July 6, 2012
It’s hot out. I mean freaking hot. The kind of hot that burns away your energy, scorches your will, insists that even the slightest movement is accompanied by buckets of sweat, sweat that doesn’t evaporate but just sits there simmering on your skin and providing zero relief. The kind of hot that forces an instinctual, lizard-brained search for shelter. Were there a rock I could climb under, I would.
Typically the dog days of summer wait until late July and early August. Not this year. Dog days have plagued the world since recorded history. Romans used to sacrifice dogs to appease the rage of Sirius, the dog star, thought to be the cause of this punishing heat. Indeed, during the dog days “the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.” (Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, 1813, cited in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_Days)
Aaaaaaaand here comes the analogy: you know how you begin an SEO campaign, do the “heavy lifting” and initially optimize a site? You learn what your client’s hoping to achieve, what they want their site to do for them, and what it’s not doing now. You dig deeply into the code to identify and eliminate impediments to the search engines. You diligently research your client’s competitors and overall online landscape. You perform intensive keyword research and discover who’s looking for what your client offers and how they’re looking for it. You reach the point where you understand where your client’s site needs to be and what you can do to get it there. And you do it, in a flurry of updates, deliverables, education sessions, diplomacy, negotiations, and hard work. Etc. If all goes well, you’ve completed an initial critical mass of SEO that you present to the engines for their approval. And you wait.
And it pays off. Within a few weeks you see your work take hold. Organic traffic increases. More people are finding the site using more terms. Even better, more visitors are becoming your client’s clients. Conversions increase. The results are, at times, radical. Akin to the few weeks in spring when the entire landscape changes from brown to green, from fallow to lush (I know, but I’m kind of doing a thing, here).
Then, the inevitable plateau. The seeming stasis. The dog days.
Results become less dramatic. Double or triple-digit percentage year-over-year and month-over-month increases in traffic level off to the single digits. Successes are incremental, and your work yields comparatively less impact. Your client, initially elated, becomes less impressed. You begin to doubt yourself, question your abilities, your methods, the initial strategy.
This, my friends, is where the real work begins. THIS is SEO. And it’s necessary. It’s when both you and your client need to dig in for the long haul. Now’s not the time to crawl under a rock, to escape the heat; now’s when you need to wrap a rag around your head to stem the rivers of sweat, drink lots of water, and get to freaking work.
The dog days are a blessing. They’re when you learn how your client’s site exists in its digital ecosystem. You’ll begin to better understand their business, their industry and its seasons. You’ll find competitors have taken note of what you’ve done and are making their own push for the top results, and you’ll revise your game plan to take that into account. You’ll reinforce and deepen your relationship with your client as you expand upon your initial strategy. You’ll dig deeply into analytics, identify successes and failures, capitalizing upon the former while addressing and reversing the latter. The bells and whistles are silent, the groundbreaking ceremony is a distant memory – you’ve built the foundation, but now’s when you’re actually building the structure.
So, when the dog days hit, don’t crawl under a rock and wait for them to pass. Don’t become “hysterical or phrensied.” Don’t despair, because this is when you’ll do the best work of your career. Once you’ve learned to live through, and even thrive during, the dog days of SEO, you’re golden, man. And the oasis, this time, is real.