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Rhetoric of SEO

Last week I went to a conference for my son's home school association.  The focus of this conference was on the art and stage of rhetoric.  I thought it would make for an excellent topic here on my design blog as well.  Using the term rhetoric or rhetorical might conjure up different ideas in your mind.  So, I will start by defining my terms.  What in the world is rhetoric anyway?

Definition of Rhetoric

The term gets beat up an awful lot.  In the realm of politics, rhetoric accusations are used to mean an over exaggeration.  In the realm of parenting, rhetorical questions are simply used to make a point.  However, rhetoric (in any classical understanding of the word) refers to the efficacy and elocution of language itself.  In other words, rhetoric is using the right words in a compelling way to communicate a clear message.

This, my dear friends, is the best practice for SEO that anyone could ever suggest.  Sure, we can do a lot of great things to help search engines like Google, Bing and Duck-Duck-Go find and understand your site.  However, these engines are looking at rhetoric to determine when to display your site.  Searchers are glancing at your rhetoric to determine if they should click on your site.  More importantly, potential clients are examining your rhetoric to determine if they should invest in you.

Rhetoric of SEO

I'm going to break down my definition and take it piece by piece.

Right Words

It is important on so many levels to choose the right words.  The most obvious reason is that the right words help you appropriately show up in a search.  You want to use words that are accurate and applicable.  If your website is selling bananas you wouldn't want to refer to them as vegetables (which is inaccurate) or yellow curvey things (which, though accurate, isn't applicable because we all know what bananas are).  You also want to make sure to use words that are meaningful as well as common.  You would not want to exclusively refer to your bananas "nanas" (which is not meaningful) or as herbaceous fruit (which is not in the common vernacular).

People most often make this mistake when confusing keywords with buzzwords.  There is an important nuance here.

  • Keywords are words that are 1) likely to be used when someone queries your industry and are 2) unlikely to be used when querying something other than your industry.
  • Buzzwords are words that are 1) likely to be used a lot for any given industry but are 2) unlikely to have any real meaning due to being overused and under-explained.

(More about keywords here.)

Compelling Way

Keywords are a great tool for indicating to a search engine what you are all about, but they are probably words that everyone in your industry is using too.  Once a search engine displays your listing you must distinguish yourself from all the rest.  This is done by wording your content in a compelling way.  A string of keywords is not going to do the trick.  You must consider your target audience and think about what will compel them to click on your site rather than the others.  This is a great way to instill confidence and/or curiosity before they ever actually visit your page.

Consider using different approaches and see which one works best.

  • Intrigue you target audience.  "Do you have enough bananas in your diet?"
  • Encourage you target audience.  "Bananas: health food your kids will love to eat!"
  • Educate your target audience.  "One banana contains 422 mg of Potassium and 27 g of Carbohydrates."

(More about being compelling in your Meta Description.)

Clear Message

After a search engine rightly categorizes/displays your website and a potential client has found/click on your website your message has to win them over.  I am a graphic designer, and I think the way your website looks and works is extremely important.  So, please understand the weight I give this concept by even saying the following: It is your message conveyed by your content that is most likely to convert a potential client to an actual client.  Conveying a clear message is probably the best way to establish yourself as the expert.  As well as my clients share my work, as graciously as marketers send me gigs, the number one converter I have is this very blog.  When people read it they know that I know what I'm talking about.

(More about establishing yourself as the expert.)

The Whole Point

The whole point of SEO is not to make sure you show up at the top of every Google query.  The goal of SEO–good SEO–is to convert initial searchers into long-term clients.  To help this become a reality, use the right words (so that a search engine can render your website to your potential clients) in a compelling way (so that potential clients will click your result) to convey a clear message (so that readers will have the confidence to become clients).