In his second Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of the Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle presents an interesting dichotomy between facts and romance in a chapter entitled "The Science of Detection". Holmes is critiquing Dr. Watson, his would-be biographer, on his first installment. "Detection is, or should be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism ..."
"But the romance was there," responded the good Dr. Watson. "I could not tamper with the facts."
To some, SEO seems like the same cold and unemotional science of detection where, instead of finding clues, one leaves them. Tasks A, B and C will yield result X, Y and Z. This is, at very best, only SEO in part. Truthfully, if SEO is a science it is best likened to sociology: the study of human social behavior. It's the study of romance itself.
Detection Can Only Get You So Far
Don't get me wrong. We all want search engines to know who and where we are. There are certainly plenty of facts about our sites that we want Google to detect. It is even in our best interest to leave good clues that clearly point to those facts. However, if SEO stopped there, we would be left with an impossible directory of seemingly endless options. SEO has to go beyond detection because mere detection does not indicate relevance, interest, popularity or appropriateness. Detection can recognize that Waffle House and Thumbs Up Diner are both breakfast joints, but it takes a bit of romance to know which one will be attractive to what target audience. It takes romance to know which restaurant is most relevant to what search query.
Flirt With Your Audience
I've never been the most attractive or manly guy in the room. However, I've never had any trouble talking to girls. (This is back before I met my wife, of course.) What I lacked in the ability to impress, I tried to make up for in the ability to engage. The jocks would stand in the doorway and flex while I mingled around the room and flirted. In the same way, your website needs to engage your target audience. It has to flirt with them!
- Be confident. No one is going to come up and start talking to you. They are too busy staring at the jocks. So, go up and start talking to your target audience where they are. Sometimes that will mean social media like Google+, LinkedIn or Facebook. Sometimes that will mean submitting editorials to news outlets. Sometimes it will simply mean keeping your blog posts up to date. Whatever that means, you have to be confident enough to start the conversation. You are the expert; let people know.
- Be smart. Education is sales! Don't just inform your target audience; educate them. Teach them what they need to know about the industry. Teach them what they need to know about their own needs. This is an important step that many businesses fail to utilize. They spend so much time talking about sales and events and don't educate their clientele on anything. Going back to our flirting analogy, let me say this. Perhaps no one likes the smartest kid in the class, but they all goto him for help with math.
- Be funny. This is perhaps the most important step (both with flirting and with SEO). When you engage someone, you aren't just talking at them; you are talking with them. You are encouraging responses, evoking emotions and provoking a sense of joy. None of that comes naturally if you are stupid, self-absorbed or ... boring. Be funny, make quips, use anecdotes, add pictures, come up with analogies and help your visitors have a good time. By the end of the evening, you might make a new friend.
In Other Words
What it comes down to is this: Search engines want to find the site with the most relevance and charisma. That is more than the study of detection; it's the study of romance. So, don't just leave a trail of clues. Flirt with your audience. It's the only way to get the girl.