We’re starting to wonder if we (that is, the Level343 team) are really search engine optimizers. I mean, sure, we provide SEO services of the organic flavor, but when we see the varying examples and definitions of SEO, we have to wonder. Either the industry definition of SEO badly needs to be updated, or we’re not SEOs.

Lost Art

From Search Engine Land: [SEO] is the process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural” listings on search engines.

From Search Engine Watch: Search engine optimization means ensuring that your Web pages are accessible to search engines and are focused in ways that help improve the chances they will be found.

Reading these definitions from industry-leading websites is frustrating. They are so lacking in the reality of what we do for a living. Not that the definitions are actually wrong, per se, just that they don’t define the scope of the work anymore.

SEO is Like… Waitressing

Funny thing: Gabriella and I have a lot of experience in managing restaurants. Let me tell you; it’s one of the best ways to learn customer relations. We highly recommend at least three months of being a waiter for any business-minded individual.

One of the things you learn as a waiter is how to be helpful and invisible at the same time. A good waiter doesn’t hover; a good waiter watches the tables and doesn’t appear until the empty glass hits the table or the fork scrapes the last bit of food from the plate. The key is to make sure the patron’s needs are taken care of before they even realize there is a need to fulfill. This has to happen with every table, not just one.

Optimization works much the same way. It isn’t noticeable. It’s isn’t flagrant. You shouldn’t be able to visit a site and immediately be able to tell it’s been optimized. You don’t put links in the footer that say “Optimized by…” or “SEO services by…” You don’t stuff headlines and content full of key terms. In other words, by the time we’re done with your site, you shouldn’t be able to tell we did anything unless you look at our action list.

SEO is a Delicate Art

It takes a deft touch and precision marketing for optimization to work like it’s supposed to. Yes, it’s called search engine marketing, but it is definitely not just marketing to search engines. As we’ve said time and again, search engines don’t pay the bills.

The titles are carefully crafted, as are the meta descriptions. The content is delicately assembled in all its various parts, from the headlines to the bullet points to the final line and everything in between. The terms are placed with precision in order to draw the reader’s eye and the search engine’s interest. It’s a fine line to walk, and we walk it every day.

Singular Purpose

All this artistry goes into one, very singular, purpose. Conversion.

This Is What We Do Every Day

Somewhere along the line, we lost sight of the whole search engine thing, and skipped straight to the end user. –And, from talking to others in the industry, I’m pretty sure we can safely say we aren’t the only ones who look at things this way. To us, optimization is about making you, the client, look good, and we do that in whatever way is ethical and necessary. When we optimize a site, it includes:

Branding the company, or building up an established brand– Every part of your on site and off site activities affects your brand. You can’t just write a piece of content; you have to take your brand message into account with every piece of content you market. That includes the videos, infographics, images, words, alternate image descriptions, blog posts, articles, press releases, how you display your content, how you market your content and the words/platforms/sites you use to do so.

Taking care of current and potential technical issues – The foundation of your site, the code, is a part that’s never seen by your visitors. It’s only experienced. It’s experienced by broken links, poor navigation, slow loading pages, large images shrunk by code, hidden shopping carts and bad buying processes.

Keeping target markets in the lime light – In hunting and darts, as well as other activities, the target is what you aim for: preferably the bull’s eye. You have to keep your eye on the center of the target, and you do this by careful consideration every step of the way. For example, when you write your title and description for a page, you aren’t doing this so the search engines will come visit your site. You’re doing this so people will visit your site, and you don’t want just any old visitor. You want visitors interested in what you have to sell, whether it’s products, services or information. Your message in the SERPs has to reflect this as well as the content on your site does.

Keeping your market’s culture and personal brand in mind – Your target demographics have a specific culture. They have a personal brand they want to convey. For example, the single mom with three kids is stretching every penny to make them count. How does your product or service help her with her personal image? What words appeal to her, compared to the Ritz couple with no kids? How does language use differ from country to country, and town to town? Your offerings, in products and content, have to reflect the individual cultures – both native and demographic.

Brand Yourself

Creating engaging, conversational content – Your content, in whatever form you choose to share, has to engage the reader and create a conversation. This isn’t easy. It’s story telling in the finest sense. An old creative writing teacher  said “Show them; don’t tell them.” It’s not always possible to get the finer points across in this way, but it’s definitely possible to create a “big picture” scenario and help the reader place themselves in that picture. This is the affect you’re going for. If you can convince them your product or service will make them more successful, happier, healthier, and so on, your campaign is doing its job.

So What the Heck Are We, If Not SEOs?

We’re coming to the conclusion that we’re online brand marketers. It’s the only “title” we can come up with that really seems to fit the skill set we use to promote our clients. –Because the standard definition of search engine optimization, when compared to the services many of today’s optimizers put out falls under the not applicable section. It just doesn’t do the job justice.