Friday, February 20, 2009

SEO: A Process, NOT a Project

SEO: a Process NOT a Project
by Steve Plunkett

Organic search engine optimization (SEO) is not a one time project, it’s a process. Similar to a garden, you must tend to it. Sometimes you have an existing garden where the weeds have grown over or nothing is growing. Sometimes you just have a section of yard you are going to rope off, till, then plant stuff in. Like a garden, organic SEO takes time and attention. It may be as simple as setting a timer to water or as complex as starting from scratch. Organic SEO is like a garden – if you don’t water it, it dies.

Soil Considerations

What is the history of the things that have been done to your website for SEO purposes?

Do you have pages chock full of links to websites unrelated to your company, where some of the website no longer exist or even some link to an "adult" website? Did someone hide a bunch of keywords the same color as your background at the bottom of the page? Maybe the site you are going to work on has commented out a bunch of keywords in the HTML code?(I know this is 2009, but some company, somewhere, has this on its Web site, right now.)

Sunlight, Rainfall and Other Factors

Traffic Analysis – Are there metrics on the company’s website? What kind of information can you gather from the statistics on what is going on with keywords, referrers, exit pages, entry pages, bounce rate, etc.? What metrics program does your company use?

We always ask our clients to install the website analytics program we use - - simply because it provides the measurements we need for our clients and also allows for consistent report formats for all clients.

What Plants shall we put in our garden?

Keyword Research - Gather the keywords out of the client's current website metrics and obtain client input on what they think someone might type to search for them.

We usually use a method that I have used for many, many years. We ask the CEO, (get's them involved at the top), the receptionist, the sales managers, the marketing director, the CFO and the COO (these two help get things done and also make sure you get paid) to provide five to 10 keywords each and not to share them with each other. This becomes statistically significant when you have different people come up with a keyword phrase more than once. Take these and put them into spreadsheets so we know what department wants what traffic and also to refer to later.

This is the primary keyword stage. You can also correlate what keyword terms got the most traffic and the lowest bounce rate to their Web site compared to what the client expects. Now obviously, you must factor in the fact that if the content doesn't exist on their Web site right now, they won't be found for it.

What kind of pesticides would be best to use to combat bugs?

Competitive Analysis – Look at the competitor’s HTML code, what can you observe about the competitor's SEO strategy? Do they have one? What keywords are the competitor's using? How do these differ from what the client gave you? Do they all apply directly to the client? Are the competitors using CMS systems, does the HTML code reflect the presence of another SEO firm?

These are the people your client thinks are their competitors in the business sector, not neccessarily on the web. Sometimes this works in your favor because the people your client thinks are your competitor may not be you, the SEO's competitor, and as such you may rise above them to obtain market share over the competitor’s rather quickly.

What plants grow best in your locality?

Competitive Keyword Research - What keywords are crowded? What keywords are open? Does your client provide a niche service where very few people in the channel are doing SEO? Is your client a start-up, where the market is bare or are you going for terms in real estate or insurance that are very crowded already?

Audience Metrics - What do clients think of when they search? In addition to Web site metrics, what does your client's customer think of them in terms of search? Can you obtain some of your client's customers’ contact info? (say that 3 times fast)

Purchasing your plants

Keyword finalization - With the market up and down so much these days, if you tied your key performance indicators (KPI) to your client's Web site traffic, you are indeed in trouble. While some people say keyword-specific search engine ranking is a poor measurement of SEO success, I would disagree and state that qualified converting keyword rankings ARE important.

If three out of 10 times a certain keyword phrase motivates Web site visitors to fill out your client's contact form, then this is a qualified converting keyword phrase. The fact that you are number one or number 31 for that term is somewhat important to your client and their potential customers.

This is just the beginning of SEO. We haven't even started modifying the Web site yet. Send the final round of keywords to the client for them to sign off on before you do your baseline measurements. Also at this point it’s a good idea to make sure to find out what the company’s “bread and butter” is and what areas it is growing in its organization.

Knowing this will help you pick your first keyword focus point for quick ROI and know what areas you are going to help the company grow in. The client’s expense for SEO should give them at least a triple return on its investment after a year.

Baseline - Where does client rank now in the search results of Google, Yahoo! and MSN for the agreed upon keyword terms and phrases? You can shoot yourself in the foot if you try and measure vague terms. Your best bet is to use what will make the cash register ring and track qualified keywords on a monthly basis to show progress. You might also want to measure the market share against the client's specified keywords and show them a competitive market share baseline.


Planning - What needs to be done and who are the people to be involved client side and agency side? You don’t want everyone watering the plants at the same time.

Prioritization - What needs to be done first? What needs to be done last? This is critical so that there is no wasted effort or wasted expense to client. Is there a new Web site in the future for the company? Make plans so you are not wasting the client’s money.

Garden Upkeep

The biggest misconception in SEO is that you can "do" SEO once on a Web site then you can just walk away. Just like a garden, if there is no water the plants die.

The nature of SEO is simply this: Today's rules or procedures may or may not work tomorrow. Google is usually the target we aim at for SEO, but that target moves quite frequently. Google, in fighting off the "bad people" who spam the listings, will change the way they rank Web sites often. By monitoring results on a weekly and monthly basis you can see which plants need more water or which ones are getting eaten by bugs.

Apply that to keywords that may be on page three of the results but need to move up because they are highly converting keywords. Just like you would get rid of weeds, get rid of bugs or change the angle of the hose for irrigation, there are steps you must take full time to keep your SEO growing.

Linkage and Niche Marketing for a Web Site or Company Channel – submit the Web site to Yahoo! directory, DMOZ and other places on the web where applicable.

Monitoring and Maintanance – observe statistics weekly, water the Web site where it needs it the most.

Baseline reports – Refer to your baseline reports. Did that plant have three leaves last week or two? It was one inch tall two weeks ago, but now it’s four inches. Report this progress to the client.

Bounce Rate and On-site Modifications - If you notice one of your plants is doing really well, give it some more space, more room to grow or more soil to spread out into. In other words, you can be number one out of 380,000,000 results on Google, but if being number one doesn’t bring the company business, you want to adjust your strategy. Change your focus to the keywords that convert, remove the weeds that are growing in your garden and prune the keywords on a page to come to a bounce rate of zero percent. Organic SEO, like a garden, needs to be tended. It’s a process not a project.

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