How to Explain SEO to a Sixth Grader

John Tabita

I’m not a technical SEO person, but I understand the technicalities of SEO well enough.

Search engines use complex (and jealously guarded) mathematical formulas called algorithms to determine how sites rank, which is why no legitimate SEO firm can guarantee results. Many, however, resort to “black hat” SEO, which breaks the established rules and will eventually get your site banned from Google and the other search engines.

Search engines do not actually search the web—they search their index (i.e, database) of the web. Web pages get placed in their index by automated computer programs, called spiders or bots, which crawl the web and add pages to their index. Until these bots find and index your site, there’s no way to appear in the search results.

Obtaining top ranking in the search results requires both on-page and off-page optimization. On-page optimization is everything done to the individual pages of the site so that Google understands what each page is about. This starts with keyword research to determine the best converting keywords you can rank well for, given the competitiveness of your market. These keywords are then used in the title, heading, and throughout the pages of your site.

Off-page optimization involves building backlinks from other authoritative websites to improve your PageRank, which is a link analysis metric applied by Google that assigns a rank to …

Excuse me, Mr. Customer; you seem to be staring off into space. You say I lost you at “algorithms”? But I haven’t even gotten to canonicalization of URLs. Well okay, let me begin again …

Algorithms, Spiders, and Bots—Oh My!

I’m tasked with the job of teaching sales reps how to explain the complexity of SEO with simplicity; otherwise, they’ll never be able to sell it. The problem is, as technically correct as the above might be, is doesn’t answer the burning (and often unasked) question each and every prospect you encounter will have:

“How will this help me make more money?”

To answer that question in a way that a sixth-grader can understand, you must sell SEO using The Concept of Expertise. It goes something like this.

Someone who’s a recognized authority in a field tends to make more money than an amateur, wouldn’t you agree? Because an expert is more likely to be recommended by others and command higher prices, right? Can you tell me someone you consider an expert or authority in his field?

What are some of the qualifications that make this person an expert in your eyes?

  • Years of experience in a field
  • Recommendations from others
  • Endorsements from top industry experts
  • Depth, breadth, and quality of knowledge

SEO is just like that. It’s the work that goes into making your website an authority in the eyes of search engines like Google, so that they’ll “recommend” it to its users, by ranking you higher than your competition.

Just like offline expertise, SEO requires both time and work. No one becomes an expert overnight, and certainly not without working at it.

Right now, as far as Google’s concerned, your website is an amateur, so it isn’t going to recommend you. My job is to make it—and by extension, you—into an authority, so that they will. Does that make sense?

Never Answer a Question Your Prospect Isn’t Asking

That simple analogy may be all your prospect needs. But here’s where we get it wrong. We think the more we explain, the better the other person will understand.

Not so. If your prospect isn’t asking for more information, stop talking.

Sure, you could go on to explain how “years of experience” equates to the age of his website; how “recommendations from others” is like the number of inbound links from other related sites; that “endorsements from top industry experts” are quality links from other authoritative websites; and how “depth, breadth, and quality of knowledge” is comparable to the size of the website and amount of information found there. But why should you, unless he asks?

Always be prepared to explain the details. But keep in mind that you and I live and breathe this stuff; our prospects do not. The best approach is to spoon-feed them information until they’re satisfied. Confused prospects do not buy; so beware of over-explaining yourself out of a sale.

So how do you “explain SEO to a sixth grader”? What have you used that’s worked successfully? Post your experiences in the comments below.

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  • http://h2conline.com Web Design Saint John

    Thanks John for the simplified explanation of SEO. I will definitely use the “expert” analogy when I start seeing the glazed look in my clients eyes while I discuss SEO. I’ve read a lot of other blogs on how to explain the concept of SEO to clients and I feel that your article is by far the one that will make the most sense to them. Thanks again!

  • http://www.sbminfotech.com Web Development SBM Infotech

    I am agree with your all points. Mostly Never Answer a Question Your Prospect Isn’t Asking, This can be make our clients confused and That’s dangerous for us. I lose 3 clients and I think this is the reason why this happened…
    Thanks for this article…

    • Jay

      Wow. You are in the business of SEO and you write with that kind of grammar? Do your clients fix your English mistakes?

      • Steve

        From the grammar it sounds like English isn’t his first language, maybe German. Lighten up!

  • http://www.hondareview.com Scott at Honda Review

    Nicely written article John. In the auto industry (as with selling any product) it is imperative to use the customer’s language and paint pictures that they can understand. Most customers are not experts in your field. Saying “The Honda Accord incorporates SOHC i-VTEC with Variable Cylinder Management technology… ” will mean nothing to the customer..

    However, if we paint a picture so the customer can see the benefits (this applies to selling anything..) then it is much better for the customer and the salesperson. “The Honda Accord incorporated new technology in improve acceleration (for getting on the highway), ride comfort (so you don’t have to hear the engine), and fuel economy (so you can save your money at the pumps..)” This the customer will understand and appreciate…

    It is important that the customer understand the benefits and how the product is going to solve their particular problem. In my experience it works for all products whether it’s cars, shirts, or SEO.

    Important point though: The product HAS to benefit the customer or else when the shine wears off the customer will feel like they’ve be had and you will have lost a customer…

  • http://efren-martinez.pro Efren Martinez

    Great article man ! i think another thinks can be explained this way, and its a very good way to explain SEO to people that don`t know too much about it, thanks for your article, i really enjoyed it.

  • John

    Great read. Now I just have to figure out how to dumb it down a bit for my clients.

    Kidding of course! That was too cliché.

  • Paul

    I don’t really explain SEO. I say that I can get your page to the top of the first page of a google search. Then I let the customer ask the questions. And yes… I keep in mind that my goal is to make the sale. So when I have opportunity I tell ask the client if he’s ready to get started with the project.$

  • http://www.midhudsonseo.com Jim McClinsey

    Great article- the part about over explaining yourself to your prospect rang a few bells for me.