April 21, 2014

Sesame Seeds and SEO

Posted on 16. Jan, 2012 by in Search Engine Journal

“Why are our hamburgers square? Because we don’t cut corners.”
– Dave Thomas

A long time ago I did an article on my personal blog comparing airline cuts to the fast food industry. I accused them of using something I call sesame seed economics. Three years later I’m still seeing that type of thought process used not only by the airlines but by fellow SEOs as well.

Sesame seed economics is more of a cautionary tale than proper economic theory, but it’s one that should be heeded by anybody making website decisions in an organization. I can’t remember where I first heard this analogy, but the story goes like this:

Every few years your local fast food chain hires a new MBA fresh out of college and tasks him with cutting costs. After several brainstorming sessions he comes up with a great idea. “If we only reduce the number of sesame seeds on our buns by 5% we could save a ton of money. It wouldn’t noticeably effect the quality of our product and hardly any of our customers would even realize it,” he says. It’s so brilliant and obvious that everybody buys in and the restaurant starts making similar changes. It works so well that the next year they cut the sesame seeds by another 5%. Fast forward a few years and suddenly the fast food chain is serving hamburgers on plain buns and nobody remembers when or why that changed but suddenly their quality scores aren’t what they used to be.

The airlines have certainly done their share of sesame seed cutting, but so have many of us on our SEO efforts. How many of the following sentences have you heard at one time or another?

“It’s only a small section of this page that’s in this iframe – it won’t matter.”

“Those terms only accounted for 3% of our search traffic, I guess it won’t hurt if they live in that ajax widget.”

“Who visits a site on their phone? We can use flash, we’re not alienating anybody.”

“Everybody uses IE – who cares if it loads in other browsers?”

“Page speed? It’s only a minor ranking factor.”

“Google’s not currently looking at social media, so why would we waste our efforts there?”

“Validation doesn’t matter – that much, just make sure it looks good.”

Sure none of these things will have much of an impact on your site by themselves, but when you add them all up you can quickly find yourself scratching your head wondering where all your traffic went. It’s really easy to give in to developers, IAs, and graphic designers – especially over things that seem minuscule at the time. Sometimes as SEOs we can get caught up in the big picture and lose focus of all the little things that can make our lives so much easier. Don’t be so quick to discredit the little things, because even the smallest seemingly inconsequential ones can be extremely powerful en masse – just ask Leiningen.

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