The Harlem Shake approach to SEO

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HarlemshakeIt’s the latest craze. (Semi) normal people recording their own version of the Harlem Shake video and posting it online.

At first there’s one lone dancer, quietly thrusting, unobserved by the others sitting around him or her. This carries on for a few seconds while the sitters act nonchalant.

Then suddenly everyone is dancing.

It’s a frenzy of activity, craziness, mad moves, bizarre outfits and face pulling. The good take-offs are funny; the bad ones are simply disturbing.*

And lately I’m seeing a lot of businesses taking the Harlem Shake approach to SEO.

Now this might seem somewhat of a tenuous analogy to draw.

So, let me explain myself.

One lone SEO dancer

These days it seems that even the smallest of businesses have some awareness of SEO. At the very least they know what the acronym means. Many also understand the importance of ranking for a diverse range of keywords, and most get that achieving any kind of strong SEO result requires a long-term commitment.

Perhaps someone in the business is already trying.

They’ve read a few blogs, done a little research and following the basic principles of SEO:

  • Ensuring their site is well coded
  • Checking that there are no accidental blocks to search bots
  • Writing succinct, engaging page title and meta descriptions
  • Creating thoughtful, useful content for their site at regular intervals
  • Using social media to spread the word
  • Securing back links from other reputable websites

They’re plugging away. Just like that lone dancer at the start of the Harlem Shake video.

This lone SEO beginner does their best to make the business site rank, while the rest of the organisation is busy doing other things.

Everyone else is focusing on something else; the packaging, the branding, dealing with suppliers, sorting out the accounts. They’re looking the other way, while the lone SEOer keeps on thrusting.

And then suddenly everything changes.

Maybe someone notices a competitor above them in the rankings.

Maybe the sales team realises life would be easier if customers found them via natural search.

Maybe the MD receives a spam email from some Indian SEO company promising ‘a most highly commendable first place Google position’.

Whatever the spark, it induces panic. Suddenly everyone cares about SEO. Suddenly everyone is dancing.

The Harlem Shake SEO frenzy

At this stage the business goes into a frenzy, and that’s when they call people like me and say things like:

“We’ve decided SEO is our top priority.”

“We need to rank number one for the term ‘Peruvian Guinea Pig Jumpers’ by next week.”

“We’d like 80 articles a month targeted to the keyword ‘cheese’.”

“We’d like 100 back links from PR2 sites by Thursday.”

Perhaps they’ve emailed a dozen SEO companies only to be overwhelmed by expensive packages. They’re bamboozled by offers of a million back links a month or promises of content spun across a zillion rubbish guest blogging sites.

In their panic they sign up to a three-month contract for an absurd amount of money – without ever understanding what they’re getting.

They’re the crazy Harlem Shakers of SEO.

Prancing around like headless chickens in the hope of a great result. They’re dancing around like no one’s watching, but the truth is that the Google bots are always watching.

Keep calm and carry on

Let me give you some cold hard facts to calm you right down:

  • There are no guarantees with SEO.
  • Anyone who promises a number 1 spot is either lying or crazy or using dodgy methods (that won’t last and could get you black listed).
  • Engaging, diverse, interesting content, that your customers want to read and share, is the way forward (and it was even before Penguin and Panda if you ask me).
  • Back links from crappy sites could do more harm than good.
  • Guest blogging is great, but only for reputable sites. (You can tell who they are because they have strict guidelines and often reject your blogs due to poor quality.)
  • Completely handing over your SEO to some random company without fully understanding what they’re doing is just plain dumb.
  • Rich media content can be helpful (videos, images, infograms, etc.) but consider the ROI.
  • It’s better to rank well for several terms than to be in the top spot for just one.
  • SEO is just one way of getting new customers and often email, display advertising, TV or radio can be more effective (depending on your audience).
  • SEO isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life.

That lone SEO dancer often has to pick up the pieces after the frenzy dies down.
Because no matter how much money you throw at it, and how manically you dance, there are no quick fixes and no easy answers when it comes to SEO.

So take your time, experiment with new moves and explore different tactics. But above all make sure you enjoy the SEO dance, because you’re going to be dancing it for a long time.

Over to you

* If you really don’t know what I’m taking about, check out this Harlem Shake video from my friend Anton Buchner.


Do you feel in a frenzy about SEO? What is your biggest SEO challenge?

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Hello! I'm an award-winning SEO and advertising copywriter based in Sydney, Australia.
Kate Toon

  • http://www.cavatica.co.uk/ Charlotte Gunnell

    Hi Kate,
    Love this post! Have to be honest, I read it partly to see where you were going with the Harlem Shake thing but the idea of the ‘SEO frenzy’ is absolutely spot on. SEO isn’t rocket science. If you do your research, write great content, use decent code and gently let people know where you are with guest posts, comments etc, then Google will follow.

    When I started my blog I would never have dreamed I could rank at all for the term ‘online copywriting’ as it’s so competitive, so concentrated on writing content that I was proud of, using related phrases instead. And I’m now on page two for that key term, without really even trying to get there or stressing over any complicated optimisation!

    Although I’ve got some stiff competition (including Copyblogger) to get to page one, I’m staggered that I’ve managed that with just common sense and patience. By steadily thrusting away (as you eloquently put it!) it’s possible to achieve rankings that no amount of rubbish back links and ‘crazy Harlem Shakers’ will ever get you.

    Thanks again Kate!

    Charlotte

Who is Kate Toon?

Hi, I'm an award-winning SEO copywriter and SEO consultant with over 18 years’ experience. I've worked with big brands such as Westpac, the RTA, Curash and Kmart and helped countless small businesses to produce great content.

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