SEO: The Good, The Bad, and The Weird

When you say "SEO", what do you really mean? There is a discipline of making web pages search engine friendly, with the goal of being findable by people. I'd like to explore what we call this discipline. Three characters emerge: The Good, The Bad, & The Weird. We'll start at the middle.

The Bad

Search Engine Optimization. Apart from being rather unwieldy, this definition is too search engine centric; the human aspect (value, meaning, targeted communication) is lost in the noise. It encourages the view that if you mentioned the word "SEO" 30 times in an article (without communicating any real substance), then the almighty algorithms will "get" that this must be a valuable article about SEO and reward it with higher rankings.

(Recently, a proposal to rename SEO to "search experience optimization" has been put forward; I'll let you decide how elegant that is.)

The Weird

Inbound marketing. This is fuzzy, unclear, and creates an artificial dichotomy as regards marketing ("inbound" vs "outbound"). Real–world marketing is both inbound and outbound, at the same time. Consider a typical advertisement, like a yellow pages ad. It's outwards–bound because it appears in external media; it is inwards–bound because it includes the vendor's contact information (customer contacting vendor is the purpose of the ad).

Effective marketers don't operate with pseudo–meaningful constructs like "inbound" or "outbound". The name of the game is audience, offer, channel, copy. Everything else is derived from that.

Whenever I mention "inbound marketing" to someone, they reply with: "Can you give me an example?" "Inbound marketing" is a bad name — it obscures the meaning of what's being comminicated.

As Jon Henshaw points out, "inbound marketing" is really the unity of content marketing and social media marketing. These are good, precise terms for clearly defined activities. Both these disciplines can be a part of one's larger SEO strategy.

(To appreciate how any single type of marketing is rarely used alone, even by a company promoting it, the above article is a must–read).

The Good

Findability. The word is as concise, precise, and semantically rich as "usability". After all, we could call usability "eye–to–mouse optimization". Or what about "human–computer interaction optimization"? We could, but we… don't.

Findability. No explanations needed.

"SEO" is a tricky discipline to pin down because it is a hybrid field. Real findability integrates aspects of web technologies, market research, and copywriting. It is infused with elements of Information Architecture and even design. It's no surpise that coming up with a good name for it is tricky, as well. If we try make the name reflect all of what goes into SEO we would be overloading it semantically.

Instead, let's focus on the business value that SEO creates. What do we use it for? To be found by the right people, at the right time. Findability.