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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

1. Diagnose the Patient’s Keyword

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.

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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

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.
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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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