There are a lot of simple rules you can follow to have good SEO, or search engine optimization.
But nobody talks about when you shouldn’t optimize.
There are three situations in which you shouldn’t even try.
Situation Number One – When something else is more important.
The first situation in which you should ignore search engines ENTIRELY is when there is an immediate action you want your visitor to take that’s more important than long-term search rankings.
Sometimes your headline needs to make people want to read – now – even if it will do nothing for your search rankings.
Sometimes your link needs to make people want to click – now – even if the link text has nothing to do with any keyword you care about.
When you need your reader to DO something, you have to cater to them, not Google.
In those situations, forget the search engines. You have a real, live buyer or subscriber or prospect here and you need them to act. You’ve got the proverbial bird in the hand – this is the time to forget the bird in the bush.
You’ve got a human here and they might do something you really want them to do.
Get them doing it. Screw Google.
There are two main places where this is going to affect most business owners:
1. When you have a link you really, really want them to click.
If it’s particularly important to me that you click here, the anchor text of my link (the blue underlined bit) should read “click here”.
That doesn’t do me any good from a search engine optimization standpoint, but I don’t care. I want you to click here, so I’m going to give you a strong call to action that says… wait for it!… “click here”.
2. When you have a sales page you really, really want them to read.
In general, the text of a headline is a good place to optimize for search engines, because headlines tell search engines what the piece is about.
But if I’ve got something I really, really want YOU to buy, forget Google. I’m going to run the most compelling headline I’ve got.
When it’s a sales page, follow sales page rules, not search engine rules.
Situation Number Two: When you don’t want to rank for that.
This situation is called “when there’s no good reason to rank for that term in the first place.”
Let’s start with a wonderfully embarrassing story about me caught in a compromising position with a box of wine.
For many years, one of the most popular articles on this website was a little piece about how I got my hand stuck in a wine box and only narrowly averted a trip to the emergency room.
Somehow I turned it into a piece about how marketing begins in product development.
Now, I ask you, how does one link to such an article?
“Marketing begins in product development”? “Wine box”?
What magical anchor text will guarantee me search engine riches?
Somebody searches “product development and marketing”, clicks through, finds my story and… what? Buys an ebook? What are the chances of that?
Slim to none. My money’s on none.
If YOU see my tantalizing anchor text – “the great wine box tragedy of 2008” – and YOU click on it, well, you just might dig me a little bit more. YOU might buy an ebook.
So the lesson there is that while SEO optimization is good to get keyword-specific traffic TO your site, sometimes you want to direct people who are ALREADY on your site to content that has no SEO benefit at all.
Maybe it’s your about page. Maybe it’s your own version of your wine box incident. Or maybe it’s some off-topic piece that would still be of interest to your main readers.
In that case, you don’t want to optimize for SEO.
You want to optimize for human eyeballs.
So if you have links on your site that won’t be bringing you Google love, make them as interesting as you can.
There’s no SEO benefit, but there are plenty of others.
An entertaining side note for you:
Remember to keep in mind that you only care about ranking for terms that can bring traffic YOU CARE ABOUT to your site.
If you rank #1 for something that doesn’t bring you subscribers or sales, it’s pretty much pointless.
In my time online, I have, at one time or another, ranked on the front page of Google for such illustrious search terms as “features and benefits”, “hairy mangoes”, “bad tattoo”, and even “Naomi”.
These were pretty fun to see, but they’re not bringing any buyers in the door. No one is opening up their search engine, typing in “naomi”, and figuring they might buy an ebook while they’re at it.
(I did, however, have the opportunity to call my mother and tell her to Google “Naomi” and see what happened. That was pretty fun.)
So that’s situation number two. Sometimes, you don’t even want to rank for that term anyway.
Situation Number Three: When you don’t have a chance in hell.
Sometimes, you just don’t have a chance.
Sometimes a keyword is so competitive that everyone and their mother has already poured a lot of time and money into ranking for it.
You don’t have a chance in hell, and you look like an idiot if you go crazy in the attempt.
Let’s say you make handmade butterfly soap. (Shaped like butterflies, not for washing butterflies. Although it’s probably pretty easy to rank for the latter.)
You will never rank for “soap”. Honestly, you will probably never rank for “handmade soap”.
If you try and rank for “soap”, you’re going to look ridiculous and you’re never going to succeed.
But lavender soap? Geranium soap? Those you have a hope for.
And if you rank for “lavender soap” and “geranium soap” and “rose petal soap” and seven other types of soap, you’ll have a hell of a lot more traffic (and customers… and repeat customers… and referrals… and testimonials…) than if you make yourself look like an idiot trying to rank for “soap.”
There are a lot of ways to wrap a keyword in other keywords – or to use related keywords – so that your site isn’t an endless parade of links to “soap.”
So that’s situation number three. If you can’t rank for the best keyword you want, stop trying. Start building your rankings for related words instead.
SEO can be awesome.
It can also be a rabbit hole of torment, death, and acting like a total idiot.
You now have three situations in which you are perfectly allowed to give up.