Why You Better Learn the PR Side of Search Engines

Danny Sullivan: Look to The New York Times and Facebook to See the Value of SEO

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SEO -- search-engine optimization -- is a four-letter word to some, representing the dark arts of manipulating Google and other search engines through blog spamming, keyword stuffing and other odd-sounding activities. But SEO deserves respect, and recent moves by Facebook and The New York Times underscore why it can't be ignored.

Unlike paid search, in which marketers buy links through Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others, SEO involves tapping into the "free" listings every search engine has. SEO is like PR for search-engine listings. You want a good review about you in a newspaper? A press release, a call to a reporter or other PR tactics can help. Want a good review in the search world in the form of top rankings and traffic? SEO can help.
Danny Sullivan
Photo: Jason Meyer
Danny Sullivan has been covering the search-marketing industry for more than a decade and is editor in chief of SearchEngineLand.com.

SEO can seem hard. How are you crafting HTML titles? Are you building with a lot of Flash? And some of the guerrilla tactics -- which aren't necessary -- can seem scary. Sure, you could just spend more on paid search -- and if you've got the money, do it. But most searchers are still looking at, and clicking on, the unpaid listings SEO influences. Ignoring SEO is like doing an ad campaign without a PR push alongside.

Still not convinced? Facebook is the current king of the walled garden, holding compelling content locked away from the prying eyes of search engines. Some have even suggested search engines might die as a result. But funny thing: Earlier this month, Facebook announced it had created "public-search listings" for all of its members. Why? So people searching on those soon-to-be-dead search engines will find listings leading to Facebook.

Then last week, The New York Times announced premium content would no longer be locked behind a pay wall that search engines cannot penetrate. The Gray Lady was earning $10 million in subscription fees yearly by charging for the content but calculated there was more to be made from advertising if it let all that content be free. It explained: "What wasn't anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would be generated by Google, by Yahoo and some others."

My good friend Marshall Simmonds was certainly anticipating this. He's headed the SEO efforts at The New York Times since he arrived as part of the About.com purchase in 2005. He's generating all that free traffic that has completely changed the paper's business plan.

Sure, you can ignore SEO. But you can bet your competitors won't.
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