Which do you use first when searching for a local shop or service? The Yellow Pages or the White Pages?

It all depends on what you’re searching for, right? If you already know the name of the business, it makes sense to flick to the appropriate ‘white’ page. But if you only know the name of the service ‘yellow’ is the way to go.

This same rule is applied to Google everyday by millions of users across the world, often without a second thought. One might search for “4 wheel drive cars” or “Subaru Legacy”. “Backcountry snowboard packs” or “DaKine”. Maybe even… “web design” or “video services”.

So which approach is typically you? Yellow or white?

Today I came across this post by Seth Godin entitled ‘How to make money with SEO’ – sent to me by my esteemed colleague Doug (thanks for that mate and sorry to steal your thunder). The title did nothing for me so my initial impression was not one of shock and awe, but the first couple of paragraphs certainly got my interest:

There are two ways to use SEO to help your organisation. One is reliable and effective, the other is a glorious crap shoot that usually fails but is wonderful when it works. I’ll start with the second.

The most common way to use search engine optimisation is to find a keyword (like “plumbing”) and do whatever you can to ‘own’ that word on Google. This is Google as the Yellow Pages (with free ads).

The Yellow Pages are terrific for plumbers, because if you need a plumber, that’s where you’re going to look. Buy the biggest ad, be the first listing, you get calls. Google is a revelation because it’s a super Yellow Pages and it’s free! The problem: how to be the first listing, because being the 40th listing is fairly worthless.

Well the obvious answer to that is paying for a sponsored listing. But for this scenario let’s ignore that. So what’s the alternative so the Yellow Pages?

The other way to use SEO is a bit more organic. (Let’s call it the White Pages approach). It involves owning a keyword that you already own. Do a search on ShoeMoney in Google and you’ll find 340,000 matches. Wanna guess who’s first? ShoeMoney. Why is this surprising? After all, he invented the word and he owns the domain.

Someone hears about Jeremy’s site from a friend or from a blog or from some other source. They want to visit his site and they type it into Google. He told me that he gets five times as much traffic from this search term as any other on Google.

The power of this technique is that with determination and patience, you will certainly win. It requires inventing a trademark and then building a business or service or organisation around this trademark that people actually talk about. You want to be able to say to someone, “just type ____ into Google.”

This is the simplest description of the two main SEO strategies I’ve ever come across – hence this post. But let’s draw some parallels in our own industry… Type ‘Snowboards’ into Google and you’ll get 5,450,000 results. Quite a lot really. Now type in ‘Lib Tech’. You’ll see Lib Technologies comes up first, but where were they in the ‘Snowboards’ search? Half way down page 6!

Years of persistence and brand building (plus the help of a particular superstar snowboarder) has put the Lib Tech name near the top of recognised brands in the snowboard marketplace. But I ask you this: What would have happened to them if they had just jammed a web site full with key words like ‘snowboards’ and hope they might reach the top?

Of course, this is somewhat of a moot point as Lib Tech were around before web sites and have been building their brand for years. But you can see the parallels and hopefully this helps you understand the importance of building a brand over time rather than just getting heavy with SEO and Google Adwords.

Take the time to read the rest of Seth’s post. He finishes it off with a nice and simple step-by-step guide for following his ‘White Pages’ approach.