What Is The Key To Effective SEO Elevator Pitches?

At the recent SMX conference, I was in the conference hotel elevator, and a fellow rider asked me what I did for a living. My answer? I told him that it is hard to explain what I do. So drew him a quick diagram, as follows:

Diagram of SEO merges user-centered design (UCD) and technology-centered design.

Search engine optimization (SEO) merges user-centered design (UCD) and technology-centered design. Image created by Omni Marketing Interactive, used with permission.

I then told him that I am a Web developer who makes website content easier to find via the commercial Web search engines, like in the green part of this diagram.

However, as you can see in this diagram, I don’t design for search engines only. I also understand what people search for, and what they expect to see on webpages after they click on a link from Google, Yahoo, or Bing.

That is quite a mouthful (and an eyeful), isn’t it?

As hard as I try, I just can’t seem to explain search engine optimization easily on an elevator, at least not without a diagram.

Nevertheless, I have used this diagram for quite some time now, to explain what it is that I do for my client websites.

The Perceived Definition of Search Engine Optimization

Many people have preconceived ideas about SEO, and I try to surface those preconceptions with a short quiz question:

True or false: A search-engine friendly website is a website that is written, designed, architected, and programmed for primarily for top search engine positions.

I have presented this question at the beginning of my Search-Engine Friendly Web Design session at search engine conferences worldwide since1999. I pose this question to understand the audience’s mindset.

Are they there to understand purely how to make sites rank, or do they really want to learn many of the “it depends” that are involved with the optimization process?

Recently, I realized that part of my problem is how many of my colleagues and I have defined search engine optimization over the years. Even in my own book, When Search Meets Web Usability, I realized that I left out searchers in my own definition:

Search engine optimization is the process of designing, writing, coding (in HTML), scripting, and programming an entire website so that there is a good chance that web-page listings will appear in web search results for selected keywords.

From Thurow, S. and Musica, N. (2009). When Search Meets Web Usability. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, p. 5.

For all of my harping-and-hemming-and-hawing about users for many years, you’d think that I’d include searchers and user-centered design (UCD) in my definition. But I didn’t.

Perhaps that is the reason why so many people misunderstand search engine optimization. We unknowingly take the searcher out of SEO.

User-Centered Design Is Not SEO

For years, many SEO professionals have touted that user-centered design is naturally search-engine friendly.

But as my noteworthy colleague Danny Sullivan has pointed out to me for many years, a perfectly user-friendly website just might not be accessible to the commercial Web search engines. There is still plenty of great in the “invisible Web” that isn’t accessible to both searchers and search engines.

Danny is right. SEO helps to alleviate that problem by providing accessibility and limiting duplicate content delivery.

Technology-Centered Design Is Also Not SEO

One of my biggest beefs with the SEO industry is that “advanced SEO” has come to mean technical SEO. When in reality, copywriters, information architects, usability professionals, and link developers have plenty of “advanced” SEO skills, some skills that technical SEOs might not possess.

Additionally, if you look at this slightly updated diagram, I often find that a great number of search engine spammers fall into the technology-centered design category.

Search engine spam tends to happen among those who focus on technology-centered design (diagram)..

Search engine spam tends to happen among those who focus on technology-centered design. Image created by Omni Marketing Interactive, used with permission.

Of course, I do not believe that all technical SEOs discount searchers – not at all. So what is it I am trying to say?

My Elevator Pitch

My elevator pitch was this diagram. I have been excited about SEO as a legitimate industry and field of study since 1995 because I believe it merges user-centered design and technology-centered design.

At the 2011 IA Summit, usability guru Jared Spool gave a presentation on The Most Valuable UX Person in the World.

In his presentation, he said that he believed that the most valuable UX people in the future are people whose skills combine the human experience with technology. Guess what? That’s us – search engine optimizers, SEO hybrids. I was thrilled to know that we are a critical part of the future of user experience.

In the meantime, I will have a somewhat difficult time explaining what an SEO hybrid is as well as SEO in elevators. My diagram helps me explain what we do for a living.

What’s your elevator pitch? How do you explain SEO to others?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Content | Search & Usability


About The Author: is the Founder and SEO Director at Omni Marketing Interactive and the author of the books Search Engine Visibility and When Search Meets Web Usability. Shari currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) and the ASLIB Journal of Information Management. She also served on the board of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA).

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • http://www.singlegrain.com Sujan Patel

    I feel the best way to “elevator pitch” SEO is to be as broad as general. Obviously you can’t go into the details in only 30 seconds. I like to offer people a beginners guide to SEO that is easy for them to implement.

  • Ammon

    One I like is to tell them:

    “You know how the most successful actors have an awesome Agent, who helps them get great parts, helps them get the best out of the deals, and helps make sure that each time they work it leads to even bigger and better work offers?

    I’m like an Agent for Websites.

    I get them the exposure and success online, through ensuring they get the right parts in search, articles, reviews, social media, etc, and ensuring that each bit of success is built on to lead to even more.

  • http://www.page1listings.com Oliver

    My favorite pitch is….

    “We get your phone to ring and your door to swing”

  • http://susansilver.net Susan Silver

    I have been thinking over this question myself. SEO can be complex, and know that I’m learning more about IA and UX it all kind of melds. I guess though, since I’m going with a circus metaphor on my blog, I would say it is like a MC. It announces your content to the world by making it visible.

  • http://www.adamsaverian.com Adam Saverian

    Interesting framing of issues related to UI, development, and SEO. Good points, of course.

    However, regardless of your “pitch” an SEO is often going to have to explain themselves.

  • http://www.search-usability.com/ Shari Thurow

    Hi guys-

    Ammon, I like your pitch. I like that it incorporates more than just the ranking part, because that is precisely what I try to avoid (ironically) about the short SEO conversation — that SEO is about rankings only. It’s a selling point but it’s not the only point.

    Adam, yes, I agree with you as well. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to explain SEO simply. For example, if people don’t understand that difference between a search engine ad and an organic listing…you know what I mean. It then requires a lengthy explanation if a person doesn’t know the different types of search listings.

    That’s why I find the SEO elevator pitch so challenging. Thanks for your feedback!

  • http://www.searchengineoptimizationjournal.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    I really like Ammon’s pitch as well. Yes, part of SEO is getting a site to rank well in the search engines, but rankings don’t mean anything if your site doesn’t close the deal with your target audience. An “SEO agent” is not only going to get a website positioned well, they are going to leverage everything that site has to keep the momentum going.


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide