The famous Corned Beef Primanti (Flickr photo credit: user adamr.stone)

During a recent road trip, I couldn’t resist stopping at Primanti Brothers Restaurant near Pittsburgh, PA. I followed the lead of my brother-in-law and Man v. Food’s Adam Richman, and ordered the famous Corned Beef Primanti. Between two slices of delicious white Italian bread were tomatoes, a fried egg, sweet and sour coleslaw, fries, provolone cheese, and finally corned beef. The diverse combination created a brilliant mix of flavors that made the sandwich something I’ll crave every time I think about Pittsburgh.

And every time I think of that sandwich, I’ll think of SEO.

Delicious sandwiches are like brilliant web pages

The design of this sandwich is much like a highly-optimized web page, which contains a header and footer (the bread), various components that develop context (tomato, egg, slaw, fries, cheese), and the core message (corned beef). Although the ingredients have some value by themselves, it is the particular combination of ingredients that makes the masterpiece. Bread and toppings create the context in which the meat is enjoyed. If you want to serve search engines the food they’re craving, it’s also important to develop context in which “the meat” of the page will be consumed.

Don’t skimp on the meat

Apologies to vegetarians; feel free to imagine an SEO meat substitute instead. When optimizing a page, it’s important to identify and sufficiently emphasize the meat. If the Primanti sandwich only contained one thin slice of corned beef with a two inch-high pile of toppings, it would barely be a corned beef sandwich. Similarly, it would not be right for a web page dedicated to the Primanti Brothers corned beef sandwich to have paragraphs about the coleslaw’s ingredients, but just one lonely sentence that says, “all stacked on top of corned beef.” For the page to rank well in Google for a phrase like, “Best Corned Beef Sandwich,” there needs to be rich content about—you guessed it—corned beef. The toppings must be mentioned to develop context, but the corned beef needs to be king of the content.

When developing the main topic, it’s important to know and use synonyms.  Google and Bing look at web pages similarly, and the use of synonyms in context indicates to search engines that the content is more trustworthy and of higher quality. However, if there is so much content that the page drones on forever, search engines may get distracted, bored, and move on to other pages (algorithmically speaking, of course).

As noted above, I selected the corned beef based on the recommendation of my brother-in-law, someone with Primanti experience. Reviews and recommendations from people with product experience are even more valuable when shopping online, where it’s not usually possible to sample, smell and feel the product in consideration. Google and Bing also respect the views and opinions of users, and reward pages that contain user generated content with better rankings.

Who wants a stale sandwich?

There are millions of web pages on the Internet that were created and essentially left to gradually decompose. Search engines don’t like being served stale pages any more than people do, who click the back button to leave and find a site with up-to-date information. Search engines understand this user behavior, and give better results page rank positions to websites that are updated frequently. It’s great to understand this, but it’s nearly impossible to change the contents of a thousand pages in a website frequently; imagine trying to keep a catalog of five-hundred-thousand pages updated.

The most cost effective way to keep pages from becoming stale is to give customers the ability to update your pages with reviews, questions, answers and stories. Every time something new is written, search engines and users perceive the page as up-to-date. Additionally, because people use a variety of different language styles, the synonym use discussed above happens naturally. The result is a fresh, rich page that appeals to almost everyone who walks through the proverbial door as they enter your website.

Fresh ingredients drive more visits

If you visit a restaurant that serves delicious fresh ingredients, you’ll likely return often. The same obviously applies to online shoppers who find a website with the most up-to-date content. What’s fascinating is that search engine crawlers respond similarly. A recent client study discovered that Googlebot crawls websites more often when website content changes frequently, as it does when user reviews are included. The simple truth is that content freshness piques Google’s interest, which thus drives Googlebot to visit and crawl your site more often. Each Googlebot visit increases the probability that your site will rank well for a greater number of keywords.

As you can probably tell, this SEO recommends the delicious, fresh blend of flavors found in the Primanti Brothers corned beef sandwich. Special thanks to the master sandwich maker who created the sandwich that inspired this SEO lesson.