Get Educated in SEO

This week, I received an inquiry from a start-up company that wanted to engage in SEO (define). Like many before them, they had built a Web site and were wondering, “Why isn’t this thing showing up in the search engines for the keywords that are relevant to our business?”

After reviewing this Web site, it quickly became obvious why it wasn’t showing up for any keywords: there was neither a single mention of those keywords in the content of the Web site, nor in title tag of the Web site, and there were virtually no links to the Web site (it had only been live on the Web for about six months).

The first thing this company needed to do, before spending any money on any consultant or any time internally attempting to affect their rankings and/or traffic from natural search, was to read — to become educated.

Some might read this and say, “Why read? That’s why we hire consultants. Let them just do it.” However, it’s difficult to buy something you don’t understand, and it can also be dangerous to outsource to some company without understanding if they’re truly doing the necessary work to help you achieve results.

Being educated in this space will help you to be more successful, even if you’re outsourcing.

The more you understand about SEO, the more likely you are to approve (and push through) solid recommendations and to debate recommendations that you’ve learned may not be the path forward or deliver a solid ROI (define) in the time that it might take to implement.

I’ve been in SEO for several years and have managed hundreds of initiatives. Sometimes I take for granted that after all of these years, people understand the basics of SEO. Judging by the large number of people attending the Dallas-Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association’s last event, it’s important to continue pushing the basics.


Good SEO (and good business on the Web) starts with a great domain. Ideally, you’ve acquired a domain that’s been live on the Web for a good amount of time (as a general rule, two years or longer), which includes the most competitive keywords you would want to target.

If that’s not an option, just know that it will take some time to gain authority for the domain, through slow and steady acquisition of links on other Web sites pointing to yours and the build out of quality content on the Web site. Don’t be that company that launches a new domain and then purchases 1,000 links to your Web site. Remember, the link building process must appear natural.

Keyword Research

The keyword the start-up company was interested in had a total of 100 searches performed each month for it, according to Google’s Keyword Tool. This is why keyword research is so critical.

Imagine spending any amount of time or money on SEO and finally earning that coveted top spot for the keyword that you believe is the ticket to success, only to find out later that the top ranking has resulted in a total of 50 new visitors to your Web site (that you probably could buy via AdWords at $0.25 per click). So, what could have cost you $12.50 per month is costing you how much, in terms of time and/or money?

Even better keyword research can be had through purchasing ads on the search engines for the keywords and then developing a history of which keywords not only result in clicks, but also have shown a propensity to convert! SEO isn’t about ranking for a particular keyword; it’s about driving a good amount of quality visitors to your Web site that you hope to turn into leads or sales.

Competitive Analysis

It’s not enough to finally determine the keywords, which have any amount of search volume and have also shown the ability to convert. Gaining a presence for these keywords via paid search is one thing…gaining a presence for these same keywords, organically is another.

To quickly determine what it will take to compete, search for one of your more searched for/competitive keywords on Google. Create a list of the top 10 domains. Then, do a “” (without the quotes) search on Yahoo and you will see the number of pages and number of backlinks each of these Web sites has. While this isn’t all that it takes to rank, it’s a good indicator of what work may be involved in bridging the gap.

The start-up company had six pages of content indexed in Yahoo and three backlinks, while the top competitor (for the keyword that isn’t searched often) had 374 pages of content and 2,000 backlinks.

Content is King

Without quality content, you’re going to have trouble getting links and traffic. Develop quality pages of content on your Web site. Use the important keywords for your business you’ve found through research.

Each page is unique. So, too, should the title tags of your pages be unique and relevant to each page of copy.

Every page of the start-up company’s site had the same title tag. And, yep…you guessed it…the title tag was the name of the company.

If you must include the name of your company in your title tag, put it at the end. Opinions will vary on the best practices for a title tag, but if you want your most important keywords listed first, keep the title tag around 66 characters long, including spaces.


Slow and steady wins the race. If you’re starting a new Web site (or just starting to put any amount of attention to SEO), start with the basics to generate some links to your site. You can get a Yahoo Directory,, or listing easy enough. And you can submit an application to DMOZ (though it may take a good amount of time to actually get listed). You can also submit press releases.

Again, don’t rush into buying a boatload of links, as this can be a red flag to the search engines that you’re trying to manipulate their results. SEOs don’t manipulate search engines results; we help businesses position themselves in a more positive light to the search engines. Think of us as public relations experts for the SERPs (define).


The true measure of successful SEO efforts isn’t what you may or may not see in a search engine ranking report — at least, not directly. If you don’t already have analytics in place, do this now. Google Analytics is free and delivers some pretty solid reporting. Yahoo Analytics is also great (and free, if you’re an advertiser).

If you’re trying to measure SEO efforts, you might want to get a good baseline of traffic in your analytics, then implement your recommendations and track how your changes impact your organic search traffic. Your implementation should include conversion tracking, so that you’re not merely analyzing traffic, but also monitoring for keyword conversion rates.

Mark is off today. This column was originally published on January 20, 2010 on ClickZ.

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