The Art of SEO Direction

Theater DoorsMost of my blog posts don’t get done in the office. I usually find myself working on them at home, or at a softball game or in other random situations, like tonight.

Tonight, I’m writing this during rehearsal for a play that I’m in. So I bet you think you know where I’m going with this. That creating an SEO strategy is like a play; with all of the actors performing their various roles. How each one must hold their own or the entire production will suffer.

It’s a completely legitimate analogy, but not where we’re going today.

Because my role in this play is fairly small, a lot of my rehearsal time is spent watching my director work, and I’m consistently fascinated by what he brings to the process. The talents he uses in putting this show together make me think of some of the most important qualities that make a great director and an effective SEO strategy.


Just because two people are looking at the same thing, it doesn’t mean what they see is identical.

Watching the same scene, I see actors making choices and interpreting lines. My director sees patterns, movement, and energy. Directors have to see the big picture.

When we look at SEO data, we can absolutely have different interpretations of the same information.

While one person sees that this year’s numbers aren’t as good as last year’s, another notices that last year was the best year ever, and was also before your paid links were devalued. So the fact that this year is markedly better than 2 years ago, is actually an improvement. Where one person sees a traffic increase that is resulting in the highest traffic numbers ever, another sees only that the traffic coming in isn’t for the words they wanted.

It’s all about perspective.

Sure, it’s fair to strive for constant year-over-year improvement or to retain rankings on your head phrases, especially if they convert well. But not getting the exact results you wanted doesn’t always mean your efforts were a waste. Just because your visitors aren’t the ones you were targeting, that doesn’t mean they’re useless.

If you had a really bad 2012-2013, like a lot of people did with Penguin, Panda, and a plethora of penalties, you may need to look at things differently than you have in the past. Rebounding numbers, even those that don’t reach the towering heights of the paid link era, may still be a sign of renewed life.

Similarly, if long-tail traffic doesn’t convert as well as short-tail phrases the next step isn’t to write off long-tail. Instead, try to figure out why users looking for a four- or five-word phrase describing something you sell, aren’t getting what they need from your pages.

If chasing a few phrases or expecting the highest numbers you’ve ever seen are the only metrics on the table, maybe it’s time for a change of perspective.

A play can look different from front row center than it does from the back row of the balcony, and both viewers can come away with a different experience. It’s the same way with your SEO campaign. If you change your seat, the view from another angle may give you a brand new story.


It just so happens this play is a comedy, so timing is crucial and a director needs to understand precisely how things should play out to make a great show. Because if timing goes wrong, jokes don’t land, gags fall flat, and someone crashes into the moose head.

With SEO and marketing, timing is just as important. Timing for making changes, new product launches, redesigns, press releases, content promotions, nearly everything you do or publish.

For example, the widget to “Travoltafy“ a person’s name needed to hit the circuit the day after the Oscars. A few days later and it would have been worthless. (Slate walked off with nearly 2,000 backlinks to that page). This basic widget that most programmers could concoct by sophomore year went viral because it capitalized on something timely.

With the release of any news, tweet, status update, video, any piece of content, there’s a question to be answered: is now the best time?

Some things just have a better chance of taking off, if you go with the current events. That may mean holding something you were planning to release in June because it may be more relevant to students in the fall. Even understanding what time of day most of your demographic is browsing Facebook can improve your odds of achieving your maximum reach.

It’s also important to understand the speed of how things move online. An opportunity to jump on a trend may last about a half a heartbeat, but it can take months for the effects of a campaign to be fully realized.

Judging results on too little data or time can derail a campaign that was on the right track, before it really has a chance to get anywhere. The pain of time is felt often the worst during a penalty or when laboring under an algorithmic filter.

The time it takes to audit a full link profile, to remove links, to wait for responses, to submit a reconsideration, can take months. Fully recovering from an episode like that can take years and some things may never be the same.

Getting the timing right on what you do and what you measure is a huge part of any kind of marketing. Knowing when to pull the trigger, when to wait, and when to measure are all essential to making a program work.


Before a show ever gets started, a gifted director can already see in their mind who the characters should be, and how their story should be told. That vision drives the casting, the casting drives the chemistry, and the chemistry drives the emotion in the story. But it all stems from a vision.

This is not some “make a dream board“ philosophy on SEO though. “Envisioning” yourself in the top organic spot for your top phrase isn’t going to get you there, but how about envisioning your business as a dominant influencer in your industry? That’s a goal that doesn’t ride on the hundreds of little quirks of a mysterious algorithm.

Realizing a vision like that it begs a lot of questions, like:

  • Who is an influencer in your industry now?
  • How did they get there?
  • Why do people follow them, care about them, buy from them?

These questions, and many others, can help you plan for how to build your brand, make people aware of you, and leverage your existing customers and their positive experiences to engage new customers.

Seeing as all of these considerations are fundamentals of basic marketing, they’re often looked at as entirely separate from SEO. They aren’t. Traffic and rankings can be positively affected, directly and indirectly, by all of the various tactics we’ve used in marketing since Madison Avenue was founded.

Good technical SEO foundation is still a necessity, distinctive language, clear information architecture, and well organized internal linking are all imperative to a strong showing in search. But beyond that is link building, authority, trust, branding and a host of other signals that help search engines filter through the millions of results with relatively comparable technical facets.

Distinguishing yourself to that degree takes more than tricks and short cuts, it takes vision. And the vision of your future really should include being exceptional or you don’t really deserve to rank number one anyway.


As we wind down rehearsal, there is evident progress from last night. Using his perspective, sense of timing and adhering to a vision, our director was able to work the trouble spots and fix the train wrecks. Because he doesn’t see us stumbling around with scripts in our hands, he sees an end result, which is richer and deeper than just what’s on the surface right now.

It can work the same way in SEO. Numbers may not lie, but they may contain multiple truths, the question is which ones do you lament and which ones can you build on? Distinguishing between the two may be the difference between staying stuck and moving forward. But where you’re moving to and when you get there is a matter of timing and vision.

When you have the planning and patience to whether the path in spite of detours and distractions, the reward can be finding out that what you always thought might be possible, actual could be.

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