The Search for an SEO Blueprint
Written by Lee Smith-Bryan and published
The reporting of ROI for SEO and Social Media services is murky at best. That’s why compiling weekly and monthly reports for clients is one of the most time-consuming, frustrating, and yet rewarding parts of a search engine optimizer’s job. Unless you operate within a certain niche, it’s unlikely that you have two clients who offer the same type of service – which is no bad thing. Personally, I like the variety of working on something different on a regular basis.
Variety brings with it numerous factors to take into consideration each time you begin work with a different client:
- The number of competitors
- How strong the competitors are
- The competitiveness of the keywords
I use the term competitors loosely. There will be some competitors in your niche that you can outrank quickly without having to use any complex web strategy. However, there will always be two or three competitors that will take a well-defined and long-term strategy in order to compete with them successfully.
Remember, high rankings do not always translate into high returns. Consider the searcher’s intent before deciding on which keywords to target. Sure, you can rank highly for a search term, but that search term may not provide:
- An increase in targeted traffic
- An increase in revenue related to organic search placement
- An increase in page views in relation to targeted users who have found the site through high placement in the SERPs
So each time you take on a new client, there comes with it a sense of individuality because of the client’s services, even though the majority of clients share the same long-term goals – rank better, convert more.
If we keep those two long-term goals in mind, can we really start to compile a plan of action that would focus on results, regardless of the client or what service they offer? I believe we can.
The three areas of an SEO campaign that I see being the most consistent are:
- Onsite Optimization
- Content Publication and Mentions
- Link Building
These areas involve getting users to the site, keeping them there, and ensuring that they find what they want when they get there.
When you take into account that a fair amount of improvement can be made with onsite changes alone, and since the end goal is a high(er) placement in the SERPs, it makes sense that onsite SEO plays its part in our SEO Blueprint.
Your onsite changes should take into consideration way more than the normally recommended H1 and title tags. Information is key to both search engines and users, so the site needs to flow in a user-friendly and logical manner. This involves information architecture.
I’m really not all that enamored with the term onsite optimization, because it implies that no matter how bad the site is, you can make a few small tweaks and then be done with it. I much prefer the term information optimization, since what you’re doing with information architecture is restructuring the site so that the information contained within it is presented in a much more predetermined and hierarchical fashion.
Minimal Recommended Changes:
- Unique page titles on each page
- Unique META description on each page
- Good, descriptive alt text
- XML Sitemap
Optimal Recommended Changes:
- Clean up canonical URLs (use one standard domain format with 301 redirects where necessary)
- Present information within a hierarchy
Content Publication and Mentions:
When asked about ranking higher on Google, Matt Cutts consistently advises SEOs to write good content. But what is good content? Is it writing what the search engines love? Is it writing which will encourage users to visit and link to? Or both?
- A good blog will engage the user. An excellent blog will engage the user and encourage the user to return.
- You can be an excellent writer but a poor blogger. Any blogger worth his or her salt will know their audience and blog with intent.
- If the company CEO could take control of the client blog and do just as good a job as you’re doing, then your blog is a waste of time.
The problem with blogging CEOs is that they often do nothing to build excitement about the company. I don’t want to hear from them because they’re not tuned in to what’s really going on within the company. They don’t hear the truth. They hear what they want to be told. Bill Marriott can’t tell me what’s really happening with his hotels. He doesn’t know which locations are hot, he doesn’t know what it’s like to be an employee there or what the culture is, and he doesn’t stay in the same rooms us regular folk would. He’s the guy they wheel out for appearances and special occasions, not the person you’ll see if you stay there. That’s not genuine. I can’t connect with that.
And most people can’t connect with your CEO either. Which is why they shouldn’t be blogging.
A blog should be the connection from your client’s company to their userbase. Before you endeavor to add content to the client blog, you should have already performed due diligence on just whom you’re trying to reach. With our client work, we’ve found that high-quality posts once or twice a week are more authoritative than posts churned out to meet the demand of daily posts.
Call them what you want – product reviews, sponsored links, mentions – they’re all the same, and Google has wised up. Being listed in a blog roll no longer suffices. If you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, you should be looking at contextual links. These are links inside the content, not shoved over to the side as an afterthought.
An excellent way of obtaining contextual links is guest blogging. If you do it from a client perspective, you win on multiple accounts – increased exposure, targeted traffic, and a boost in the SERPs. Of course, this is assuming that you have provided the blog with high-quality content. People don’t want to read advertorials; they want something worthwhile. They’re investing their time; don’t let it go to waste.
- NO keyword stuffing
- Don’t link excessively: Firstly, you want your users to stay on your site; secondly, you’ll bleed Google Juice. Be mindful of which sites you link to.
- Establish relationships within your niche
The previous two components in our SEO Blueprint have primarily focused on the optimization aspect of SEO. With careful consideration, our link building will influence the search engines.
There are many issues to consider before embarking a link building campaign. We’re going to cover three of them:
If you’re using the Firefox Raven Toolbar, you’ll notice a view item. If you click on the view drop down, you’ll be given the option to highlight dofollow, nofollow, or both types of links (dofollow links are highlighted in green, nofollow in red).
If you are deciding to build a link and can’t quite make up your mind, give the site a run through the Quality Analyzer tool. Based on defined quality metrics, it will then give you a score out of 100 (the higher the better). We recommend a score of 80 or higher.
While the dofollow attribute shouldn’t be the final deciding factor whether to build a link, it should at least play a part. However, there are a few things to consider:
- Does the site or blog already have a lot of links?
- Are they linking out to bad neighborhoods?
If the site already has a multitude of links, any benefit you would get out of placing a link on that site is reduced. Your link has to share Google Juice with the rest of the links on that page. The more links there are, the less link equity you’re going to get.
However, it’s not just the number of links on the page – it’s where they’re linking out to that often poses a problem. Let’s say you had a link for one of your clients that went to a genuine, respectable website, but alongside your link is a link to a spam, Viagra®, or porn site. The last thing you want to do is associate links to your client’s site with something which contains questionable content. Build many of these links and you will feel the wrath of the Google penalty.
If you’re familiar with search operators and want to find out where your competitors are building links, there’s a method you can use that is not intuitive by any means, but is fairly accurate and provides decent results. Google Alerts allows you to use some search operators, so you need to set up the following: link:http://competitordomain.com
This will alert you whenever a blog or site has linked to one of your competitors. It’s a fairly crude method, but if you want to hit the ground running in your link building efforts, this may be a good place to start.
This is probably the easiest of the three to explain. Not to be mixed up with the popular aspect of Google’s algorithm, the relevancy factor takes into consideration that if your site is being linked to by a lot of niche-related sites, then you must be an authority figure on your subject.
This is simple in thought, but complex to see it through properly. After all, those sites you’re competing with aren’t going to sit back and just give you those links. Get creative, make yourself visible, and create awareness – this is where Social Media sites such as Facebook and Twitter offer an excellent compliment to your link building.
There are millions of websites on the Net today, so why people limit themselves to just a few is incomprehensible. Okay, so we get the idea that Digg, Mixx, Delicious, etc. are big players in the online world, but let’s get over the fact that they could make or break a link building campaign.
Firstly, never put all your link building eggs in one basket. If the website you’re working on is struggling in the SERPs and you’re using the same sites to build all inbound links to your website, it’s time to switch tactics.
A surefire alarm to Google is a mass amount of inbound links being built from the same site. With as many social networking sites as there are, there should be one to fit your niche. You’re much more likely to get some leverage that way, rather than submitting generic links on Digg which only your friends will see and vote on.
Another way that Google acknowledges spam is repetitive anchor text. Constantly using the same keywords over and over again is not a good idea. Mix up your keywords with geographic locations that you’re targeting. For example, the term soccer shoes could be varied with soccer shoes nashville, nashville soccer shoes, buy soccer shoes, etc.
However, you can rank highly in the search engines and not convert your organic traffic. Find out what users are searching for and build your links accordingly.
- Vary your anchor text
- Vary the sites where you build your links
- Don’t link out to bad neighborhoods (bad sites)
- Age of domain you build links from
- Are you linking to something recent and newsworthy? (Taking into consideration the ‘freshness factor’ in Google’s algorithm)
Search engines and their ranking methods are made up of complex algorithms which are subject to change. We’ve examined consistent attributes that should enable you to be successful with your own websites or client campaigns.
If you have any questions about this document or wish to find out more information, we recommend that you leave a message on the Raven Internet Marketing forums.