It's fitting, then, to share an epiphany reached on a gray, wintry morning in suburbia that applies every bit as much to search as it does to life.
Search engine optimization has often been shrouded in mystery, the secret science of search. It's all the more mysterious to the end user. At a recent holiday dinner party, while talking with a lively bunch whose professions span architecture, hospitality, and medicine, they were truly amazed by what happens when looking up their own names in search engines.
The often cutthroat competition for heavily-searched commercial terms mercifully eludes them. Bless the children; Santa Search Engine exists for them, and if they're good boys and girls, it will magically deliver them just what they want - provided they feel lucky. Is that not bliss?
On the flipside, the mentality of the cut-throat competitors can be found everywhere without looking too hard.
Consider this anecdote of a lass I knew who, after a dreamlike three-year relationship where most of her wishes were fulfilled before she wished them, called off an engagement eight months after accepting the ring. The poor girl wasn't ready for marriage and feared the lad, deemed by her the best in all the land, perchance wasn't right for her. The poorer lad never saw it coming, and the entire relationship vanished faster than Santa flying off into the night.
So what happened?
It was as if the lass transposed her relationship on a search engine for a round of Life Engine Optimization, or LEO. She typed in "looks out for me." Oh, impressive first page results. "Cooks." Three-course dinners - it's a number one ranking. "Financial security." He's not a doctor or lawyer, so she has some concerns, despite his success and career potential. He comes up somewhere on page two, though that's pretty impressive, considering where he ranked years before and what her expectations were then. Then she typed in "treats me right." Again, first page, top listing.
Ultimately, the problem was when she searched for a thousand terms, and she plugged those thousand terms into different engines, she neglected to maintain a realistic set of expectations. The lass went into it thinking that if the lad didn't rank at the top of page one for every result on each engine, then something was horribly wrong. Instead of giving the lad a chance to climb the rankings where he fell short, for her, it was just as well to remove him from the index. She cleared the cache.
Ultimately, after a few more rounds of LEO, the lass will be fated to enter fewer search terms, or stick with one engine, or, if she's more honest with herself, she'll accept that no one ranks first for everything. If he does, he's probably cloaking, and delisting is inevitable.
The lass shares a similar mindset to some business professionals I've met. Perhaps you've met someone like this too.
Consider the brand manager who at first approaches a search engine and looks up the brand, which, for any company with a dedicated brand manager, should ideally rank No. 1. Then the manager searches for the flagship product, and again, expectations are met. For the next few hours, the manager skips lunch and cancels appointments just to search for every term remotely connected to the brand, the company, the executive team, and the chief executive's pets. Though tired and disappointed, she at first channels her frustrations wisely.
Knowing she doesn't have the team ready in-house to meet her goals for better visibility within search engines, she seeks outside assistance. She interviews a number of candidates and, after a lengthy but worthwhile process, finds one who speaks to the heart of her brand. She's in love.
A year later, her return on investment is through the roof. Thanks to the partnership, the percentage of her company's orders placed via the Internet has doubled. She receives a handsome share of the bonus pool during the holidays. Any levelheaded person looking at the situation from afar would think, "That is a match made in heaven."
And it is.
But it's work. And it takes an ongoing commitment to keep setting the bar higher. Then one day, she searches for a popular product and her brand ranks midway down on page one. She searches for something else, and her brand's on page two - still impressive, given how it was before. Before long, she's conducted enough searches that even though the underwhelming results can be considered statistical outliers, she's not happy.
What does she do? She ends the relationship entirely, deciding she must be strong. As sales dip and her clock ticks, she searches for someone else and picks one who's good at what he does, but he doesn't speak to her brand like her previous love. She ultimately develops realistic expectations so the relationship stays intact, but it pains her to think of the true love she threw away.
By all means, the brand manager needs to have lofty goals. She should never settle. But she needs to look at what she has, how far she's come, and how much more she can do.
Any other path isn't merely unfair to all parties; it's self-defeating.
If you find favorable results with a vendor or partner, it's sometimes surprising how maintaining that long-term commitment requires work on both ends. For strong results perpetually, that's the most realistic expectation to have.
May all your search engine optimization and life engine optimization goals be surpassed. Keep setting the bar higher. And every now and then, take a few minutes for a deep breath or a glass of wine or a walk through the park as you appreciate how far you've come, and how thrilling it will be to have something more to strive for.