What '70s TV Taught Me About SEM

  |  September 17, 2008   |  Comments

Who knew that sitcoms could offer prescient SEM education?

I've reviewed books, read white papers, filled up my feed reader with enough RSS to build a Really Simple Skyscraper. But I'm quickly learning that pre-Web popular culture offers parables and lessons that translate smoothly to SEM (define). With advance apologies to Sherwood Schwartz and other icons of behind-the-scenes TV from the late '60s and early '70s, sit back and enjoy some search engine wisdom, complete with predictable laugh track.

Incoming Wounded!

Watching "MASH," I learned about triage, the ominous process of classifying wounded soldiers by how badly they were injured and the consequential timeframe in which they needed to be treated. Typically they ended up in one of three categories: too far gone to worry about, have a chance of surviving if they're treated immediately, or only moderately injured and can wait in line behind some of the more critical cases.

A thorough site analysis requires similar classifications of site issues: Doorway pages that never worked in the first place and need to be put out to pasture. Redirects that must be addressed immediately. Soft 404s (define) that can wait until November's relaunch.

Similarly, even when you perform the operation flawlessly, your patient sometimes flounders in post-op for awhile and you just can't figure out why she's not back on her feet. With enough operations under your belt, you typically see things improve soon. Just hope that you got all the shrapnel this time and don't need to go back in.

Rockery Hudpeck?

One time on "Gilligan's Island," Gilligan briefly gained the ability to read minds. I can't remember whether this was going to help the castaways get off the island, but he turned it into a pretty nifty parlor trick for about 24 minutes.

In describing Ginger's thoughts, Gilligan claimed she was thinking of "Rockery Hudpeck." No one understood, but Ginger said Gilligan was right; she couldn't decide whether to think about Rock Hudson or Gregory Peck, so she thought about both of them.

In researching user behavior, we often don't understand why users search the way they do. A startlingly large number of people go to Google to search for Yahoo. If that's not odd enough, half that number goes to Google to search for Google. I don't understand it, but I don't have to. Search behavior is what it is. The moral of the story is to not let pride and vanity dictate your keyword strategy. Trust the research instead.

Mom Always Says Not to Play Ball in the House

If only the Brady boys had listened to Carol, they wouldn't have broken her favorite vase with a carelessly tossed basketball. They knew there was a place to play, and inside wasn't it.

Likewise, be very conscious of the weight of your recommendations. If you're unsure of the ramifications, take precautions by testing significant changes on smaller parts of your site first. (Sort of how you're supposed to test stain remover on an out-of-the-way portion of your carpet.)

In addition, work around the seasonal demand of your content, so any potential bad effects will be minimized in a low-traffic period.

Take a lesson from "The Brady Bunch": if you rip things up too recklessly, it'll take a lot more than glue to fix the vase, and Dad's going to be ticked.

If Only a Wiggling Nose Could Fix It

I always found "Bewitched" to be one of the more depressing and misogynist sitcoms of its period. Still, I'm ashamed to say I tuned in hoping for a guest appearance by Paul Lynde. The chaos of Larry Tate being miniaturized by Endora (or pick your own random emergency) frequently sent Darren to the bottle of Scotch on the tray near the door. Who could blame him? Witches, warlocks, and fuddy-duddy mortals all stood around screaming about whose fault it was and who was going to fix it.

And so it is when art, marketing, IT, and legal get in the same room to discuss the SEO (define) recommendations you've made. The only difference is that in real life, your problems don't end after 30 minutes with a kiss and scenes from next week's show. This is real.


From this column, you can deduce one of two things: either I watched way too much television as a kid, or work has infiltrated my gray matter with the ferocity of MSNBot. Either way, roll credits.

Join us for SES Search Engine Marketing Training Day, September 26 at the Fairmont Dallas.

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Erik Dafforn

Erik Dafforn is the executive vice president of Intrapromote LLC, an SEO firm headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Erik manages SEO campaigns for clients ranging from tiny to enormous and edits Intrapromote's blog, SEO Speedwagon. Prior to joining Intrapromote in 1999, Erik worked as a freelance writer and editor. He also worked in-house as a development editor for Macmillan and IDG Books. Erik has a Bachelor's degree in English from Wabash College. Follow Erik and Intrapromote on Twitter.

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