Fifteen hundred search engine fanatics are currently gathering in London in the midst of a three-day conference, Search Engine Strategies (SES). As the digital marketing expert, Guy Levine, put it on Twitter they are all in “Geek Heaven”. They are devouring the nitty-gritty of search and how the finest changes to your website can bring about better ranking, more links and thereby more money.


People are looking for what you have to offer, so make sure you offer it to them<br>

People are looking for what you have to offer, so make sure you offer it to them

That’s all noble stuff, of course. Many of the delegates at SES are businesses themselves; quite a few are in the search marketing world who sell  their services to the rest of the business world who are not interested in the geeky stuff. SES performs a valuable service, of course, by sharing knowledge and updating the experts. But therein lies the problem.

When you gather together a group of experts and focus on a topic a psychological phenomenon called “social acceptance theory” comes in to play. What that means is that everyone will agree on the importance of their industry, the fundamental value of search and that the whole arena of search is just brilliant. Yes, they will argue and debate the tiny fragments of detail; but no-one will step out of line and say that search is nonsense.

So I’ll do it for them; search is nonsense. There, I’ve said it. Of course, I’m using the word in its most literal sense, suggesting that the search industry has “no intelligible meaning”. It all makes sense to those geeks in London this week, but to the rest of us it may as well be in Ancient Greek for the sense it makes. It’s rather like a bunch of doctors getting together at a conference. They would be chatting away about the importance of “probiotics in the prevention of rhinoviral URTI”. Got that? Er? OK, I’ll get my doctor friend to translate…! What that means is if you give your kids a balanced diet they are less likely to get a cold.

It’s the same at SES. Put a bunch of experts together, bung in some social acceptance theory and within minutes they are all talking in lingo the rest of the world doesn’t understand. The point of doctors, for example, is to help us maintain our health. So talking in language that separates them fails to do that. The point of search is to enable people to find our online offering. The point of search is not to make it into some great big mystery. And that’s what happens when you “expert-ize” it. The result is language that doesn’t connect with the rest of us – “SSIs for information architecture” is up for grabs today at SES London, for instance.

What we need are search specialists who don’t get too hung up on the nitty-gritty, but tell it to us like it is. In fact, search is so much simpler than the experts might like us to think it is. In just the same way, medicine is much more straightforward than people on £150,000 a year as a GP might like us to believe; most people who visit their doctor get better naturally, with no intervention by their GP other than “let’s keep an eye on it and come back to me in a couple of weeks”. Search is similar; do the right thing and people will find you.

But what is the “right thing”? What you need to find out are the terms people associate with your company or organisation. Then you create web content that matches exactly what they are looking for. That’s it. Google, Bing and Yahoo! do the rest for you.

No doubt SES London will help the specialists find extra ways of helping you; but they will focus on the nitty gritty when all you need to do is concentrate on the big picture. And whatever happens at the Business Design Centre in Islington before the end of the week, one thing is for sure, if you were to produce a one-line summary of the whole event it would be “create exactly the right content for your users”.The SES delegates will “dress that up” as “information architecture”, “keyword analysis” and “analytics”, but it all boils down to the simple fact – EXACTLY the right content is what you need to produce.

As the psychologist Edward de Bono said:

Sometimes the situation is only a problem because it is looked at in a certain way. Looked at in another way, the right course of action may be so obvious that the problem no longer exists.

Those nitty-gritty details being discussed in London are not the problem. The search engine “problem” of being ranked highly and found by potential customers only arises because so many businesses fail to create the content that people are actually looking for. Do that and the search “problem” disappears. Unless, of course, you’re a search geek, influenced by social acceptance who uses language that separates you from the rest of us. To you it’s much more complicated; personally, I prefer simplicity.

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