How To Out-SEO Your Competition

I know there's a lot of SEO talk around the virtual water cooler these days. If you're like me, you've probably read a number of different how-tos and attended conference or unconference sessions on the recipe for SEO success. I think that I have a fairly decent understanding of how to optimize a website properly, but I'm certainly no expert. Last week I met Marjorie Wallens of MJW Communications, a small Toronto-based PR firm. By employing a few basic and smart strategies, Marjorie has managed to out-SEO the biggest PR firms in the city—think Edelman, Fleishman-Hillard, Environics, as well as her smaller counterparts.

Marjorie was really open about discussing how she went about optimizing her website and what changes she saw as a result.

Q: What were the first steps you took to begin optimizing?

A: Research is always the first step. I did this for myself and I do it for all of my clients. First, I checked out my competition in the Toronto PR space—both big and small. I looked at the source page codes to see what key search terms they were using. Then I used the Google Keyword search tool to cross-reference my findings (and confirm the most popular key search words).

My next step was to look at the copy on my competitors' websites. What key search words were they including in their copy? Surprisingly, I found many companies didn't include their key words in the headlines or body copy of their web pages. On my website, those keywords are headlines and included in the body copy. This is an important aspect of SEO.

Q: Once you had secured your keywords, what did you look to next?

A: I started to produce more content. This included everything from white papers, optimized news releases, YouTube videos and blogs that all linked back to my website. Being in PR, I issue a number of news releases which all include my web and email addresses. Google recognizes this linking relationship to communications and PR content and me as a "subject matter expert", increasing my page rank as a result. (**Aside: for those of you not issuing press releases, similar results come from posting your content on other sites that generate high amounts of traffic. For example, YouTube, relevant associations, and LinkedIn groups can all help drive traffic to your site, increase the number of linking relationships (key to SEO success), further elevate you as a thought leader and in turn increase your page rank.)

Q: What are your thoughts/experiences so far with paid search?

A: I do advertise on the paid side of Google, but only with a nominal budget. I use it more for research so that I can continue to monitor which key search words resonate with people looking for PR firms in Toronto.

Q: How long did it take you to see results?

A: I started to see real results after a month, if not a bit sooner. I was getting more hits to my site and calls asking about my company and service.

So there you have it, research, keywords, links, content (and content syndication), and more research and monitoring. Is there anything you've found that has made a huge difference in the success of your SEO?