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?

SEO and The User Experience

I'm not a Search Engine Optimization expert. I enjoy thinking about it,  and I have a pretty good idea about SEO best practices but I'm not a pro.

The real SEO pros who live and breathe the stuff all day, every day.

I'm talking about guys like Rand Fishkin at SEOMoz because he writes amazing posts like a recent one about How To Build A Perfectly Optimized Landing Page.

In that post, he walks through his thoughts on how a page should be built in order for it to have the best chance of ranking well in search results. I won't repeat it all here, but he provides well-researched data for some of the reasons he gives, and explains it all in easy-to-understand terms.

Near the end of the post, he asks the question "Why don't we always obey the rules (when it comes to optimizing landing pages)?"

The gist of his answer is that the reasons SEO pros don't always ignore these landing-page optimization rules is because they are focused on other strategies, such as link buidling, to achieve search engine dominance.

Although he lists both Content and User Experience as other priorities one should have when building a landing page, I don't think he ranks them highly enough. To me, it seems like having good content and ensuring that is easy for your users to navigate should take precedence over any other work.

Its fine to rank well in search engines, but that's not going to do anything for you if users aren't interested in what they find on your page, or if they have trouble doing anything with it.

As always, plan and create for users first, search engines second.


Blogs You Aren't Reading But Probably Should:

I recently wrote a post on this blog introducing you to Jan Chipchase's Future Perfect blog in an attempt to introduce people to some blogs that might be outside their usual reading scope. Continuing with this series is a post about SEOMoz and why you should be reading it. A concept that has been around for a long time in the web industry but only recently seems to be gaining steam amongst communications professionals is that of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). According to Wikipedia, this is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site via natural or "organic" search results. Basically, the more optimized your website is, the better traffic you'll get to it.

For some reason, many of the people that I have spoken to in the past few months seem to think that there is some sort of alchemical magic or technological wizardry that optimizes a site for search engines.

Put aside those thoughts and start reading the SEOMoz blog, written by some of the world's leading SEO experts. Some of their posts are directed at newcomers to the world of SEO and can offer a great introduction. Others are a little more complicated and technical, and the balance of the two types of posts lets you pick up anywhere and start learning or applying what you already know.

If you're more of a visual learner, they also have a series of posts called Whiteboard Fridays where one of their team members will create a short, casual video explaining some SEO concepts.

One of my favorite posts on SEOMoz is about the Three Cornerstones of SEO. Even though it was published back in mid-September, I'm constantly referring to the great diagram they have that makes it easy to explain the basic concepts of Search Engine Optimization.

So head on over to SEOMoz and find out why can proudly say they've got more than 30,000 subscribers to their RSS feed.


PS: Related is a great post from Ed Lee about why your site sucks in search engine rankings. As I commented there:

"I also think that too many people complicate SEO, particularly in our industry. They think that it is some kind of alchemical magic, when it really comes down to the three simple “pillars” that you mention. I’ve always heard that if you design a site that is easy to navigate by humans, the search engine bots/spiders will also be able to crawl it easily and find your content. If you’re creating relevant content and writing naturally using words that people are likely to search for rather than jargon, people will be able to find your site and are more likely to get something out of it, and subsequently link to it."

Hot SEO Rap

Remember how at the end of my post about Wu Tang and social media I jokingly said that I'd talk about Nas and SEO? Well, just by chance I came across this blog post by B.L. Ochman. It doesn't feature Nas, but it did lead me to m0serious, an SEO and coding rapper.

Watch the video below where this guy drops some dope verses about social media addiction, then check out his blog and other videos.