The grand irony of SEO’s

Could many SEO’s be missing the point? Is it possible that there is a grand irony hanging out somewhere in the SEO landscape?

A story about chess

When I was a teenager, I used to enjoy playing chess as part of the high school chess club. One day a much more expert chess player challenged me to a chess match. In order to make it “more fair”, he explained to me that he would handicap himself, he was willing to face me with my all of my chess pieces, just against his one queen and one king.

You can imagine my reaction. Young and naive, I jumped right into the game. Wow! All of my pieces against just against his king and queen? Bring it on!

As a “medium skilled” chess player I reasoned within myself: If I can just get rid of his queen, seeing as the queen is the greatest military piece that he has, then checkmating the king would be trivial.

You might be able to imagine what happened next. In the match I focused obsessively on killing his queen. First I just lost one piece, then four, then seven. Still, I could not seem to clamp down on his queen, he was exceptional at navigating his queen around the board, wiping out my pieces in the process.

Eventually, you guessed it, he checkmated me. Using just his queen and his king, I still had other pieces on the board (but I had long since lost my own queen to his) — I was mortified, an entire army of pieces against two and I lost.

After my defeat he then pulled me aside to teach me a valuable lesson I never forgot:

Shawn, you were focussing the entire time on defeating my queen. But it is by checkmating the king that you win the game. If you had just focused on checkmating my king, you’d have had me on the back foot the entire time, I would have inevitably lost.

This epic chess game taught me that it’s not just about keeping your eye on the ball, but knowing which ball you should keep your eye most focused on, and which balls to merely “be aware of” — To be fair, I’d still have to keep track of his queen, but if I had just focused on checkmating the king (I.E the “ultimate goal”) while maintaining general awareness of the queens movements, I’d have won the game.

What does that have to do with SEO?

Sometimes we as SEO professionals know too much about the ranking algorithms that Google and other search engines use. We know that they involve link metrics, anchor text, pagerank, on-page factors, etc. etc. etc. We try to obsessively focus on how to rank our websites higher. But could we be missing the point? Could it be that we are focusing on the queen?

It would be very funny if I now said “content is king!” but actually I want to say “the user is the king” — can you checkmate your users?

Can you offer them something on your site that is so compelling, so enticing and enthralling — that the moment they finish reading it or engaging with it — it’s checkmate? They’re sold. Your product, your service —  they desperately want it.

The more we chase things like anchor text heavy backlinks from high PR sites, the more we chase the algorithm by looking for the next “dmoz” that “once you have an entry — you’re set” — the more we obsess about getting a certain number of Facebook likes or a certain number of tweets, or any one particular type of SEO work, the more we are focussing on the queen. We are chasing it around the board incessantly, all the while it is moving quicker and quicker, and with every algorithm update we are losing pieces to it.

What if we could instead focus on the king? Who are your target audience? What do they want? What kinds of things could you do to engage with them? Can you hone in on the king while maintaining a general awareness of what the queen is doing? Can you build a SEO friendly site that dodges any of the queen’s bullets — but that still checkmates the king?

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