‘Ethics’ and ‘trust’ are driving readers to my blog. There’s an SEO lesson here, I just know it!

I’ve come to a fork in the road in my blogging life. Should I optimize this site, or should I just focus on content and let growth come organically?

When you come to a fork in the road, blog about it!

Why ask this 3.5 years into the game? Check out the Top 4 search terms that brought people to ToughSledding in the past 12 months:

“fork in the road”  (2,179) Say what? OK. It illustrates the power of well-known sayings and adages to drive search traffic. So maybe my SEO strategy should include posts filled with cliches and hackneyed phrases. I used “fork in the road” only once, when citing the wit and wisdom of Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

It’s a safe bet that no one who found me via “fork in the road” was remotely interested in PR. So I guess the experts are right: Page visits don’t mean much.

trust  (1,533) This one is gratifying. After all, trust is the foundation of every relationship, and relationships are the foundation of effective public relations. But once again, most people who Google a term as general as “trust” probably aren’t looking for me or for a blog about PR. On the plus side, it tells me that I’m stressing a theme central to my teaching and the business.

ethics  (1,473) Yeah. I’m smilin’ again, but what does it really mean? Without ethical behavior, it’s tough to build any sort of meaningful public relations program. We all know this, and I talk about it all the time. But “ethics” is a pretty abstract search term, and most who use it probably aren’t seeking enlightened conversation about PR. 

tough sledding or toughsledding (760) No surprise here. But you have to wonder: Did people enter those words hoping to finding this blog, or were they researching the American idiom that means “difficult work.” I’d love to know, as I’m planning to shift to my own URL real soon. Should I use “toughsledding.com” or “billsledzik.com”? (I own both, and really would LOVE to hear your thoughts.)

For what it’s worth, the search term “bill sledzik” was used 209 times in the past year. I’m pretty sure those folks were lookin’ for me, as I think I’m the only one on the planet.


What to do about SEO? I’ve never been comfortable with the concept of SEO. It’s like having a wizard behind the curtain who’s trying to manipulate reality. But it’s clear that I would benefit from an SEO strategy. I wonder about the PR practitioners and students I didn’t reach because I never studied their info-seeking habits. I know SEO can be done ethically, and I know people who can advise me on this topic.

On the other hand, I don’t use this blog to market anything, so does it really matter? And I worry that once I know the magic search terms I’ll begin to select words, maybe even topics, solely for their potential to drive the stats. There’s nothing authentic about that. Nothing at all.

Still, I feel negligent that I’ve left my search traffic entirely to chance. To cite another overused saying: Hope is not a strategy.

So today I stand at a fork in the road. I wonder what Yogi Berra would do.

22 Responses to ‘Ethics’ and ‘trust’ are driving readers to my blog. There’s an SEO lesson here, I just know it!

  1. Janelle says:

    Hi Bill,

    I would use toughsledding.com and put a redirect on billsledzik.com so that if people end up there (for whatever reason) they are automatically redirected to toughsledding.com.

    I really enjoy your blog so thank you.


    • Bill Sledzik says:

      That was my initial thinking, Janelle, so I appreciate the confirmation. In truth, I’m not sure “billsledzik.com” has much value, but I sure didn’t want someone else to get hold of it. Have heard too many horror stories.

    • Devin Wilber says:

      Very nice post. I think the SEO questions you’ve raised are some of the most valuable questions some marketers, web developers, and writers need to be asking.

  2. Arik Hanson says:

    I’m no SEO expert (contact @leeodden or @adamsinger for the real dirt), but I will say I do think it’s important. Here’s why. I know you’re not trying to market your blog. But I, like many others, find your posts very insightful and helpful. And they always get me thinking. I’m sure others would benefit by reading your posts, too. But, they have to find you, first. Sometimes that happens via word of mouth on Twitter. Other times it might happen through search. I think you have to account for both.

    I won’t give you any advice on the domain situation, but I will say your post titles play a key role in what pops on that first page of Google (sure you probably already know this). I tend to gravitate toward the content side of SEO and get tips from experts like Lee and Adam on the more technical SEO side of things.

    Just wanted to share my thoughts.


  3. Jason Falls says:

    One of my top keyword phrases is “how to piss people off.” Perhaps I’m of a different ilk, but that makes me smile, too. Heh.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Not sure how I missed your comment yesterday, J. Glad you dropped in. As for pissin’people off, I’m trying to cut back on that. I mean, they all know where I live!

  4. Dawn Gilpin says:

    I’m not sure how much individual words can tell you; search phrases are a more meaningful indicator. But I also don’t think that organic growth and (ethical) SEO are at all in conflict: you can write whatever you please, while still being mindful of the best ways to reach the people who are truly looking for the kind of content you provide. I see this kind of SEO as very much in tune with PR, since knowing how to connect with stakeholders is the heart of our professional expertise.

    I recommend @vanessafox and her blog at ninebyblue.com.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      I appreciate that tip on Vanessa, Dawn. While I have a solid understanding of SEO, it’s still shallow, even when compared to my own colleagues. Your point is a good one. If you’re serving the audience you intend to serve, should you not be using those key words and phrases as a matter of course?

      Now to find out exactly what those phrase are. Enter the research phase!

  5. Kami Huyse says:

    There is a pretty good WordPress plugin for SEO called “All in One SEO Pack.” This gives you the tools but not the words.

    You might want to also think of your posts as mini landing pages and try to comprehensively cover topics that your intended audience/community would find interesting enough to search.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Thanks, Kami. I ran your blog numbers against mine on compete.com the other night — one of my many insecuities :). Rest assured that I’m gonna listen to your advice on this one as I make the shift to the KSU server and to WP.org.

      As for covering topics comprehensively? That sounds like a more work than I’m willing to undertake, since this blog is still pretty much still a hobby. Your posts support tangible business by boosting your professional creds, so the ROI there is pretty evident. In my case, not so much.

      In my fantasy world, I have 4 graduate assistants helping me research those posts! Don’t I wish.

      Thanks for the feedback. Hope to see you again IRL soon. I’ll let you know how the SEO pack goes.

  6. Sean Hecking says:

    Hi Bill,

    Very interesting thoughts here on SEO. There are definitely lots of SEOs out there trying to game the system and use shady tactics to drive traffic. Much of what they do is in place of creating a good user experience and adding valuable articles and content to the sites they promote. Ethical, or “white hat” SEO is just another name for creating a great website that’s easy to navigate with lots of helpful content people will want to share with their friends (link to).

    Part of SEO is knowing how your most valuable readers/visitors get to your site and making changes to attract the right searches. Match up your keywords with engagement levels like time on site and page views. This can help measure the level of engagement on your site. If you switch domains, make sure you look into redirects for SEO. You wouldn’t want to lose all the linking value from your current site.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Thanks, for the input, Sean. Now it’s time for me to do something about it.

      I see a parallel between SEO and PR. The reputations of both specialties suffer because so many charlatans claim to offer the services. These “white hat” SEO practitioners, like their counterparts in PR, work hard to keep it honest. And some of us even blog about it.

      But I’m not sure we’ll ever shake the curse, even if we all wear white hats. Sadly, the barriers to entry for both fields are pretty much nonexistent.

  7. After a while, what’s in a name? But who is reading your blog & why, is what matters. Who do you want to read it…. does that matter?

    I haven’t ever read your blog before today but was intrigued by this tweet from @chuckhemann: always enjoy posts from @BillSledzik. Thought provoking questions + an appropriate level of snark = awesome. http://bit.ly/9gGBxO
    I think it was the phrase “appropriate level of snark” that grabbed me.

    Do you want people to someday say, “Let’s Toughsled it” a la “google it”? If so, that’s your answer. If you want to be known as YOU…. then go for billsledzik.com.

    I’ve got KaseyCrabtree.com (free ad!) to promote me & also because I am job hunting… (hint to all readers)
    How I got here may have been roundabout, but I like your content, so I’m toughsleding you onto my google reader….

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      I’m chuckling about this, Kasey. If I could ever turn “sledzik” into a verb, my Polish cousins would be asking what all this has to do with “little herring” (the literal translation of my name).

      What attracts me to “toughsledding” is that it’s memorable, and most people can spell it. In retrospect, it was the wrong name for a blog about PR. Had I been practicing what I preach back in 2006, I would have written a PR plan before launching the blog. And it would have had a very different name.

  8. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by BillSledzik: To SEO or not to SEO? One blogger’s ethical dilemma. Can you help? http://bit.ly/9gGBxO (New blog post)…

  9. LPT says:

    Really liked this post Bill because you expressed many feelings I share in regards to my own blog. I started it not to promote myself, but because
    1) sometimes I wanted to express myself in more than 140 characters, and 2) my career had taken me far away from my journalism degree and I wanted to keep my writing in practice.

    Most of my traffic comes from Twitter, but I do also keep an eye on organic search traffic – mostly out of curiosity. Terms that bring people to my site vary all the time (this week the top one was “technology make us fat”), but one that consistently stays in the top 10 is the name of a friend of mine that I wrote about after she passed away last year.

    Her name not only brings many new visitors to my blog, but those visitors also consistently rank high on the average time they spend on the site. Probably because they read the entire post about her, while those who came recently searching “map of Italy” spent an average of 00:00:00 on the site because there are many better maps of Italy around than the one I once used as illustration for a post about a vacation.

    Does that make friends and family of Kim Freitag my most valuable readers/visitors that Sean mentions? Who are the people that Arik alludes to who would benefit from my varied ramblings?

    Just thinking about those things starts to turn my blog into work, though, and I don’t want it to be work. So, I guess I’ll just continue letting whatever happens happen with it; but, this was a good thinking exercise anyway.


  10. Bill Sledzik says:

    I’ve fought to keep the blog as hobby, too, Laura. But since I write about the business I once worked in and the field I teach it, the blog creeps into my “real life” all the time. When I talked to my colleagues about shutting down the site (it’s a killer on my personal time), they insisted TS was part of the “PRKent” brand now. And I’m afraid they’re right.

    So…if I’m gonna hang around, I should probably optimize in “white hat” fashion and try to reach those who care about the topic. I also must move to a platform that offers me a wider range of analytics. But I also fear the more I crank it up, the more I’ll raise expectations. Who needs that kinda pressure, eh? Jason Falls, maybe 🙂

    Here’s hoping you and Chuck have arranged to meet up when he arrives in Austin next month. He’ll need someone to tell hill were to get snakeskin boots and one of those dumb ole hats!

    • LPT says:

      I know Richard and Armano are planning a repeat of last year’s “All Hat” event (http://www.davidleeking.com/2009/03/16/allhat-no-cattle-a-tweetup-at-sxsw/) so let Chuck know to watch for deets and join in the fun!

      • Bill Sledzik says:

        Boy, am I confused. I thought my pal Chuck Hemann had commented above, but it was the previous post. Chuck is joining WCG in Austin next month. If you don’t know Chuck, catch him @chuckhemmann. But I’d be surprised if you’ve not crossed paths online. The dude is everywhere.

    • Bob P says:

      I give a lot of lectures about sustainbility and trying to convince business leaders to do things differently. I would like to use your fork in the road picture for selected talks. May I do that and give you credit as the source? I am a non-profit working to enable green chemistry around the world. Thanks for your consideration. Bob

  11. Chuck Hemann says:

    LPT/Bill – thanks for the shouts. I’ll watch for the details. Excited to hit Austin.

  12. @collentine says:

    though sledding is the name you worked up for the blog and should definitely be kept. A suggestion is including Bill Sledzik in the “sub-title” to enable searching for that as well.

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