How to Explain SEO to a Sixth Grader

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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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John TabitaJohn Tabita
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Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.

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