If you've ever tried to deal with search engine optimization, you most likely have, at some point or another, wanted to bundle your whole site up and toss it into the nearest virtual trash can. Particularly if you felt compelled to focus on keywords, or any other technique calculated to artificially pique someone's mouse clicks.

You should be delighted to hear then, if you haven't heard yet, that the old-fashioned concept of SEO is deader than last week's sandwich. Google pretty much pounded the crap out of keyword stuffing and other absurdities with the search algorithm changes it's made over the last couple of years. And then Google made search secure, which means you can't even see what keywords someone used to get to your site.

It's about time, because all the minutiae blinded entrepreneurs to what is really important: making a connection with an audience. The term--not exactly new--that seems to be displacing SEO is OAO, online audience optimization. Before getting too squirrelly about another Three Letter Acronym, let's get grounded and think about what's important.

Really Know Your Audience

Over on the Marketingland blog, Brian Clark quoted great old-time advertising copyrighter Eugene Schwartz:

One hour a day, read. Read everything in the world except your business. Read junk. Very much junk. Read so that anything that interests you will stick in your memory. Just read, just read, just read... There is your audience. There is the language. There are the words that they use.

Clark takes this to mean that you have to understand the language and words people use so you know how to talk to them. I'll take it a step further. Not only do you need to know how they talk, which lets you better guess how they might specifically look for what you offer, but you also need to understand what they find funny. What scares them. What is important to them. How they think. Until you do, they're only marks and you do nothing more than run calculated cons. After you do understand them, they're real people and you might find yourself caring a bit about them. Good--care more.

Translate Caring Into Specific Actions

Do you care about your significant other, family members, or friends? If so, then there are plenty of times that you'll do specific things that you know make them happy. Emotion isn't an abstract concept, but something that drives behavior. Let the same thing happen in your marketing after you start to care about the audience. For example, Linda Ruth lists nine steps for OAO, including be consistent and clear about strategy and purpose, encourage audience participation, and employ engagement metrics and gamification techniques. Maybe you'll find that your list is the same. Maybe it will be somewhat different. Just make sure it comes with a focus on customers and how you can provide what they need.

It's like going into a shop you like where the people recognize you and get your interests and tastes. That's all you're trying to do. When the technology, any technology, gets in the way, drop it out back and return to the basics.