Monday, January 29, 2007

Posted by Lee Odden on Jan 29th in Online Marketing, SEO, Business of SEO |

Explaining search engine optimization to newbies is something that anyone with sales or account support responsibilities at a search marketing or interactive agency is going to have to get good at. I used to spend a lot of time using the notion of “organic” and the whole “making fertile ground, planting seeds, nurturing, cultivating, watering, air, sun, bear fruit” kind of analogy but it gets old using the same description all the time.

The best way to explain the notion of optimizing web sites for search engines can vary depending on the starting point. For people stuck in 1999 SEO land, where it’s all about meta tags, submissions and SEO as a “one time” event, an explanation of the need for fresh, themed content and an ongoing pursuit of inbound links can become the focus.

On the other hand, if the company has been through 3 or 4 SEO overly aggressive SEO consultants, the situation may warrant some bad news about all the reciprocal links, third rate directory listings and keyword stuffed doorway pages that need to be cleaned up or dealt with before a reinclusion request can be filed.

The thing is, many of the companies that think they need SEO are in dire need of other process improvements first, such as a well defined conversion process, tracking and analytics. Sending a ton of qualified traffic to a site through relevant visibility on the major search engines, news search, blog search, social media and high profile links isn’t going to do you much good if there’s no accountability between the marketing and sales departments.

Many companies think they’re getting results from their online marketing, but do they REALLY know? In many cases, they don’t and need to spend some time on process and interdepartmental communication right along with their search marketing.

Search engines aren’t the only source of quality traffic either. The art and science of optimization can be extended to any document or file that can get crawled, indexed and ranked. Add to that the idea of social media and the effects of personalized search and explaining the variety of ways to optimize can become information overload.

The moniker, “search engine optimization” is a bit of a misnomer, since you’re not optimizing seach engines, you’re optimizing FOR search engines. SEO is fundamentally a set of methodologies that make it easier for search engines to find, include, categorize and rank your web content. That’s the starting point.

Because so many companies are in dire need of improvements with other matters related to marketing and business processes, many search marketing agencies that specialize in SEO provide a lot more than just keywords and links. That means the definition of what SEO “is”, means more as well.

So rather than spending a lot of time explaining algorithms, ranking and conversion analysis to someone who is very new to the idea of SEO, another explanation might have more to do with business marketing optimization. Or as an upcoming article I’m writing is titled, “Optimize Your Business for Search”.

This is a holistic approach to optimization that can affect a company from branding and communication to public relations, direct marketing and online marketing. For example, something as fundamental as including keyword research into corporate wide messaging can create many opportunities for search visibility as part of an ongoing process rather than individual “optimization” events.

How do you explain search engine optimization to newbies? Have you found clever analogies or metaphors?

Recruitment Tools

Tools are one of those things that job-seekers are increasingly frustrated by. I am the former owner of a recruiting website (actually I still own the domain name, but the company doesn’t exist anymore) so I have been exposed to hundreds of different recruiting tools. I am now a job-seeker and I have made a point of keeping notes on the recruitment tools that are easy and intuitive for applicants and those that are brutal and time-consuming.

Here, in my opinion, are the main issues that we applicants face:

1) Tools that ask for a Word version of a resume and then require one to fill out a long, cumbersome web form that includes everything already detailed in the Word resume. Applicants go to a lot of trouble to make résumés look nice and spend countless hours trying to make them stand out. I ask you; what is the point of having a tool that sorts, filters and qualifies applicants if good people are so frustrated by the redundancy and poor design of application tools that they quit half way through the process. Our time is valuable and filling out endless web forms with basic info is patently unnecessary. A tool that asks, "Do you fill these requirements?" then lists them, would be much easier. The only thing worse than that scenario is using a tool that parses info taken from your formatted résumé and places it into web forms incorrectly. This results in great candidates spending even more time correcting all of the mistakes that the form now contains and inevitably leads to a sloppy looking application.

2) I would guess that most HR people have never actually gone through the process of applying for a job using the online tools available to the public. Also, a great QA step would be to have 10 people who already work for the company, and preferably are managers that hire people, gather in a conference room with their laptops, go through the application process as if they were outside applicants, then write detailed notes about what they think of the efficiency of the process. Then compare and contrast this to ten people who have never worked for the company going through the same process. Especially take into account how long it takes to apply and what questions are asked that each group feel are absolutely necessary.

3) Almost all recruiting tools miss the mark when they do not enable one to ask pertinent questions about a position or contact someone to find out important details. In fact, I think the problem with all of these tools is that they have taken the human element out of the recruitment equation. For instance, if a position says it "requires" an MBA (as most of the jobs that I am interested in, and qualified for, do) I might want to ask if a M.A. in a similar discipline acceptable, or am I wasting my time even applying. I have a an advanced degree in organizational leadership, along with 12 years in marketing and strategic development, but if a company insists on limiting their applicant pool to those with a specific business degree, I would like to know if the degree that I have might be considered an equivalent or if I will DQ’d by the software that will see my résumé before any person does. The bottom line is that I only want to apply for jobs that I am qualified for so I do not look like I am just applying for every job posted on the site, but in many cases a tool might not recognize that I am qualified for a specific job due to fields which are too narrowly defined.

4) Many tools default to questions that are a little bit offensive and not pertinent to the recruitment process. A GREAT example is asking for specific salary details of past jobs. I completely understand the thought process behind this; figuring out whether someone who had a "director" level job title actually had a director level job. The problem is that some folks who choose to work at smaller companies might wear many hats and have titles and corresponding salaries, like Analyst or Manager, but may actually be doing Director or VP level jobs which would easily qualify them for that level position at a larger company. We are told that we should do what we love, but we are nearly forced into chasing dollars and titles by non-intuitive, "tools" that cannot take into account nuance, description and reason.

I think the best recruiting tool in use today is the telephone. Spend five minutes on the phone with just about anyone and you can tell whether he/she will fit your company's culture and if they are smart enough to do the job well. The details of the position might require a more thorough evaluation of their experience, skills and abilities, but for those applicants who might be on the bubble, based on their resume, talking to them can quickly provide the information needed to decide what the applicant’s future value to your recruitment efforts will be.

Finally, let me say that if companies did a better job of telling applicants exactly what they want to see on résumés submitted to them, they would likely get a much higher quality applicant pool. If there is a way to better sell myself to a company, without wasting their time with extraneous information, I would absolutely tailor my resume’ to their specific parameters. In the absence of this guidance, they get what I already have done and in some cases I feel like they miss important information and I miss out on jobs that are perfect for me.

Darren Cox

Darren Cox
Founder and Chief Evangelist - CaSTT - Commerce and Search for Technology Transfer