How to Play Optimization, the Surgical SEO Game of Skill

The most recognized form of search engine optimization (SEO) is content optimization. Everyone understands it: You just sprinkle in a few keywords and you’re done. In reality, content optimization requires surgical precision.

To make content optimization more approachable, I play the 1965 Milton Bradley game “Operation” … with modified rules for SEO. You know the game: A cardboard patient lays in his boxer shorts on a plastic operating table while you fish for his silly, plastic innards with a metal tweezers until his light-bulb nose buzzes.

The SEO game of skill “Optimization” is similar in that some elements on the page today – words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, images, lists, headings, links, etc.– can be surgically removed. The rest of the elements are building material for your optimized page.

You win the game of Optimization when you’ve made every single element work hard to send strong relevance signals to get more people to your page, where they will want to convert. But be careful, you can lose points for poor bedside manner, or even have your doctor’s license revoked.

These are the instructions for the game.

1. Diagnose the Patient’s Keyword Theme

Start out by choosing a keyword theme for your page. Make sure it’s “uniquely relevant” to the content on the page: Unique in that the theme is only going to be targeted on this page, and relevant in that the page is focused on that topic.

2. Surgically Remove Elements

Take out filler words, fluffy phrases and sentences that offer no real value. Your visitor’s time is valuable. If your page contains extra words and fluffy stuff, you’re wasting visitors’ time. Make them work too hard on your page and they’ll leave before they’ve done what you want them to do, especially if this is their first visit on your site.

3. Reset Broken Elements

When you find pieces on a page that just don’t work – a clumsily written sentence, a selection of products pushed too far down the page, or an image that conveys no meaning – fix it. Just like you’d reset a bone in a cast, reset the page in mockup form. If it needs a more difficult change, sketch out the ideal on a piece of paper or mock it up in PowerPoint. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just enough to get the point across to whomever needs to review, approve, and execute the changes.

4. Prescribe New Elements

Take two aspirin and call me in the morning – except instead of aspirin, it’s calls to action. Look for what’s not on the page but needs to be, and add it.

5. Lose Points for Poor Bedside Manner

Your page is the patient and its visitors – the people you want to sell things to – are the friends and family that gather around. If you’re a surgeon and you run afoul of the patient’s family, you’ll receive complaints, or even law suits. With SEO, you’ll get fewer sales from those customers and an unpleasant visit from management. Keep your bedside manner positive by avoiding:

  • Over-listing: Using long lists of keywords, services, items, products, SKUs, variants, and options posed as sentences. See how annoying that long, pointless list of theoretical keywords was? Short lists can be useful, but don’t overdo it.
  • Question and answer: Reliance on question and answer constructs like, “Do you need keyword? We’ve got all the best keyword you could want!”
  • Passive voice: Use the active voice and interesting verbs to make text shorter and more interesting. For example, passive voice reads like, “Looking for vintage trains, the auctions were searched by him.” A more interesting, active example would be, “He scoured auctions for vintage trains.” The active version is 40% shorter and reads more quickly.
  • Third person: If your name is Jim, you wouldn’t say “Jim sells widgets.” You’d say, “I sell widgets.” Do the same for your business: “We offer a wide selection of widgets,” not “The Widgetorium offers a wide selection of widgets.” It’s more welcoming, and your brand is already prominent on your page.

6. Lose You Doctor’s License

In SEO, your site can be banned from search results – the business equivalent of losing your license to practice medicine – at search engines’ algorithmic desire. Few on-page optimization transgressions result in anything that dire, but the issues below can decrease rankings for individual pages on your site.

  • Poor grammar & spelling: Google knows how to spell every word and use every aspect of the English language … and it expects you to as well. Spell check before you post content. Use a tool like Grammarly to proof your content as you create it. Errors erode both organic search rankings and customer trust in the legitimacy of your business.
  • Blatant keyword stuffing: Keyword repetition hasn’t helped rankings for about 15 years now, and relying on this practice can snuff out your pages’ visibility. Focus instead on creating quality content that your customers will want to read and search engines will want to rank.

Following the rules for Optimization, the surgical SEO game of skill, will help you maximize both rankings and customer satisfaction with your pages. Enjoy the game.

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