I Often Dream of SEO*

I have always dreamed about my jobs. Most of these dreams are incredibly stressful: back in my glory days, when during one kickass summer I held a series of (maybe seven) dish washing jobs, I would have dreams that contained no visuals. They were pitch-black, and populated only by the clinking of cheap dishware. I’d wake up feeling anxious and ripped off.

I still have dreams about working in a bookstore: we have new cash registers, and I can’t figure out how to enter the ISBN (International Standard Book Number – it’s by the UPC code, typically, and please, for the love of everything holy, don’t call it an “ISBN number.” That’s like “ATM machine,” or “SEO optimization.” Quit it.) to ring up a book. Meanwhile, the line grows. The people waiting in line become more irritated. Maybe I’m wearing pants, but maybe not. I wake up, feeling inadequate and, yes, ripped off.

I’ve considered billing my former employers, but as of yet haven’t found a tenable solution for compensation.

Which brings me to the present day, and, yes, I often dream of SEO. However, SEO presenting a less immediately tangible challenge than, say, a stack of horrifyingly dirty plates. The SEO-related dreams are considerably more esoteric. Often I’m constructing important elements of what is ostensibly a web page from something concrete. Structures are being built, and if they’re built right, and according to the rules, people will like these structures. People will find out about them, and people will visit. But there’s always a nagging “what if we do all this, and nobody comes?” Like if you built the pyramids on the bottom of the ocean.

“Dreams schmeams,” is what you’re saying. Further, some of you are maybe saying “who cares?” Thinking “what’s the freaking point?” “When is this guy going to say something?!?!?!” Etc.

OK, I’m not 100% on this (I’m no Sigmund Freud here), but it could be that while SEO is a matter of putting the proper elements in the proper order – helping people with websites understand that there is a way things work – there’s also an intangible element. But you can’t say it’s intangible, because the “liking” and the “finding out” largely occur due to the workings of incredibly complicated algorithms that, while supposedly objective, do account, mathematically, for elements that are based on subjective responses to page layout, where a certain button is placed, the color of your logo, etc. There are objective ways to analyze the subjective response so that your design maximizes the possibility that said response will follow the purpose of the web site, and the visitor will be far more likely to buy what you’re selling. But there’s still, at the core, a subjectivity.

SEO works with design and mechanics to address the needs of the algorithm, which is addressing the needs of the visitor. But we’re still at the point of trying to take part in an in-depth conversation with a robot. How can this machine give me what I need unless it truly understands what it’s like to be made of meat and goop and electricity? If the robot’s never had a sunburn, how can we ever talk about the beach?

“Holy crap! Is this guy ever going to get to the point?”

I don’t know, man. What I do know is this: there’s always a challenge with advertising (which is what this is all about), and that challenge leads to spectacular failures built by people who were completely convinced they knew exactly what people were looking for. They’d read the Zeitgeist, and there was no way their idea could fail, and yet why is nobody buying chili-ranch-mint cheesepuffs? We got the numbers, right here! People love chili! People love ranch dressing! Etc.!

Here’s where this is going. We are being given unprecedented access to the conversation. Via Twitter. Via blogs. Via Facebook. Via etc. Via tools we’ve never heard of that will, within nine months, become commonplace and will, within a year and a half, become verbs. Every day we’re getting closer to the point of The Cluetrain Manifesto’s thesis number 7: Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. The people have spoken, are speaking, will continue to speak, and if you want your brand to succeed you absolutely have to not only listen, but communicate. And not like a company, but like an actual participant.

And from now on my work dreams are doomed to remain indefinite, cloudy (so to speak).

It’s cool, though, cause I’m on salary.

*With apologies to Robyn Hitchcock.