The Big SEO Learning Curve

Putting to one side the search-engine-optimization-isn’t-rocket-science debate, I had cause to ponder over just how broad and deep the SEO (define) discipline is. The occasion: I took part in a two-day intensive workshop/training event with a large client.

European Directories is a vast yellow pages organization with operating companies in the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Sweden, Czech Republic, and Poland. Each one of these Web properties can easily be described as huge. And each brings its own complexities.

A team of experts, headed up by me and SEO innovator, Thomas Bindl, gathered in London with representatives from both the technical and marketing sides of each operating company. The event’s agenda was nearly as long as a roll of wallpaper. As I reviewed the course modules, item by item, I realized just how much data one needs to absorb in this game.

Not only that, international SEO brings a unique set of nuances and cultural differences. Stir some of that into the general SEO pot and you’re getting close to data overload.

The SEO project manager, on the client side, has been laser-focused this year and has become somewhat of an expert himself. Like me, I imagine most practitioners appreciate the huge benefit of working with a client who speaks the language and knows the territory.

The excellent two-day agenda he prepared was based around four modules and well worth breaking down here. The sessions kicked off with the first module based on content. With IYPs being very much locally targeted, long-tail terms are what they’re shooting for. So search term research, use of title tags, best practice on page optimization and copywriting guidelines took up the morning session.

The second module was based on structure. Here the group covered design, internal linking, link building (the concept of link juice), and old sites versus new sites. Of course, you couldn’t cover structure without a lot of tech-talk creeping in. So there was lively discussion about JavaScript, Flash, Ajax, and other technologies you need to get your head around.

And, of course, it being a best practice course, there was a good smattering of what not to do (spam) and sticking to search engine guidelines.

Day two kicked off with some practical hands-on stuff. Playtime with SEO cool tools and toys is always a fun kind of session. And boy, do we have tools and toys to choose from. Analytics tools, ranking tools, link analysis tools, site maps, and Google Webmaster Central, to name but a few.

Working in groups, each table chose a specific tool to experiment with and then presented their findings and discoveries to the group.

The final module covered trends and the future. In my 90-minute presentation for this session, I started with social media such as YouTube and FaceBook, and then social bookmarking and tagging with del.icio.us and Digg. After that, a lot of time was spent discussing the use of video.

A new ecosystem is swelling around local search with small production companies creating videos for local advertisers. Web 2.0 certainly has changed the marketing landscape and small businesses can now afford to promote themselves online via promotional videos. Just take a look at these sample video ads at YellowBook.com.

Of course, touching on the video subject then led to the new SEO opportunities on the horizon with Google’s Universal Search, Ask’s 3D and the new Yahoo Search, for example. These surely are exciting times.

Following a Q&A regarding the future of search, each table then made an action list of practical things they could head back to the office with and put into practice right away.

I talked with many attendees on both the technical and marketing side. And all agreed that they had learned a great deal. And all agreed that it was a huge amount of data they had to take on board in such a short and intensive period.

More interestingly for me is all of the new data I acquired. This is such an interesting industry and the saying “you never stop learning” applies here.

Working for a huge organization such as European Directories, it’s easy to slip into working in silos. Perhaps the biggest thing that registered with me last week is the importance of bringing everyone together so SEO knowledge can be shared and improved group wide.

Nope, it may not be rocket science. One thing’s for sure: if you’re just coming into the SEO game, be prepared for one huge data dump headed your way.

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