By: Bill Giles

How SEO is Like a High School Popularity Contest

September 16, 2015

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It’s mid-September, and across the country, kids and teenagers are going back to school. On their first day back, they get to class, look around, and try to figure out where they fit in this year, asking themselves all of those nerve-wracking questions: Who is watching me? How do I get people to like me? How can I improve my reputation? How am I going to survive here?

Isn’t it great to know that such a stressful time in our lives is over?

… Or is it?SEO-highschool-1

In several ways, digital marketing and SEO are very similar to a high school popularity contest. Some people have been around for a while, and have already established their reputations, while others are just breaking in. Some barely even realize the social games that are going on around them, while others can think of little else.

In certain ways, an incoming Freshman is like a small company that is barely entering the digital marketplace. Just like that Freshman may have a basic reputation from his or her days in middle school, a young company might have a local reputation from a storefront or a small website. But just as high school is completely different from middle school, making the transition from the conventional to the digital marketplace means learning  the ins and outs of a brand new platform—a new social construct that determines whether or not you’re going to have ‘friends.’

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In the SEO world, links are your friends. It’s all about connection, and having the right friends and the right exposure can seriously boost your reputation. Being linked on a popular news site can have just as positive of an impact as getting the popular group to show up at your party. Because with an endorsement like that, suddenly your own perceived worth increases.

Why is this important? Well, because sometimes, it seems like no matter what you do, no one seems to notice you. A new high schooler faced with this kind of unwanted obscurity might decide to bring treats to school—the high school equivalent of pay per click advertising. But while this can certainly help to draw some positive attention, it’s not enough to simply leave it at that. Unless something deeper is being offered, these new friends will eventually move on to the next new kid offering something sweet. Substance and content are what will keep people coming back, and will help solidify a strong reputation that stands the test of time. Remember: You can’t just buy friends, and you can’t just buy domain authority, either.

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This is where it all comes together. You see, your company’s domain authority is a representation of its reputation. Some kids have had their reputations for a long time. They’ve been around and in the limelight enough that, although they’re not ‘popular,’ per se, everyone still recognizes them. Essentially, they have a high domain authority because they’ve been around forever. Some people, on the other hand, have a strong reputation because they’re popular. They have grabbed attention, and now everyone is talking about them. Finally, there are groups like the band or the football team, or perhaps even kids who are part of a big family. Without being around for a long time, or even necessarily being popular, there are just so many people involved that they are bound to get some attention.

Popularity doesn’t just mean the sheer number of friends you have, though. The quality of those friendships plays a big part in building a reputation. In the same vein, simply flooding pages with nofollow links won’t build your SEO rankings. It may seem impressive at first, but it doesn’t actually help to build your reputation.

As you branch out into different areas in high school, talking to people you may not have initially thought to hang out with, you’ll occasionally find interests you didn’t know you had. You may even discover hidden talents. The same sort of thing happens in SEO—sometimes, you’ll start ranking for completely unrelated keywords. When this happens, you can choose to cultivate those areas, or you can decide that it’s not actually an area you want to focus on.

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After you’ve spent all this time building your reputation, of course, you’ll want to keep working to maintain it. Once you have a high domain authority, you aren’t set for life. Just like you need to work to maintain friendships and other social relationships, you have to continue producing good content if you want your authority to keep from from slipping. After all, the higher up the ladder you are, the farther you have to fall, and once you’ve built up your reputation, everyone will start to notice your mistakes. You’ll also want to keep up with the trends and your friends’ interests, which is to say that you need to continue your keyword research. Remember that the ‘cool’ kids don’t stay popular forever. Newer, more interesting people or companies always show up to steal the spotlight.

High school was a rough time for many people, but it was also filled with opportunities to encounter new social situations, find new interests, and discover who you really want to be. The same is true of SEO. As long as you pay close attention, treat people well, and do your homework, you’ll get along just fine.

See you after class!

Written by Bill Giles on September 16, 2015

Bill is a Writer and Content Manager at 97th Floor.

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