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Overcoming Skepticism; the SEO Secret Agent

Have you ever been told by a stranger that you look like someone they know? Most times it can work in your favor and sometimes it doesn’t. “You look like my neighbors nephew, he was such a nice boy” or ” You look just like a guy my sister dated out of college… he was a jerk“. It took several years to finally understand this simple truth, people identify with the generic and I guess I look generic.

The FBI and the CIA know this simple truth too. They love guys like me. We don’t really stand out. In the real world Pierce Brosnan’s looks would have worked against him and he would have ended up dead or behind a desk. The FBI and the CIA will both study an adversary before going undercover and find the agent that will be the most convincing in that role.

This theory in part goes against some marketing principles, those being we must stand out, we have to get people to notice us in order to succeed in the real world. This might work in the world of brick and mortar, but the online environment is different in many regards.


Fear, Loathing and the Wild Wild Web

The online environment is one in which most people proceed with caution, and they should. We are hesitant to provide our email, our name, or even our opinions when asked. Which is quite the opposite of the physical or the real world. For whatever reason we are conditioned to introduce ourselves when we meet a stranger, “Hi, I am Corey McNeil. What’s your name?“.

We freely give our opinions and advice even when it’s not wanted. We just fall short of providing our date of birth, address and social security number in many cases. We behave this way because we are confident that we can identify where the threats are based on past experiences. We have an idea in our head what a wanted fugitive looks like.

And so we may consider;

  • How is it then we behave so different online? Because we know there are real threats online that we might not be able to pick up on as easily. There are thieves, scammers, spammers, charlatans and snake oil salesman lurking behind each click. We have to worry about identity theft, computer viruses and SPAM. We are subconsciously constantly making hundreds of risk assessments of the virtual landscape each instant just waiting to hit the back button, and if you’re not you should be. I even have what I call my SPAM email account (my hotmail) that I use solely for the purpose to test the waters if an offer for a “free white paper” is too good to pass up.
  • How then would you take a page right out of the FBI training manual and use it to increase trust and conversions? There is a Buddhist quote that sums it up well, “Be that which you seek”. The closer you can reach the overall average (expectation) of the user, the closer you will be in giving your user that trust they seek. This is not to be confused in saying that you must build a plain Jane website. It is strongly suggesting that you know who you are attempting to reach and understand what their mental image is of that person, profile or business. The task then would be to then come as close to matching that perception as possible.

Here is a simple example. If you were to run an ad on Craigslist for a painter and someone was to reply to the ad with the right price, experience and you were pretty sure they were a credible professional , you would probably award them the contract. Now if that painter was to show up to your home driving a beautiful 2011 Corvette wearing a very expensive two piece suit.

You might be impressed, but your mind would have to find answers to new questions as they arise. If the painter was get out of the car and introduce himself you would be thinking that this guy was the owner of an obviously successful painting business, but again you would note things are exactly right.

SEO Agents R Coming for you

Your mind would look to solve the inappropriate links that are beginning to pop up. “Maybe his guys will be here in a little bit and he is going to get them lined out” or you might think to yourself “Maybe he has an important appointment that he is either on his way to or from and is just stopping by for a minute“.

These thoughts and others might run through your mind. Now what if the painter was to go to the Corvette and pop the back window and pull out his brushes, paint etc.?

Time to become an SEO super sleuth

We cannot afford to develop distrust at any point of our users experience. To help overcome this threat, begin a little recon surveillance homework. You’re not searching out keyword variations etc. at this point.

  • Look at the competition to see if you can determine an overall average look, feel and pattern.
  • Have a large enough data set. Look at the first 24 results at least in the SERPs.
  • Take note of things such as page layout, color tones, and overall site architecture.
  • Look at your clients existing site (if they have one) and compare to the overall average
  • Don’t forget to look for ways you can improve on the competitors designs
  • Look for ways you can reduce code if possible-lighten the load for a speedy get away 😉
  • Look to see what types of calls to action competitors are using*
  • Looks to see what gimmicks or giveaways competitors are using*

*Secret Agent Tip: Take a look at competitors URLS and see if they are running any ads using something like SpyFu or KeywordSpy. Even with the free versions you can do this. There are usually tons of calls to actions, promos, and gimmicks found in them. If you find an ad that has a long running history and the competitor does not change it a lot especially for high PPC keywords then pay extra attention.

SEO Scret Agent Man

As search professionals we need to understand the keywords we expect a user to use and all the other on-page & off-page elements, but having a clear image of what the user will expect to find once they get there will greatly aid in earning trust. It is important to remember that before a user will ever convert to any “goal” we have set, we must earn their trust.………..this message will now self destruct in three, two, one.




  1. Doc Sheldon October 18, 2010

    Great article,Corey!

    I think too often, we tend to forget the trust aspect, by focusing too much on relevancy and marketing techniques. I think the first successful salesman in history probably realized that establishing a level of trust was his most important tool.

  2. Barry October 19, 2010

    I want one of those SEO Special Agent ID cards… 😉

  3. Charity October 19, 2010

    Barry, I was just thinking that! What an awesome article. When speaking with a new client today we had the Sherlock Holmes discussion, glad to see others thinking in same.

Comments are closed.

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