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SEO and Other Popularity Contests

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Many people have a hard time understanding SEO. But it’s not that complicated. Like so many other things in life—governmental and student body elections, college admissions, trials by jury—SEO is basically a popularity contest. That’s a good thing, too. A popularity contest is a relatively efficient and fair means to decide something.

You might point out that Google’s algorithm isn’t a person. So how can SEO be a popularity contest? Google’s algorithm is the most efficient and effective automated popularity contest ever created. It’s conducting a popularity contest with every search, picking the most popular websites for a given keyword query.

What does this mean? A long time ago, I was a college tour guide and fielded many questions on admissions. The piece of advice that I gave most was that it’s critical to be likable in your application. It’s basically sales. At every school, people with everyday emotions decide admissions, and they will choose people they like. Google’s algorithm is obviously not a person, but the most important SEO factors that it measures are artifacts of a site’s likability. Most notably, volume and quality of inbound links dominate SEO. To get good links, it’s sales. Figure out the right audience (i.e., authoritative websites) for your product (i.e. your website), then sell the snot out of it. Volume (talking to the most prospects) and personalization (tailoring what you say to meet the needs of each one) will drive sales success. They are in opposition, which is part of why SEO is so hard.

It’s also hard because the best way to gain incremental popularity in life is to already be popular. It’s easier for Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie to make a new friend than for you or me.  So established sites have a much easier time getting additional links than new sites, giving them a growing competitive advantage*.

(* Investor note: that’s a reason why a website’s SEO, when built on ‘white hat’ link-building, is a durable and valuable competitive advantage.)

Written by sandykory

January 8, 2009 at 1:55 pm

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