games, why work so hard to master them?

The analogy is running thin, so here is where I make my point. It's all about fundamentals. The professionals that know the most cutting edge techniques of the game will still focus the bulk of their time and energy on the basics, because the biggest secret to winning is the basics themselves. Fancy footwork and dazzling showmanship are built on top of a solid foundation of how to play the game, they don't replace it.

Free throws are foundational SEO. Free throws may not win many games, but no game is won by a team that can't make them. You should have no expectation that good on-page optimization by itself will propel you to number one, but if you do not do the basic work to have good Title tags, Meta tags, page content and site architecture, then you have no right to expect to ever make it to number one. These are fundamental to SEO, and they need to be taken care of. That's why this is advice you will get from any SEO practitioner.

We would be remiss and doing our clients a disservice by not pointing out poor tags when we see them. We would not be a professional agency if we decided to skip over a solid foundation in favor of "real" SEO tactics. Basics should never, ever be a point of contention. Don't want to talk about Title tags? Good. Neither do I. Just fix them and let's get to the Playoffs already.

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