HomePostsDec 12, 2008

Search Engine Optimization as a metaphor for life

Yeah, seriously.

What brought this up

I’ve been doing, inadvertently, a lot of thinking and reading about search engine optimization (SEO) lately. For the company I’m contracted with, we’re trying to come up with a solid strategy to rank better in our industry, get more online attention, and attract sales leads. For a couple of my clients, I’m trying to implement some simple changes and add information to get them as visible as possible. For my blog, I’m always looking for ways to help my ranking.

Working for other people and helping them build an online presence is a whole hell of a lot easier than doing one for myself. I can help someone easily summarize what they do, help them pick keywords, and put them all in the right places. For myself, however, when trying to pick a niche, I find myself in these very existential moods. I’m picking 8 words or phrases to some up everything I can do for people. Wait, I have to sum up my professional interests in 8 words?! How?

Keywords… those effing keywords

The problem isn’t finding things to write, thinking of relevant tweets, titling my blog posts, filtering what I want to write about versus what I should write about, the problem is picking keywords.

To rank well in a search engine, you have to write content targeted at a certain audience of people. Think about who you want to sell to and get to work, right? Wrong.

First, you have to summarize the things that people are going to search to find you. In other words, what headings do you want to be found under? This isn’t too hard, I did it and came up with 50 things. We already have a problem.

Now, put those things in a keyword generator like Google’s and see what else comes up. Not only will you add 50 more words that never occurred to you in the first place, you’ll find that the words that were the most interesting to you are the hardest words to rank for. Not only that, once you start picking words that you have a chance in hell of ranking with, you find yourself limited and a bit off-center from what you actually do or want to do.

So what do you do? No really.

I do a lot of different things... some of them don't even involve a computer.

Searching for keywords for something as important and, dare I say, intimate as your freelance work (or writing or anything) puts you in this terrible position between passion and pragmatism. I want to write about art and science and the internet and web design and email and writing. I also, however, want my writing to help me reach people that need what I have to offer.

Part of my problem, in a business sense, is that I don’t have a well-formed “elevator pitch” for what I do. The value proposition (I hate that phrase but it’s relevant), the text at the top of this pitch, is about as close as I get. I help people build a web presence for their business or their own personal endeavors. That’s cool, sums it all up, right?

But I also help people with writing projects, advertisement design, document layout, and self publishing. I alter photos, help people write resumes, layout print ads, teach HTML and CSS, customize email templates. I teach people about social media (what little I know), explain technology concepts to friends and family, and fix computers. I set up printers, cure slow-running computers, and answer questions. I do it all, Josh Can Help, dammit.

Good for you. Now prioritize

That’s the key, prioritization.

First, I’m going to need to think about the work that I want. The most important reason I have a website/blog is to build a reputation, display my work, and get more clients. If I was guaranteed not to get any clients or feedback from my website, it would look worse, be updated far less often, include a lot more boring personal junk, and have less people who read it. Already, I’m making a pragmatic choice by centering it around my professional life.

I want to work with people to build or repair their website. I want to help them make it as visible as possible to all the major search engines. I want to show them what else is out there that can build a more robust presence (social networks and media, blogs to read, online resources that are valuable). I want to explore advanced web development stuff like PHP development and Javascript coding on my own time, implementing interesting functionality for people who never thought they could have one of “those websites.”

The people I want to help are small businesses and individuals. I love helping people in the art world because it keeps the right half of my brain active. I also, however, really want to get into the industry that I’m going to school for, chemistry. I want to help small technology companies do great things with the web and reach more people. I would love to work for a green technology company, either as an employee or a consultant.


In the end, I want all of this to lead to something amazing, something massively fulfilling, something that I can be proud of. I want to look back at a long list of people and companies and know that I did something great for them. I want to write a book, I want to help people do what they want to do, I want to make things easier for people, I want to work on a broad spectrum of things for a broad spectrum of people.

I want to bring people together, help them work better on things they are passionate about. I want to help people concentrate on what they’re doing because they want so bad for it to work. I want my name on something. I want to be accountable for something.

I want to work with a team of people that can’t be stopped. I want to work long, long hours, not because I’m forced to do so but because I can’t help myself. I want to collapse into bed with a smile on my face, mind racing, a million more things to do tomorrow.

I want to help you because I can help and I want to help. What’s the keyword for that?

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