What Star Wars Can Teach Us About Basic SEO Truths

Iain Bartholomew

Happy Star Wars Day everybody, May the 4th be with you. Working in SEO the one question I am asked more than any other is "How do you apply the lessons you have learned from Star Wars to your work on a daily basis?". For a long time I have resisted providing an answer on the basis that the question is, frankly, ridiculous; but in celebration of Star Wars Day I have applied thought to the quandary and, following much research, am finally ready to offer an answer.

 

" Always in motion is the future "      

Yoda, to Luke, on Dagobah

Getting your fundamentals right is the bedrock for any SEO project, no matter the scale. Nobody can tell you with any certainty today what the Search Engines will do tomorrow in terms of algorithm tweaks, shifts in approach or aggressive manual action. Tricks and schemes to artificially boost rankings could be powerfully effective today and worthless this time next week, potentially to the long-term disadvantage of any site that used them.

What will never go out of fashion is the provision of valuable, relevant content to visitors, published on a technically sound foundation. This is why issues like duplicate content, architecture and the structure of content are so important. Skipping over these fundamentals is akin to setting off to fight Darth Vader without your lightsabre - you might survive if you benefit from highly unusual circumstances, but chances are you're going to struggle.

 

" These are not the droids you're looking for "

Obi Wan Kenobi, to Troopers, on Tatooine

And by 'droids' Obi Wan, of course, means 'visitors'. Keyword Research is the key to driving targeted traffic to a site and clearly exemplifies the principle of quality over quantity. It is vital not to become hung up on 'vanity keywords' that deliver either high volumes of irrelevant traffic, or no traffic at all. Intelligent keyword research will highlight opportunities and challenges, allowing educated decisions to be taken.

If your website sells designer hoods to Ewoks it makes no sense at all to work hard to rank the home page for the phrase 'Millennium Falcon'. Sure, there might be 5,000-odd people worldwide searching for that phrase, compared to 28 people who are looking for 'Ewok Hood' each month, but your site is about Ewok Hoods. You're selling Ewok Hoods. Would you rather have those 28 people who want to find Ewok Hoods and could be looking to buy, or the 5,000 people who have never typed the words 'Ewok' and 'Hood' in the same sentence in their lives, most of whom wouldn't be able to tell a designer Ewok Hood from a Mos Eisley FAKE?

 

" Lost a planet, Master Obi-Wan has; How embarrassing "

Yoda, to Younglings, on Coruscant

Sometimes even the best laid plans go awry; what matters is how you respond when these challenges crop up. Presenting a problem with a viable solution will generally be more welcome than reports of a setback alone. Fortunately, working in SEO, we are armed with an array of tools and sources of data that usually allow early identification of issues, perhaps even before they manifest themselves in the SERPs. This puts us in the best position to respond to problems -we can't look to others for answers - and no matter how daunting the challenge, taking a step back, approaching the issue without panic and working through what we know will lead us to a solution.

When Wedge Antilles was faced with a seemingly invincible AT-AT at the Battle of Hoth he didn't turn his Snowspeeder around and flee. Instead he assessed the problem, determined a solution and executed it, grounding his enemy and turning the tide in favour of his fellow Rebels. Similarly, we can find solutions to significant SEO challenges if we apply a little intelligence and creativity to the task.  The important thing to remember is that setbacks happen to everyone at some point, but they can be figured out and they can be fixed. Even the Death Star was overcome.

 

" Travelling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops "

Han Solo, to Luke, on the Millennium Falcon

Adding value as an SEO is a task that requires a lot of knowledge and no little skill. It isn't for everyone. Being genuinely good at SEO is not easy, nor is it something that can be dabbled in or rolled into the work being done by specialists in other areas. Web designers are not SEOs, graphic designers are not SEOs and copywriters are not SEOs, just as SEOs are not web designers, graphic designers or copywriters. The dedication and time required to become good, let alone exceptional, in this niche is significant.

Han Solo didn't become an exceptional hyperspace pilot by painting the outside of the ship or designing its structure. He became an exceptional pilot by learning relevant skills and practising them until he gained the necessary expertise. The same applies to SEO. To be the best you can be takes commitment and hard work, but the outcome is that you have skills with a value. Which segues nicely on to...

 

" I find your lack of faith disturbing "

Darth Vader, to Motti, on the Death Star

Not everyone sees the value in SEO. That's just a fact. Part of the job of an SEO is to demonstrate that value in whatever metric matters to the people we work for. Whether it's showing all those page 1 results to a rankings-obsessed client (to whom you have doubtless expressed the dubious value of this form of assessment) or showing the increase in unique non-branded organic search visits to the client who values traffic, or even showing the improved conversion rate to the client who values the bottom line above all else, the metrics are there and the task is simply to use them to illustrate the facts.

Nobody will pay you or your company to carry out SEO hoping that it fails, but just as Luke Skywalker was dubious about the small, strange green creature he first encountered on Dagobah, so too will people who don't quite understand what you can do for them have questions and doubts about the value of the work you are doing. Ensuring that you are on the same page as they are and know from the outset how they intend to measure success is an important part of exhibiting the value of your work.

 

So it comes back to that original question: "How do you apply the lessons you have learned from Star Wars to your work on a daily basis?" and the answer is apparent. By ensuring the fundamental framework for success is laid out, the appropriate keyword research is carried out, mistakes are addressed, hard work is applied and results are demonstrated we can, with guidance delivered from a galaxy far, far away, ensure that we work constructively and generate opportunities to be exceptional as a matter of course.

 

Happy Star Wars Day!


5 people commented

  • 04
    May
    2012

    Sara said...

    Thank you for a great article. For a global search marketer like myself, it's fun to see how you adapt creativity to really good content on what SEO should really be about and I am happy to see that others out there have the same ideas as me. Great minds think alike they say :-)

  • 04
    May
    2012

    IainB (Paligap) said...

    Sara, thanks for your kind words. Writing this type of blog is fun - it's great to be able to draw on two very different things that I enjoy and play them off against each other.

  • 07
    May
    2012

    Great fun post with interesting and helpful things to say. Still not sure how as a writer turned indie publisher I can use it for my own business. I have the track record, I have the product (lots of it now) and the customers are saying they like it. But there are so many of us out there - and so many people often giving contradictory advice. It's a steep learning curve for all of us, and I don't think any of us have quite got it right yet!

  • 11
    May
    2012

    I applaud your creativity with this article. It's about time someone wrote a creative article on SEO!

  • 14
    May
    2012

    Iain (Paligap) said...

    Thanks Shannon - there are a lot of people writing about SEO in very different ways. This was a lot of fun to put together though.

    Catherine - Not sure exactly what you mean. Are you trying to apply SEO to your own projects? If you want to chat about it I'm happy to meet with you or talk by telephone, maybe we can find out where you're needing help?

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