Search engine optimization (SEO) is the go-to business strategy for companies to attract people using sites like Google. Ranking number one on search engines is a competitive advantage, but can it happen without twisting both words and marketing strategy?

_______

“I don’t read the script. The script reads me.”

(a movie character played by Robert Downey, Jr.)

The first person to read this essay will be a machine. The machine will impudently, implacably, and insistently insert itself between you, human reader, and me, human writer.

Human writers who want to reach human readers need a strategy. That strategy must use a special language to pander to the machine. It is called SEO: search engine optimization. It is a dreadful language. It relies on keywords, i.e., words for which humans might search the Internet. It requires that I make heavy use of key phrases — I repeat, heavy use of key phrases — so that my essay appears particularly relevant, in the machine’s icy judgment, to those who are searching for those key phrases.

The more I please the machine with my heavy use of key phrases, the better my odds of reaching humans like you who want to know about heavy use of key phrases. On the other hand, the process of pleasing the machine with heavy use of key phrases makes my essay less attractive to you, due to its heavy use of key phrases. In other words, the way I help you find me might make you unhappy that you did.

Read More →

Fair notice: this essay has a trick title.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Co-Founder, Chairman, and CEO, recently spent up to $19 billion to buy WhatsApp. You might have heard.

Whether Mr. Zuckerberg overpaid is a subject of frenzied speculation for those who must have an opinion. We do know that no one else thought it was worth more; rather, that no one else with a spare $19 billion thought it was worth more. We know that because Mr. Zuckerberg was 1) willing to pay 2) more than anyone else. Otherwise the media would be all aflutter about what someone else was uniquely willing to pay.

Of course no one knows what WhatsApp is worth. To know what it’s worth implies full know­ledge of the future, including a host of related matters such as the skill Mr. Zuckerberg and his team will bring to bear, how much it’s worth to Facebook to prevent someone else from ac­quiring WhatsApp, what Mr. Zuckerberg could have hit had he aimed his $19 billion else­where, and much more. (In other words, otherwise.) Google, another potential acquirer, had its own calculus.

Read More →

In the early days of Yahoo and Google, around 2003, the distinction between the two companies could have hardly been greater. Yahoo made its strategy bet on being a media company. It employed a cadre of editors to shape content and feed it to the nascent novice internet users who wanted a guiding hand in their insatiable search for news on Tom Cruise or MC Hammer or whoever was popular in those ancient days. This strategy worked wonders as long as the users needed help. Yahoo grew to be a giant.

Read More →