Last week, I went to a Christmas tree burning. Since I’m in Florida, we didn’t do it for any sort of warmth – we just really like to watch things burn down here.

As my friend got a nice fire going and his neighbors looked on in trepidation, I realized there’s a lot we can learn about SEO from lighting decorative trees on fire and watching them blaze quickly (and impressively) off into the night.

My friend spent the weeks after Christmas telling friends and neighbors to be on the lookout for worthy trees and wreathes (these are links, in our festive metaphor), sent out invites (title tags and descriptions to let people know what’s going on) and cleaned up his backyard to make room for all the guests he expected (optimized content and internal links to help people know where to go), and to make sure that his yard didn’t burn up along with his tree (only quality links for this bonfire, please).

Anyone who has seen a Christmas tree burn knows how it goes: dry Christmas trees burn quickly, loudly and can reach up to 30 feet in the air. People stop by to see what the ruckus is about. Some people may even tell their friends about it. But it burns out as quickly as it got started, and once it’s gone, you’ve lost the spark that attracts new visitors. There isn’t anything worth seeing. Signal fires are great for grabbing attention, but keeping attention requires a more sustained burn.

Much like your local fire marshal, Google is on the lookout for things suddenly changing. Title tags, descriptions, optimized content and internal links can send a signal flare for Google to check it out, just doing that won’t get them, or visitors, back. Attracting visitors to your site is an incremental, gradual process.

Occasionally clients will see strong results after a 3- or 6-month digital marketing campaign, and then they decide that they have enough traffic now to keep growing organically. And while every business is different, you can only coast on the embers of an old campaign for so long before you start to lose the traffic you worked so hard for.

Below is traffic from a local company that worked for a few years on an integrated SEO and digital outreach campaign that ended January 2012. Overall visits might be up on the year, due to the effects of previous work, but you can see that it only took about 9 months to erase 5 years of work.

SEO, much like a healthy fire, is something that requires a long term approach to be successful. You need to consistently search for new content to burn and attract readers. If you pass a torch to Facebook or Twitter, you need to make sure that those platforms link to your website as much as possible.

A Christmas tree fire can certainly attract the eye and cook a few hot dogs, but it’s over quickly, and it won’t keep you (or your business) warm. If you really want to keep visitors coming back to your site, you need to be ready to burn for a long time, or be ready to watch your traffic float away.

Photo Credit:MattWH72182 via Compfight cc

Mike Cushing

Mike Cushing is a marketing strategist at 352. He has worked in the non-profit and business community in Gainesville since 2008, but mostly he’s just a writer out to make the Internet a better – and more grammatically correct – place.

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Join the conversation

  • Kiefer S.

    I am a connoisseur of Christmas trees myself and read this article with great interest. However, I am disappointed in the extraneous talk about this "SEO" thing while the author totally ignores the concepts of Christmas-tree tackling and pirating. I would request that you focus on those topics in future articles, but THERE'S NOT ENOUGH TIME.

  • Igor Mateski

    Great report, and a fun read. Found your site from Search Engine Land's post so just wanted to say Hi and a thumbs up on the report. It's a just-in-time post as Im working on my own, covering the importance of ongoing Content Marketing.