Recent conversations with some friends about what I "do" at work sparked this idea. As I've been thinking about these conversations, I've started to realize that when I launch into an explanation of what I do, more often than not I start to describe what I like to do. Granted, there's still a lot more for me to learn, but there's something exciting about the process of learning and developing a skill while simultaneously discovering what you like about it.
I've always liked words. I chose to study English over music in college because I figured I'd have a better chance making a living using that knowledge (cue laughter - because nobody actually uses their english degree). Welcomingly, the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) find their roots in words. One of the first things we do for an SEO client is begin with keyword research. This is on my list of favorite tasks. Keywords are exactly what they say they are - key words. So if a client wants to reach page one on a Google search, they need to know what words people out there are using to search for their product.
For example, lets say you own a hair salon in Indianapolis. You need to find the keywords that most people use when searching for places to get a haircut. Is it "hair salon"? Is it "best barbershop"? Perhaps, but it's also important to consider what people expect to find when they enter keywords in a search and if your service meets that expectation. If your salon is a upscale luxury salon you would not want to target keywords like "best barbershop" or "cheap haircuts," the resulting traffic would not find what they were looking for and therefore not visit your salon. What I do is sit down and figure out what keywords are best for your website. I look at what you offer, where you offer it and who you offer it to and then basically try to solve a word puzzle - putting together different words and word combinations to find the most common search terms, and then choosing which ones fit and describe you best. The end result is a list of keywords and corresponding data that tells me what keywords you should target on your website.
Of course, this is only one small step of many in the process of optimizing a website. And I'm not sure I could even comprehensively list and describe every factor or step. There's writing title tags (the words in the grey bar on your browser), writing descriptions, press releases and ad copy. There's creating listings in Google Maps and other search engines and hunting down respectable directories for more listings. There's link-building and social bookmarking and tweaking little things on the website pages to make sure all the little details match exactly.
But what I like about SEO, what I find myself saying when responding to that inevitable question "what do you do at work?" is that the best thing about SEO is - it's an exploration, it's an evolution, it's always changing. Even the tasks that tend to drag a bit are always made fresh with a new client because the puzzle is different. Crossword puzzles never get old because everyday the same newspaper square is transformed into an entirely different puzzle, with different clues and different words. The same is true for SEO, every client presents a new riddle to unwind.
And I can't help but to think, that maybe I'm actually getting to use that useless degree of mine after all.