SEO: Dynamic Field, for Sure…But Some Things Never Change

This past week, I had the honor of participating in Incisive Media’s SES NY.

For those of you who have never attended a conference such as this, I highly recommend it.

Some of the best and brightest in our industry come to provide attendees the latest and greatest information that exists for search engine optimization, link building, paid search, social media, mobile marketing, and analytics.

Our industry is so dynamic that missing out on a year’s worth of conferences (if you’re not keeping up with your reading on a regular basis) can leave you in the dark ages.

That said, there are some things that haven’t changed, when it comes to SEO (define).

At SES NY, I participated in the “News Search Panel” with some very bright people, speaking about the latest with Google News, PR initiatives, blog promotion, social media, and the editorial and technical sides of doing well with news search. Everything about this presentation was pretty “new,” as a lot has changed over the past five years in this particular space.

The very next day, I was a part of the “E-Commerce Site Clinic,” in which Rob Snell and Ethan Giffin imparted their wisdom to many e-commerce Web site business owners. If you’ve not attended a site clinic, this is perhaps the most fun that I have at these conferences.

At a site clinic, owners/managers of Web sites will provide their URLs to the panel and then, in rapid fire formation, get feedback on what they may be doing well, and – more often than not – what they are not doing so well.

What’s especially interesting to me is that many of the examples that we were reviewing had issues with two very basic (and easily fixed) issues. Namely, title tags and copy on the pages.

It amazes me that all these years later, people still don’t seem to understand…in order to do well for keywords which matter to you, you need to have those words represented on your Web site.

So, let’s get back to basics in this column and ensure you have the basics covered. Keep in mind that the search engine’s job is to deliver the most relevant results for the searcher. So, if you’re trying to make your Web site show up for keywords which do not accurately describe what it is you do or sell, please try again.

Step One: Keywords

Before you even get into writing a bunch of copy or changing your title tags, research the keywords you want to target. There are many, many tools that can help you with keyword research (and a lot of SEOs use more than one). One free tool is Google Keyword Tool. Keep things very basic; let’s be sure that we find two to three keywords/phrases that accurately describe each page of your Web site. Let’s be sure that these are words which aren’t merely important to the CEO, but that there is actually search volume behind these selections. If you want to take things to the next level, also look at things like Google Trends to make sure that you are selecting keywords which are perhaps growing in popularity rather than on their way down.

Step Two: Competitive Analysis

Again, keeping things simple (you can really get into the weeds here), get your spreadsheet open and make a list of the top 10 or so Web sites that you often see ranking for keywords that you are interested in targeting. Do what you can to remove personalization from your search results. Once you’ve created your list of targeted competitors, let’s at least check a couple of things to see if we can compete for these keywords. The simplest thing to do is a query on Yahoo Site Explorer. To do this, go to, type in (without the quotes; obviously replacing “nameofthesite” with the actual URL of the competitor) “,” and hit “Web Search.” When you do this, you will get a list of the pages that are shown in Yahoo’s index. You will also see the number of “inlinks,” as well. To check the inlinks, you’ll want to use the drop down to select “except from this domain” so that you are not counting links from that domain, but rather links from other domains.

Competitive analysis is important because you want to spend your time focused on optimizing for keywords that you have any chance – at all – to rank for/get traffic from.

If your Web site is a meek 10 pages deep, and the competitors are averaging 500 pages of content, more than likely, you are going to need to create a lot more pages of content or select keywords that aren’t as competitive. If the competitors that you are targeting have over 1,000 links from other Web sites (not that quantity is everything), and you have five, chances are you are going to have to select some less competitive keywords or find creative methods for generating some link love.

Step 3: Title Tags

In our “E-Commerce Site Clinic,” there were many, many Web sites that shared a common issue. Horrible title tags.

So, what makes for a good title tag? SEOs will debate this, but in my opinion, you want to write a title tag that has your most important/competitive keyword (phrase) listed first. You want to limit the title tag to around 66 characters (including spaces). Some SEOs practice writing title tags that read very naturally. More often than not, I recommend writing title tags which look a little something like this: “Keyword Phrase 1 | Keyword Phrase 2 | Keyword Phrase 3.” Sometimes there’s only one keyword phrase targeted to a page and sometimes I will recommend three.

I don’t recommend having a home page title tag that reads something like “Company A – Home Page.” You would be surprised by how many title tags actually do say “home page.”

Make sure that every page of your Web site has a unique title tag which is actually descriptive of the content on that page.

This brings me to my final point…

Step 4: Content

When you review e-commerce Web sites, you will see a lot of Web sites that are strong in images and weak in text. Every company will say the same thing, “images are what tell our story.” Well, the truth is, text can tell a story too. Your product pages should have some descriptive copy to accompany that image. Try to write at least 200 to 250 words of copy for each page of your Web site. Perhaps, even more for your home page. Don’t get spammy. Just write something that is descriptive of what you do, what your product does, what your product is made of, etc. You never know when someone is going to search by color, size, or other descriptive terms.

SES and ClickZ are both part of Incisive Media.

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