Machine Learning Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Zakia Bouachraoui

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Building an SEO-Driven Business (Part I)

I’m no SEO guru but over the past couple of years I’ve talked to enough entrepreneurs who are leveraging SEO to develop a perspective on the impact of making SEO a big part of a startup’s future. I plan on doing a few posts on this topic in the coming days.

It helps to mention some of the key ingredients of the SEO value chain.

action = f1(user_intent, traffic)
traffic = f2(search_query, rank, url)
search_query = f3(user_intent)
rank = f4(content, internal_links, back_links)
internal_links = f5(content, meta-data)
back_links = f6(content, meta-data, partnerships)

There are many complex variables here. SEO has quickly evolved from being a craft to being both an art and a science practiced by some of the best and some of the worst people on the Net. The search engines have evolved in turn not to be duped. However, old habits die hard and the one bad habit I keep seeing in the SEO world is the overwhelming focus on content.

Content, be it expert-generated articles or user-contributed product reviews or the “yo, buddy, what’s up?” on Myspace, is very important but is just one piece of the puzzle. I’m surprised more startups are not focused on scalable approaches for adding value on two other fronts:

  • User intent. Everything stems from that. The search engine marketers know this cold. They know that different search queries lead to different conversions after a paid click. On the SEO side, however, I haven’t seen great examples of recognizing the importance of user intent and the fact that different search queries often indicate different intent. By focusing too much on the content that drives traffic and not enough on the dynamism and adaptability of the user experience visitors get after they land through a natural search link, businesses are leaving value on the table.
  • Meta-data. My friend Glen Daniels says “It’s just metadata.” In most situations we’d be better off by trading off data for meta-data, or volume of content for understanding about the content. There is a reason why e-commerce product reviews are so valuable for SEO. Not only do they provide content but they are organized in context and have all the meta-data associated with the product they are about. Notice how Amazon is smart to display the same reviews for items with different colors, or for the hardcover vs. the paperback version of the same book, or for a newer version of a pair of headphones, etc. They couldn’t do that without meta-data associating the review with a product and then some smarts that associate similar products together. The other reason why meta-data is so important is that it allows for links created through software. For example, WordPress.com is smart to enhance the value of blog posts for both readers and search engines through an auto-generated set of possibly-related posts. I see too many businesses invest to generate a large volume of content but not enough to add great meta-data to the content, which ultimately limits both SEO and monetization.

The next post will be on the three generations of SEO.

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