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The Emperor Has No Clothes?
By: David Soyka
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I have a friend who is a physicist, and when he tries to explain quantum mechanics to me, he is prone to sigh and say, “If you understood math, you’d be able to get this a lot easier. It just doesn’t make as much sense in words.”
So, I’m a copywriter; what I do for a living is try to make sense with words, and I’m the classic English major who just never did get math. So perhaps that’s my problem when it comes to SEO guys, who it seems to me are blowing a lot of smoke these days and racking up hefty billable hours to tell companies how to optimize their websites. 
Now, again, I’m a math-illiterate. How to game Google’s algorithms to get the best ranking is probably out of my league. And I’m sympathetic to the viewpoint that it would be nice to have some hard data that what we creative types produce actually helps to sell something. That’s the holy grail of marketing, whether it’s on the Web or not.
The problem with holy grails is that while everyone might want one, getting it is harder (that’s why it’s holy). So maybe that’s why this SEO stuff is hard for me to understand because I’m just not one of the chosen. But, dummy though I may be, it’s interesting that every time I’m in a meeting with a different SEO consultant I’m hearing a different spiel on what the secret sauce is, and how their competitors’ secret sauce doesn’t really work as well because, well, they don’t know the secrets we do.
I’m starting to wonder if the secret sauce has more fructose in it than anything that might be good for you. I write copy for websites. My clients range from Fortune 500 companies all the way to small entrepreneurships. Everyone has an SEO expert, or at least someone who pretends to be one, because naturally everyone wants to maximize page hits and move up on the Google rankings and presumably garner more business. At some point while I’m trying to write brilliant prose, I’m handed a list of key words the SEO consultant has determined should be on the home page.
Let’s say I’m writing a website for a pharmaceutical company. Here’s what the list from the SEO guy might look like:
  • pharmaceuticals
  • drugs
  • prescriptions
  • healthcare
  • medications
  • drug marketing
  • generic medicines
  • brand medicines
There are a few more, but you get the gist. My question is: What kind of genius do you need to be to figure out that if you’re writing about a pharmaceutical company, you might want to use keywords that describe its products and its industry? Duh. Even if it isn’t common sense, aren’t you, by virtue of writing about the company and what it does naturally, going to include the key words people use to look you up the site? After all, if you’re writing about a funeral parlor, chances are pretty good you’re going to mention “coffin,” which is what I’d say there’s a fair chance I’d be Googling if I were in the market for one.
Yet clients are willing to pay these SEO guys to come up with these commonsensical lists as if they have some direct line to the Internet gods. And, consequently, are worth every cent in paying tribute.
Skeptic that I am, I’m finding it hard to keep a straight face. Am I missing something here, or is this really the case of everyone not recognizing that the wizard is really just a little man behind the screen who, though as clueless as the rest of us, can take advantage of most of us who are afraid of math?  

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About the Author
David Soyka is freelance copywriter who has conceptualized and developed a range of strategic advertising, marketing, training, and technical communications for  advertising agencies and Fortune 1000 companies in print, web, and broadcast formats. A former newspaper reporter and English teacher, he is a published author of ficiton and non-fiction, and a DJ at WTJU-FM. Find him online here.

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