The Art and Science of SEO

Although art and science are sometimes thought of as opposites, you can use the artistic process and the scientific method together to improve your website through SEO experiments.

Although art and science are sometimes thought of as opposites, you can use the artistic process and the scientific method together to improve your website through SEO experiments.

Art + Science = SEO

Artistic Process

  1. Contemplate
  2. Observe
  3. Organize
  4. Create
  5. Critique
  6. Refine

Scientific Method

  1. Question
  2. Research
  3. Hypothesize
  4. Experiment
  5. Analyze
  6. Iterate

Step 1: Contemplate vs. Question

The beginning of your SEO process should help define what you’re hoping to accomplish. For example, you might seek more visitors to your site, greater awareness of your products, an increase in responses to promotions, more downloads, or new audiences.

Art: Consider different goals, brainstorm about ideas, and create a rough sketch of what you’d like to accomplish with your SEO experiments.
Science: Ask the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions about improving the performance of your site.

Step 2: Observe vs. Research

Once you have come up with some questions you’d like to answer, do some initial research.

Art: Identify the social media sites where your customers and key influencers in your industry are active and participate in online conversations. Check out the websites of your competitors and see what words, images, and technologies they’re using to reach customers. Talk with your established customers and ask which words and phrases they would use to find your site. Do some qualitative analysis of online conversations about your company to find out whether they’re positive or negative. Research other industries that have something in common with your market and see how they do SEO.
Science: Using Google Analytics, establish baselines so you can compare the results of your SEO experiments, before and after. Measure activity and time spent on your site, find out where your visitors are coming from, and measure the number of comments left on your blog. Do a thorough analysis of the key phrases visitors use to reach your website, the types of technologies they use, and where they come from.

Step 3: Organize vs. Hypothesize

Create plans so that you can tackle your experiments in an organized fashion.

Art: Don’t limit yourself to ideas you found in your research. Try to think of all the different experiments you could do to improve your SEO, not just those you’ve tried or that your competitors have tried. Consider experimenting with new site content, blogging, integrating social media, incorporating keyword phrases, changing design and layout of your site, and updating images. Make sure your experiments are designed to improve site readability, site usability, and to attract and engage your audience.
Science: Frame your hypothesis: “If _____[I do this] _____, then _____[this]_____ will happen.” Make your experiments easily measurable and constructed in a way to help you answer your original questions about how best to improve site performance.

Step 4: Create vs. Experiment

Now it’s time to test each of your hypotheses by doing an experiment. If you want to conduct a fair test and see which SEO experiments yield the best results, make sure that you change only one thing at a time while keeping all other conditions the same. If you’re more interested in getting results than in figuring out exactly which tactic was most successful, go ahead and implement a group of changes all at the same time.

Art: Create new content, update your site design, and incorporate new technologies that will attract your target audience. Be descriptive and clear in your writing, keeping it readable, and include content that is unique. Focus on key phrases that a search engine user might type and/or a site visitor seeks when scanning your web pages. Write headlines, sub-headlines, and opening paragraphs that include key phrases, keeping a natural flow to your writing. Move items around on your pages, especially your landing pages, to find the most effective placement of graphics and text. Incorporate a blog or add feeds from social media to see if those improve your site’s search results, and consider online PR distribution. Make sure all the changes you implement reflect your brand personality and visual style.
Science: It’s important to be consistent, logical, and thorough when experimenting with SEO. You should update title tags, meta tags, meta descriptions, URLs, navigation links, and headlines, and the first paragraph of copy to incorporate keywords and phrases consistently on each page. Use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to program your site, include H1 and H2 tags, and do not use Flash for navigation. Make sure PDF files and images are tagged with keywords. Set up different URLs if you’d like to monitor exactly where your best results are coming from. And, be sure to submit an updated XML sitemap using Google Webmaster Tools.

Step 5: Critique vs. Analyze

Once your SEO experiments are complete, you should collect your measurements and analyze them to see if your hypotheses are true or false.

Art: Apply a critical eye to see how your experiments turned out. Is there more participation on social media sites and have the comments and conversations on your blog improved? Have you gotten any feedback from existing customers or prospects? Have you been more visible in your industry due to any of your experiments? See if you can determine which of your experiments yielded the best results.
Science: Measure the results of your experiments using the baseline numbers for reference. Check your analytics to track changes in visits, downloads, clicks, sales, or any of the other activities you set up to measure.

Step 6: Refine vs. Iterate

Scientists sometimes find that their hypothesis was false, and they create a new hypothesis and start the scientific process over again. Even if they find that their hypothesis was true, they may want to test it again in a new way, or change the experiment to account for new conditions. New information or thinking might cause a scientist to back up and repeat steps at any point during the process. You should do the same to continually improve your site’s SEO.

Art: Depending on the results of your experiments, you might want to continue with some of the same refinements, or consider some new tactics. You might want to add customer reviews to your site, work on building links from influencers in your industry, use social bookmarking to gain exposure, step up your Twitter involvement, or increase your blogging.
Science: Search engine optimization is an investment that requires patience and an ongoing commitment. It sometimes takes 2-3 months for SEO initiatives to have an impact. Continue to track what’s working and what’s not, and implement changes as time goes on to continue to improve your site’s performance.

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