After writing this column for quite a while, I figured it was time I brought in some outside perspective on search marketing.
I recently sat down with Helen Overland, a former colleague and current director of search engine marketing at Non-Linear Creations, to talk about a site she recently launched. The goal was to determine how a seasoned search marketer who typically advises others on their SEO (define) practices, would apply this same knowledge to the creation of her own site.
Julie Batten: Helen, you’ve recently launched a Web site called The Focused Marketer. Can you tell us a bit about the site and its raison d’être?
Helen Overland: The idea behind The Focused Marketer is to discuss marketing strategies that ultimately are effective in helping organizations reach their goals. When I talk with people who are not full-time Internet marketers, I’m always asked questions that have to do with clearing up commonly believed misconceptions and “best practices” that aren’t really appropriate for everyone.
There are lots of things people do in the interest of Internet marketing that they probably don’t need to (such as customizing their meta-keywords tags). The Focused Marketer is meant to help out those who aren’t sure which strategies to prioritize and which ones to completely ignore, as well as be involved in analysis of the latest strategies and trends.
JB: So as you know better than anyone, it’s one thing to build a site and quite another to get people to come to it. How do you plan to get the word out about the site and build readership?
HO: I’m a firm believer that quality content draws a quality audience. If people find the content on the site useful, they will subscribe and return to the site again. In terms of getting the word out, definitely search engines play a part in driving new traffic to the site, but so do a variety of other avenues, such as leveraging Twitter to drive traffic.
JB: Agreed. How did your expertise in search marketing come to bear when building this site? Did you approach conceptualization and planning from the get-go with search engines in mind?
HO: The site is set up to be as friendly to search engines as possible with the platform we are running on. The planning phase included the development of a strategy to help the search engines find and index the Web site. Although it’s important to note that search engines are not the only outreach strategy, they are a key segment, and the Web site is designed to be easy for them to access. Therefore, a plan to address search engines was in place before any other step and guided the selection of the platform that was ultimately chosen to run the site.
JB: It’s such a rare situation to have had complete control over the design and development of a site. What are some of the SEO best practices you applied in developing this site?
HO: Title tags are included on every page [and] relate to the content on the page. The information architecture was planned ahead of time in order to help reduce the number of clicks that visitors have to make to navigate the site, as well as streamline the internal link structure. The site content is also in text so search engines can access it easily. There are a few more tweaks that need to be applied, but that’s all part of developing the site over time.
JB: In your experience, how likely is it that marketers, particularly in large organizations, will be able to exert this much control over internal IT/development practices? And if this is a challenge, how can they overcome hurdles to get the search engine perspective taken into account during the Web dev process?
HO: Web sites of larger organizations tend to be a balance of compromises. Sometimes there are internal challenges, such as getting the Web site platform to work with the existing technology of the organization. More frequently, I’ve seen internal communication challenges between the marketing and IT teams. The best way to address this challenge is to work towards increasing the internal communication between the two teams. Explaining why you need to use text instead of images can be much more effective than just asking for it to be done.
JB: Good point. Let’s talk about content and keywords. What degree of on-page optimization did you undertake? Did you perform keyword research for every page and optimize for selected terms, or do you see the optimization as more organic?
HO: To be honest, at this juncture there has been virtually no keyword research done for the Web site. As time goes on and the site gains more authority, we may start targeting specific terms. At this point, however, it’s a bit early in the launch to get caught up in hours of keyword research when there are so many other things that need to be done.
JB: That makes sense. Speaking of authority, how will you go about increasing link authority in the eyes of Google and the other engines?
HO: Quality content is always the best way to encourage inbound links to a site. People are far more likely to link to a page that they find interesting and useful, so it’s important to provide interesting content.
JB: There are so many different strategies and best practices out there when it comes to search. But let’s keep it simple: what are the top five things online marketers or Web site owners should do to make their sites search-engine friendly?
HO: Definitely using title tags, providing quality content, making sure content is readable by search engines, using sensible internal links, and driving traffic to the Web site through external links are all very helpful techniques to use when search engines are a part of the Web site’s outreach strategy.
JB: Assuming you are applying all these tactics on your site, how will you measure success of your efforts? What are your KPIs (define)?
HO: At this point, it’s important to build awareness of the site and increase the number of people visiting. Therefore, we’re looking at overall traffic gains and subscriptions as the KPIs we’re interested in.
JB: At this point it’s obviously been a very short time since you launched, but can you point to any search engine success garnered thus far?
HO: Although the Web site is only a few weeks old, we’re already driving an increased amount of traffic from search engines week over week. I try to avoid ranking reports where possible, since SERPs (define) are customized by so many factors, but we’re seeing some very healthy increases in search-engine-referred traffic to the Web site. We don’t expect to rank well for highly competitive terms yet, but in my searches we are ranking just below Google and just above Wikipedia for some terms, after being alive only a few weeks. So we’re happy so far.
JB: That’s excellent news! Thank you for taking time out to talk to us today. I wish you the best of luck with your new site.
Join us for a one-day Online Marketing Summit in a city near you from May 5, 2009, to July 1, 2009. Choose from one of 16 events designed to help interactive marketers do their jobs more effectively. All sessions are new this year and cover such topics as social media, e-mail marketing, search, and integrated marketing.
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