Monday, February 23, 2009

Why it Makes Sense to Target Longtail Keywords First

"When launching a brand new website in a competitive marketplace you have a lot of network effects working against you. Your competition has years of conversion data, an older trusted site, tons of content, and thousands of organic inbound links. Try to beat them right from the start for the most potent high-value keywords and you will likely fail."


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.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An Interview with Steve Plunkett: SEO Experimentation Done Right

"Steve Plunkett is a well known for his SEO insights. You can follow him on Twitter or view his online resume at LinkedIn. Check out this interview by Ann Smarty on Search Engine Journal"
An Interview with Steve Plunkett: SEO Experimentation Done Right  

Steve Plunkett is a well known for his SEO insights. You can follow him on Twitter or view his online resume at LinkedIn. And now enjoy an interview with Steve:
How long have you been in SEO and how did you start?
I got on the “Internet” in 1994.. (at 2600kbps) I was doing mac tech support for AOL and also moderating a chat room and bulletin postings (kinda sounds like Social Media a bit, no?), and if we count making sure my bulletin postings ranked first.. if you want to count ranking first for channels on IRC, then 1995. Otherwise, Brian was starting webcrawler and Jerry was starting Yahoo! Directory in 1995 while i was a webmaster/sys admin in the Univeristy of Texas System and I was experimenting with spam controls for webcrawler (I accidentally got all the first 30 listings for about 10 terms), and would modify my website and they would recompile to see if the filters worked.. then I started up a web design component to the ISP I was working at in late 1995 and ranking websites kinda just was part of our service. Back then charging $150/month for hosting a website was still kind of expensive.. We just bundled SEO in with hosting.. but since we designed the websites we kinda just did SEO from the first step.
Do you believe SEO is evolving and getting “more white” so to say (no paid links, no spamming, etc)? Do you think Google will ever be able to win the war with Black hat SEO?
That depends.. the only links I have ever “bought” were Yahoo! directory once they started charging for it.. and free website listings I would get from buying ads in print publications or by being a member of this community organization or that professional organization. Because I was working at an ISP/Web Dev., and kind of an “anti-spam” editor @ yahoo while I was an higher up category editor for ODP/DMOZ I hated spam. So I never really did anything other than follow the “Golden Rule of SEO” – provide unique content specifically relevant to the search query. I’ve always been very vocal about not using links and following Google’s implied rules to the letter, it’s not only my client’s website, it’s my career for the past 14 years.
Back in 96 I remember the big thing was domain shadowing.. you would buy a domain and point it to a subdirectory of a website so a website with 7 subdirectories might be listed under 7 domains.. I never really did this for SEO, but I sure hated it when I would find the same site submitted to Yahoo! or DMOZ like 14 times (each URL could be listed in 2 categories), and have to hunt them down and remove them.
Honestly I think there are many things that are a bit black hat in how Google utilizes them to rank websites, but if you understand the basic premise of Google you can do good SEO. If you want to serve up completely unique and relevant content edited for humans’ search queries, then you should do well. I think SEO is evolving in the terms that there are more people doing it. Hence more people, more tactics, more qualified population per query.
You seem to Twitter a lot. What are you using the tool for?
Networking, i’ve met some cool people like @karlrove is following me now… @mchammer is a die hard raiders fan (Raiders 4 Life!~)
Twitter/FaceBook/Myspace has replaced Yahoo! IM – it’s also a good barometer of people, those that consistently push out negativity on twitter are people I don’t want to work with.. nor follow, etc.. I like the shiny happy people.. It’s similar to moderating an online chat room. I also use it for experimentation collaboration.
Are there any other social networking tools you use more or less often?
Myspace is good for the entertainment and fashion industry. FaceBook is a good local social networking site. LinkedIn is the premier business networking website. I stumble a bit.. I’m actually doing a lot of experimentation with RSS feeds and music, and different types of searching patterns on different music blogging websites. It’s part of my job to test everything so I have tried almost everything, ranking for podcasts, (HINT: It’s totally like ranking bulletins on AOL). Video search, Image Search, book search are all different search types that I deal with for varied clients.
I know you are quite active at SEOmoz. What other SEO communitites do you frequent and why?
I was active with SEOmoz and I would credit my professional membership there with a lot of my contacts on the web.
SEOMoz was the first SEO community I really got into because at first it was nice and clean. I met some people who didn’t really need to hear themselves speak, but wanted to learn and collaborate, which was what Iwould want in an SEO community.
I personally dont’ think there is a better website for people to read about SEO and i still read their blog from time to time.
You once mentioned you very often deal with SEO experiments. Could you list most important rules one should follow when running an SEO experiment?
My actually job title should be “SEO Scientist” instead of “Director of Internet Marketing”, every day I sit in my office and turn up the music and experiment all the time. I am running about 70+ experiments right now. Using blogs, social media websites and several other websites I have access to. (HINT: A good reason to donate some time to a non-profit) And of course just modifications on some Organic SEO clients I have, and documenting the progress after I have tested on non-client websites then pushed the tactics to client’s websites.
a. NEVER do an un-tested experiment on a client’s website. (never done it, it’s just common sense)
b. Document ALL the factors prior to conducting the experiment, add additional factors at baseline, first measure, secondary measure and tertiary measurement points.
c. Always allow for variances among subject and properly validate any outlying factors and account for them.
d. Re-evaluate your hypotheses at each stage of the experiment.
e. ALWAYS allow for statistical regression analysis.
f. Perform the same experiment 3 times before coming to a conclusion.
G. Either re-test or modify experiment if additional variables introduce themselves prior to experiment completion.
I know you’ve been conducting your own experiment on some issue I described in one of the recent post on internal anchor text over-optimization. Could you share your experience?
Well, I read the experiment but never saw the website, so my mind went to about 200 variables. So i re-created the test (my version of it, because I didn’t have all the factors the first person did, I guess?) on 2 brand new websites where there was no domain age, inbound links, etc. I tried in 2 ways, one standard top nav, sitewide, modifying one anchor tag sitewide.
Version 1: this worked positively and I am still #1 for the term.
Version 2: I modified the top nav on 8 different sub-sections to include the original anchor but NOT any of the global navigation elements. (still testing)

What are most common mistakes people make when condusting an SEO experiment?
1. Coming to a pre-mature conclusion.
2. Incorrectly diagnosing all the variables in an experiment.
3. Removing one variable from one of two competing subject groups
4. Not testing in a vacuum (running proper controls)
What are your plans for 2009? Any new projects in mind?
I started 8 different experiments right before I left the office for 2 weeks prior to NYE, the basics, title tags, ALT tags, anchor tags, etc. I did this to see what if any different weighting factors might be applied to on-site optimization as the year changed and also as a control group for newer sites i am launching this week. That experiment is on-going and by making slight modifications to certain variables, we have been able to bring some members of the control group to #1.
I think I am speaking @ IMSpringBreak (Apr. 2-4th, 2009) on IED (information environment design) – contact @davesnyder for more info about a good IM conference. It’s kind of like a spring break version of the ScarySeo conference in Ft. Lauderdale.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Who is Steve Plunkett?


M/C/C's Director of Internet Marketing, Steve Plunkett, is responsible for all aspects of Internet marketing with a focus on search engine optimization (SEO), Social Media, Digital Asset Optimization, Online Reputation Management and Internet user behavior. Plunkett's competitive personality makes him a perfect fit in the competitive world of SEO. As a child and a gamer, he worked hard ensuring that it was his initials at the top of every arcade game unit in his neighborhood. Today, he uses SEO to ensure his clients appear at the top of the search engine results – scoring big for those clients. At M/C/C, he offers clients a wide array of results-oriented services including keyword research, website development, blog strategy and planning and social networking consulting in addition to organic SEO.

Prior to joining M/C/C, Plunkett served as the director of sales and marketing for a leading Dallas Web site and advertising firm, where he consulted with clients on SEO and Internet advertising, ensuring that his clients' Internet and advertising strategies were in line with current business practices and branding. Plunkett has more than a decade of experience with online marketing and SEO, including his duties as Web sales manager for an ISP and Web development firm beginning in March 1995. He was heavily involved with the search engines Yahoo! and WebCrawler in their early days, serving as an alpha tester. Plunkett was an early editor for both Yahoo! Directory and Netscape's Open Directory Project in 1998. In that position, he created and consulted on the Ontology for the Regional/US/Texas, Society/Law/Law Firms and Health categories, assisted in the creation of Web site criteria for removal and assisted in the removal of fraudulent or abusive submissions. Over the years, Plunkett has been involved in the design and implementation of more than 500 Web sites, ranging from smaller sites to multimillion dollar ventures.

Plunkett is now serving for his seventh year as a judge in the global WebAward competition and has formerly served as a judge for the American Advertising Federation's Addy's competition. He also has several affiliations with Web-related groups; he has served as the HIPAA Internet expert for the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce CIO/CTO Forum, as a chairman for the Techscape marketing arm for the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce and on the board of directors for the Dallas Ad League. Plunkett has also served as the Internet chairman for the Tyler Chamber of Commerce, as the president of the East Texas Advertising Federation and as the Internet privacy advisor for the 10th district of the American Advertising Federation.

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