Keep the 80-20 rule in mind with your SEO

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I recently met someone who was in charge of the SEO of a relatively large internet company. I mentioned LAS to him and spent a little time talking about the site before he basically said "SEO probably isn't worth it for you guys." Now we spend a lot of time talking about SEO on this blog, and we obviously think it's important, so I was a bit surprised to hear this response from someone in the industry. Eventually we figured out that what he means by SEO, and what I mean are fairly far apart from each other. The overall goal is the same (improving the standing of your site in the eyes of search engines), but the extent  of effort put into it is quite a bit different.

You've probably at some point heard about the 80-20 rule that describes a remarkably common phenomenon in which a small portion of causes (e.g., 20%) accounts for a large amount of the effect (e.g., 80%). The specific 80/20 ratio isn't particularly magical, but the basic point shows up all over the place from wealth disparities (20% of people have 80% of the wealth -- I think it's actually much more extreme than that, just an example) to customer service (20% of customers require 80% of the support). In the context of SEO, the idea would be that 20% of the effort might yield 80% of the SEO results (ignore, if you will, the fact 100% of "effort" and "SEO results" aren't really meaningful statistics).

When we talk about SEO on this blog, we're really talking about that first 20% of effort. At a big company that has a dedicated SEO staff (like the guy I was talking to), the 20% is a given; they're focused on pushing further and further up that curve to the right. So in that sense, this guy was absolutely right. It's not worth it for LAS (or your company, in all likelihood) to be worried about that last 20% of results.

If you look through our SEO archives, you'll see titles like SEO Checklist: 6 Easy Things You Should Be Doing and Get Started With SEO By Writing a Blog. The 6 easy things from the checklist post might be 5% of effort that yields 20% of the results, lets say. Sites like Website Grader can help push you a little further. Then there's registering your business on sites like Google places or Yelp, and your blog on Technorati or Google News that pushes you a bit further up the curve. Starting and maintaining a blog fall a little closer to taking a decent amount of effort, while still generating results. And that's as far up the curve as we've really gotten on this blog, and probably about as far as we're likely to get.

For a small company, you're not going to be competing with the big guys at the top of the SEO ranks. You're better off getting to that 80% by going after long tail keywords and the like, and focus on maxing out your effort in other areas where you really can distinguish yourself, like having great customer service, or great content; things that people can see but search engines can't.

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