Given SEO is a recent phenomenon, many SEOs stumble into SEO from some other discipline or career.
Attend any SEO gathering, and you'll find ex-coders, designers, sales people, lawyers, entrepreneurs, techies and people from all manner of backgrounds. SEO talk often centers around the arcane technical aspects of the craft, such as tagging, linking, keywords, density and ranking.
However, in terms of function, SEO is most closely related to marketing.
Like marketing, SEO is about getting your message, product or service in front of people, and having them visit your site, and taking action. If that doesn't happen, an SEO campaign is near worthless.
By grounding an SEO campaign in proven marketing strategy, you can not only out-rank others, but also lead visitors to do exactly what you want them to do.
Such a strategy may be common knowledge to experienced SEOs, but those new to SEO will save a lot of time and effort by spending some time absorbing and understanding these fundamental principles. Experienced SEOs, it would be great if you could share your experiences and knowledge of the intersection between SEO & marketing in the comments :)
The Six Fundamental Principles Of Marketing
Like SEO, marketing is part art, part science.
Even if you cover all the technical aspects of SEO, that is no guarantee of ranking well. Ranking well has a lot to do with being interesting enough to link to, and influential and visible enough to attract attention in the first place. Likewise, there isn't a set of marketing specific marketing rules to follow. They will vary, depending on the niche you target. This is why it is important to understand the ideas behind them.
There are six fundamental principles of marketing that relate to SEO:
The Four Ps: Product, Price, Place & Promotion
Development Of A Marketing Strategy
Revision and Refinement
Step One: Perform Market Analysis
Ask "what does the consumer need?"
How many consumers need this product/service?
What is their buying process?
You must fulfill a need. If there is no need for a product or service, the SEO strategy will fail. You might get rankings, but rankings without traffic that can be converted into desired action - i.e. a sale, a click, a sign-up - are worthless.
How do you find out if there is a need? Undertake market research.
Market research falls into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary research is conducted from scratch. Typically, this means interviewing people and gathering information and collating that data. Secondary research is where the data has been collected for other purposes. You can obtain surveys and reports, and adapt them to your needs i.e. government census data.
SEOs use a mix of primary and secondary research, typically in the form of keyword research. They look for keyword terms related to their niche. By the way, if you're unsure about what niche to target, look for a niche that is growing quickly. You want to avoid saturated areas that are declining in popularity. How do you do this? A variety of ways, perhaps including...
Build where you have proprietary knowledge
it is easier to be successful if you already know a lot about a market
any experience you have lowers the investment needed to research the market AND ensures you can write at a higher and more compelling level than people who do not know the market
you can use your current experience, momentum, exposure, and market data to build out successful parallel projects
Go beyond the keyword
Look at demographic details for competing sites and keywords to get inside the mind of the searcher
Humans have been irrational as long as there have been humans. Have plenty of spare capital? Be a contrarian investor. Think out a couple cycles and try to buy assets that are currently undervalued and unappreciated by the market.
Keyword research is a rough indicator of need. For example, approximately 130K queries per month indicates there is a reasonable need for "Britney Spears pics".
But this is the point where a lot of those new to SEO slip up.
Basic Market Analysis Applied
The SEO wants to create a site that will sell Britney Spears pictures - no doubt you've already spotted the flaw in this plan, which we'll discuss shortly.
The SEO has conducted some basic research, in the form of keyword research, using the Google Keyword Research tool, or any number of keyword research tools.
The SEO discovered this:
There is a lot of "need" for Britney pics. The first two steps of the strategy - what is the need, and how many people have this need - appears to be fulfilled. The SEO acquires a lot of Britney pictures, sets up a site, and ranks well for Briney pics related keyword terms.
And fails to make any money.
There are various reasons, but fundamentally the SEO failed to ask "what is the buy process?"
The Missing Link: The Buy Process
Had the SEO considered this aspect, he would have realized people don't actually buy Britney pictures. People just look at them for free, because there are a lot of places to get Britney pictures for free. A buy process simply doesn't exist, except in the b2b market between paparazzi and gossip magazine publishers.
That's obvious, right. But it applies to any SEO niche research. Seek to understand the buy process of those with the need, which will help you decide if a market is worth ranking highly for in the first place. What makes someone buy something? Will they buy it online? Are they capable of buying something over the internet?
In this example, the webmaster may choose to run ads instead. Again, this will likely meet with limited success, because people looking for Britney Spears pics aren't likely to be in a buying process, and so advertising, such as Adsense, will be priced accordingly.
Such traffic is near worthless.
Such a site might attempt to sell a closely related service, such as a subscription to gossip magazines, or music, or clothing. This is probably where this idea would end up. The one caveat is using this approach to drive brand awareness. Again, the SEO still needs to consider the buy process. What is the visitor really buying? An idea? A solution to a problem? Information? Awareness? We'll get into the economics of such questions over the next few days.
This is why SEO, like marketing, is a mix of science and art. There is science involved in ranking well, and there is art in knowing which terms are worth ranking for, and why.
In summary, a taxonomy is the practice and science of classification.
In terms of search, we focus on classifying keywords into three distinct classes - navigational, informational and transactional.
If you can determine user intent behind keyword queries, you can better target your keyword strategies. For example, if your aim is to sell goods online, you may choose to focus on transactional queries e.g. "where can I buy an LCD monitor....", as opposed to informational queries e.g. "power requirements of an LCD monitor......".
There is, of course, a lot of cross-over between these three types of queries, which I'll address shortly.
The Three Types Of Searches
In the study, keyword queries are divided into three groups.
A navigational query indicates the searcher wants to find a specific site.
For example, a search for "BMW" most likely indicates the the user wants to find BMW.com. Navigational queries usually only have one "right" answer. The user either finds the site they are after, or they do not.
An informational query indicates the searcher is looking for specific information.
For example, "symptoms of cancer", "San Francisco" or "Scoville heat units". Informational queries tend to be broad. The informational query doesn't tend to be site specific.
A transactional query indicates the searcher wants to perform a web-mediated activity. For example, "buy LCD TV online".
If your aim is to sell goods and services online, you might focus more on transactional queries than informational queries. The problem with such classification, of course, is that it is narrow. We can't really determine user intent from just looking at the keyword, however this classification gives us a useful way of thinking about which keyword terms might be the most useful in achieving our goals.
Results Of The Survey
There are some really interesting results in this report.
24.53% of people want to get to a specific website they already have in mind. This is a navigational query
This is why brand, and making your brand memorable, is so important. Searchers often type a site name into a search engine, rather than type http://www....etc into the address bar. Optimizing for the name of your site is imperative if you want to catch navigational queries.
68.41% of people want to find a good site on a particular topic. They don't have a specific site in mind. This is an informational query
A lot of SEO is focused on this type of query.
Why did people conduct their searches?
8.16% were shopping for something to buy on the internet
5.46% of people were shopping to buy an item, but not on the internet
22.55% of people wanted to download a file (i.e. image, music, software, etc)
57.19% None of these reasons
What were people looking for?
14.83% were looking for a collection of links to other sites regarding a particular topic
76.62% The best site regarding this topic
Interesting, huh. Site's like About.com and Mahalo capture both these types of queries.
Although the test data is limited, it is interesting to note that sites targeting a transactional query can be further down the search result set than the informational query and still receive attention, if not a click.
When conducting an informational query, if searchers don't see the information they want in the first search result, they will refine their search. The same goes for navigational queries.
If you're targeting the transactional query, however, the wording of your title tag could give you an advantage over those who rank higher than you. When conducting a transactional query, searchers often hunt further down the result page, or across to the Adwords, to see which listing sounds most interesting to them.
How To Integrate This Knowledge Into Your Strategy
So how do you apply this information?
If you choose to focus on one type of query.....
Know Your Users
There are many cues of relevancy left by the market. All you have to do is look for them.
Look at the ads
Google typically only shows AdWords ads above the organic search results *if* they generate a high clickthrough rate (CTR). And since advertisers using AdWords are paying for every click, you can presume that for expensive keywords many of those ads are matched up with strong user intent.
Tools like SpyFu ad history and KeywordSpy can help show you who has been advertising on those keywords for the longest period of time. Those who have been doing it a long time are typically either optimizing their ad copy OR losing a lot of money.
Microsoft offers a search funnels tool which allows you to research keywords they recently searched for prior to searching for a keyword, OR keywords they searched for after they searched for a keyword.
Microsoft also has an entity association tool which can be used to find keywords that were co-occuring in the search or searched for in the same session.
Beyond data from the above tools, you can also infer a lot of data just by putting yourself in the mind of the consumer
Determine which type of search you're targeting - informational, transactional, navigational - and segment the audience accordingly
Align your site to the intent of the user. For example, a searcher who is after information is going to want to see an authoritative looking site. What is an authoritative looking site? It will differ depending on the market you are in, but it is highly unlikely the searcher will react well to a site plastered with advertising. The site will have markers of authority, such as recommendations, perhaps a display of qualifications, and information laid out in an "academic" way (Wikipedia), as opposed to a blatant sales pitch (Multi-Level Marketing). The transaction searcher will want confirmation (e.g. a big logo) s/he has arrived in the right place.
Look for emotional angles and user intent targeting strategies that competing businesses are missing. Is free shipping a big deal? Is everyone trying to sell to a person that is looking to research and compare? Find a compelling way to stand out and differentiate yourself from the competition. Even if you are only targeting 30% of searchers you can still get more traffic being the only person doing that rather than the 8th consecutive similar offer.
Track user behavior to confirm intent. Get people to sign up for more detailed information, note which pages people spend the most time on, which keyword terms lead to conversion, etc. Feed this information back into your strategy
The transactional user is more likely to forgive ads. In fact, they may even welcome them, so long as the advertising is relevant.
Integrate All Three Search Types
One of the problems with the study, as noted in the study, is that it is very difficult to determine intent just by looking at the keyword.
For example, an informational search could end up being a transactional search once the user is satisfied that with the answer to the information they were seeking. For example, "symptoms of flu" might turn into a purchase for a flu remedy.
That's why it can be a good idea to target all types of query, in an integrated way.
Carefully consider how you word your title tags. Integrate brand aspects for the navigational query i.e. "SEOBook.com - SEO Training Made Easy". Convey the information you provide "i.e. SEO Training" and transactional information i.e. the implication is that people can buy "SEO training". This information is also repeated in the snippet, although webmasters often have less control over this aspect.
Keep in mind that transactional doesn't just mean e-commerce. It can relate to any desired action, such as a sign-up to a newsletter, or a request for more information.
One aspect of web marketing that is getting more important is building communities and tribes. People who will return, in other words. You're unlikely to engage a community of people if all you ever offer is transactions. This is why Amazon integrates reviews and other social aspects in order to hook people in on a number of levels, even though the primary aim is to sell goods. Also check out Bill's excellent "Bills Blues" example.
What approach do you take? Do you narrow in on one type of query? Go wide and try to catch all three? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
As we all know, the last thing Google wants to do is make life easy for SEOs, so we'll just have to live with the constant change. One of the biggest changes SEOs have had to adapt to in recent times has been algorithm shifts that reward big players.
For example, Google results heavily feature YouTube (owned by Google, of course) and Wikipedia pages in against almost every search we make.
Let's look at some of the advantages of big business, and ways the small guy can counter them.
Advantages Of The Big Players
Unlike the small business, large businesses have access to significant amounts of capital. They can use this capital, indirectly, to buy position.
They can run large ongoing media campaigns that ensure visitors, links and attention, and all the resulting ranking advantages that provides. Big business can cross promote their properties, which makes it easier to launch new sites. They can buy out competitors (Google - YouTube) and trounce the competition, even though they enter late. They have many employees they can throw at problems, and waves of lawyers to throw problems at others.
What does the little guy have?
An internet connection.
Google Has Devalued Easy Tricks
The low hanging fruit is gone.
Google will always be a moving target. As the structure of the web changes, Google changes with it.
In the last few years, Google have devalued on page factors, they've made link building a lot more difficult, and the playing field is far from level. When the big guys get caught out using aggressive SEO, they're often given a free pass back into the index, because to not have them showing would devalue Google. The little guy is likely to be excluded for some time.
Because they are big, they can often only operate in tried and tested ways. For example, there's a Telecoms company that have just wasted tens of millions of dollars on a website that most bedroom SEOs could have beaten in their sleep. The site has recently been shut down.
The site was uneconomic because the only way this big Telecoms company knew how to operate was by using the biggest and "best" suppliers. So that meant hiring in consultants from the big consultancy firms. That meant employing large vendors to do their programming. It meant above-the-line advertising at prime time, and saturation advertising across newspapers and radio. It meant hiring teams of people and organizing them in the tried and tested organization structure.
Because that's how they've always released products and services.
Also consider that a lot of Web 2.0 operations, lauded in the media for the past few years as "the bright young things to watch", are now crashing to earth as their big-money funding dries up. Turns out that was the only thing keeping them going. Meanwhile, a lot of SEO-aware webmasters are enjoying a growing income because they're always had the revenue equation right.
In both cases, the access to big capital was a disadvantage. It meant these companies didn't need to be smart.
So what, specifically, can the smart, little, SEO-aware guy do?
You can take big bets.
The big guys tend to be conservative, but we don't need to be. We can have a crazy idea one morning, and make it a reality by that afternoon. We can ask ourselves "Is this idea crazy enough!".
The big company finds it very hard to do that.
Big company people often fret about their jobs and reputation, they have to convince a lot of stakeholders, and there's always someone waiting to stab them in the back.
The big company might not be able to make money out a small niche.
In the Telecoms company example I used above, their bloated structure and operating methodology drove costs way above the potential return. However, a smaller company with lower overheads could have made a success of it.
There are thousands and thousands of small niches the big companies can never compete in.
But you can.
Personal Trust Networks
Big companies have problems personalizing their services and relationships.
The web is about to change again. And when the web changes Google changes, too. The big change is a social one.
Twitter, social media, bookmarking sites are all about "the personal". They're hard for a big company to centrally control. That suits the small guy.
Look to build up a high degree of trust with small, tightly linked networks of people. Use a blog to keep in contact. Not just any old blog - really work it. Make it unique and own your ideas. Have an opinion and shout it loud.
Try to talk to those one hundred people in your little niche who make a difference. Talk to those 100 people who think the same way you do. If they know you and trust you, they'll do a lot of your marketing for you. There remains no more effective marketing than word of mouth.
Ask your friends to help out. Cross promote their stuff. Go into joint ventures. Really work the personal, trusted relationship side, because that's the way the web is going. Trust is being decentralized.
This is one area in which the big guys are going to have a lot of problems competing.
Friendgine - Friend Search Engine
Aaron has a great idea called "Friendgine".
Set up your own, personal Google or Yahoo search engine that includes the sites of all your friends and personal network colleagues. If you ever need to link to an external article, search your friendgine first, and link to your friends if they have relevant content.
This is a subtle way to keep in contact. They'll also likely reciprocate the favor. By creating these mini trust webs you'll make it difficult for other people who haven't established such relationships, to follow. You'll have your own nepotistic closed circle :)
This is the first of a two-part article to help those looking to buy SEO and other search marketing services.
Unlike traditional media buying, where placement is guaranteed, SEO can appear to be hit and miss.
This is because SEO is a strategic process, whereby the SEO will align your site with the often cryptic requirements of the search engines, with the intent of gaining higher visibility for your site in search listings.
The SEO doesn't purchase placement, rather, s/he will try to earn you that placement. The closer your site is aligned with the search engines unwritten criteria, usually the more successful the SEO campaign will be.
All search marketing services should increase the level of exposure you receive on search engines. The trick lies in measuring the level of that exposure, and measuring the value it provides.
What exactly are people buying when they buy an SEO service? Why are SEO offerings so different? What is the difference between a service that costs a few hundred and a service costing tens of thousands?
Before you consider buying SEO services, step back and assess your goals for your site.
What problem are you trying to solve? Do you want to drive traffic from search engines? Do you want to reduce your PPC spend? Do you want to increase conversion rates? Depending on how you answer such questions, the level of SEO service you require will vary considerably.
Search marketing is most effective when it increases the level of visitor traffic to your site, that visitor traffic arrives at an acceptable cost, and the visitor traffic engages in desired action. If you keep these metrics in mind, you'll should avoid falling victim to some of the scams prevalent in the darker corners of the industry.
Done well, however, SEO is a very powerful, cost effective channel. A steady flow of new visitors will arrive for years after your initial investment is made.
You Get What you Pay For
Some SEO services deliver a greater level of exposure in the search listings. Other services take a more holistic, marketing-driven approach, which can include conversion metrics and visitor behavior evaluation. Most services lie somewhere in between.
Your selection of vendor will depend very much on your requirements and budget. SEO vendors who include conversion metrics tend to be more expensive, as this type of service requires diverse skill sets, and is more time intensive.
One Time Fee
Generally speaking, the more competitive your keyword area, the more work involved.
One good way to measure how competitive your keyword area is, is to look at the PPC bid prices. PPC bid prices can range from a few cents per click, to hundreds of dollars. The higher the figure, the more competitive the keyword area. The exception is if you have an established, reputable brand. Established sites can often dominate competitive areas with little additional work.
If you're operating in a area that isn't competitive, a one off SEO service might be all you need.
The SEO should ensure your site is able to be crawled and indexed by the search engines, contains appropriate content that aligns with keyword terms, and should build a few links pointing to your site from outside sources. If an SEO does their job correctly, you should see an uptick of visitor traffic from the search engines in your log files. If you are happy with this level of traffic, that is where the service ends.
If you operate in a competitive space, the SEO will need to spend a lot of time building - and in some cases buying - links. If you're measuring visitor behavior, and adjusting the site in response, the SEO will need to make regular changes.
Such services are typically ongoing, whereby the SEO charges a monthly fee. The monthly fee also covers reporting and evaluation, with the aim of maintaining your position, or increasing your reach.
Whether you choose a one -off service or ongoing very much depends on your goals.
Metrics Not Aligned With Business Goals
One common metric used in search marketing is ranking. The problem with this metric is that ranking for keyword x may not result in any increase in visitor traffic, because few people search for keyword term x.
If you examine your current log files, you might find you already rank for some keyword terms. So long as the search engine has indexed your site, you'll invariably rank for obscure terms by virtue of having words on your pages.
Less-reputable SEO firms will include obscure terms on your pages, show you a subsequent ranking for these terms, and thus justify their fee. Unfortunately, this is the offline equivalent of putting billboard in the middle of a desert, miles from the road. Few people will ever see it.
Instead, look for an up-tick in search visitor numbers. You may want to go one step further, and measure what those visitors do once they arrive at your site. Do they buy? Do they fill out your inquiry form?
Some firms offer guaranteed placement, but the reality is that no one, outside the search engine, controls their results. The SEO will attempt to meet pre-agreed performance criteria, and if they do, then the contract is fulfilled.
Sounds low risk?
Guarantees are only worth the backing they receive. Will the firm still be around in a few months? Will they honor your request? Are they located in a legal jurisdiction where you can chase them? Will the cost of doing so exceed the return?
If buying into such a guarantee, be wary of letting the SEO firm establish the metric of achievement. Instead, define the metric yourself, in line with your business goals. The less reputable operators will likely shy away from such an arrangement. They rely on setting easily achievable ranking goals, which, like the billboard in the middle of a desert, seldom offers any real benefit.
The relationship between SEOs and the search engines is gray. There are a number of techniques the search engines frown upon, which may result in your site being penalized, or delisted.
If you are risk adverse, ask the SEO company if they work within the search engines guidelines. You can find the Google's guidelines here.
A more aggressive approach, especially in highly competitive keyword areas, might be required, however a good SEO firm should be upfront about the level of risk their techniques involved. Having said that, the risks of getting banned, even with techniques outside the guidelines are relatively low.
The Magic Wand
Another risk might be your own preconceptions.
One of the expectations clients often have is that the SEO will be able to wave a wand and work miracles. Keep in mind that SEO generally requires changes to your site, which might be significant. Designers, developers and copywriters often need to buy into the process. SEO results can also take time to show, as search engines don't reflect changes over-night.
Ask the SEO company to provide time frames, and outline the specific work that will be involved.
The problem: big publishers "borrowing" stories from smaller publishers, redrafting them, and republishing them. Because the bigger publisher has greater domain authority, "their" story achieves higher rank.
Can you pick "who made who" in the following examples?
Of course, the publishers of these specific examples may not of been aware of each others existence. Great minds can think alike. But there are so many examples of coincidence out there, one suspects it isn't all purely a matter of chance.
Whilst borrowing of ideas is nothing new, if you're a publisher, content borrowing can wreak havoc with your seo strategies. The big and powerful sites dominate, and the little guy often gets relegated. Google's linking algorithms reward the already rich, and make them richer.
The sad reality is that whilst the web started out with the intention of being a democracy of information, it now closely resembles the power structures of the offline world. By the time you read this article, it has very likely been reproduced without attribution.
Here are a few ideas on how the little guy can fight back.
1. The Power Of Relationships/Distribution
It is said that business can be boiled down to two essential elements: to sell something for more than it costs to produce, and the ability to nurture relationships.
If you're a publisher, you can leverage the relationship you have with your readers in order to protect you from "the borrowers". Once you readers, and indirect competitors, are aware of your work, it becomes harder for your competitors to talk to that same market, using your ideas.
Think about what you can do for your readers to instill a sense of loyalty. Give them something of value. Make them feel indebted to you. Give people a stake in your success.
Consider allowing people to republish your content under certain conditions. i.e. when you have sufficient page rank, allow others to copy parts of your work, so long as they link back to the original. Such a policy might turn those who would ordinarily steal from you into allies who supply free link juice.
Try to make your content an identifiable part of your brand.
For example, part of your brand might be your a stylistic approach to writing. It would be very difficult to directly rip off Dave Barry, because he writes himself into his articles.
Typically, the more generic a piece is, the easier it is to borrow, so try to weave something unique to you, or your site, into the article. Perhaps use arguments and points that rely on a link to one of your previous articles, in order that they make sense.
3. Launch Hard
When you create a new site, or a new piece of content, shout loud about it.
Use all the channels. Twitter about it. Email your subscribers. Submit your article to aggregation networks. Pitch your article to other publishers with whom you've built a strong relationship, and who you know will link back and credit you.
In tight communities, like the SEO world, it will be harder to rip you off if you've made yourself visible in all the channels the community uses.
4. Create A Publicity Storm
If you're very sure of your ground i.e. someone has blatantly copied and republished your content without permission, you could create a lot of media mileage by outing them. If they won't acknowledge you, then their direct competitors might be very open to highlighting the borrowers contemptible practices. Use the same approach you do when you launch hard.
Say it often, and spread the (negative) message wide. Done correctly, a publicity storm might generate more back-links links than the original article. In any case, they'll certainly think twice about taking your stuff in future.
5. Fire Fight
Another approach is the cavalry charge.
Contact the publisher, contact the people linking to them, have your friends write about the culprit. Do it each and every time someone steals your work. Do it on Twitter. Do it on their site. You could even hire an army of cheap Mechanical Turks to do the job for you.
The problem with the above approaches is that they can take a lot of your time.
Where you really want to be is so big that your direct competitors wouldn't dare take your stuff. The smaller upstarts who take your stuff won't be able to rank against you anyway.
This last point is where I'd put most of my efforts. As frustrating as it is, the web is a very difficult environment in which to enforce copyright. Spending a lot of time fighting that fact won't make the interweb leopard change it's spots.
It's like the spam reporting approach. Do you spend all your time dobbing in spammers above you in the vain hope they'll all disappear, or do you beat them by building an authoritative, trusted domain?
Nurture those relationships to help you get there :)
Let's take look at a web strategy that has a number of SEO and benefits: the hub and spoke strategy. A hub and spoke strategy is when you create one authoritative domain (the hub), and then hang various related websites off that domain (the spokes).
If you don't yet have an authority site, it's probably best to focus on that one site. However, once you've built an authority hub, it can be a good idea to specialize in a number of niches using multiple, smaller sites.
Let's look at a few reasons why, in the context of dominating a niche.
Economic theory holds that division of labor increases profitability.
During the early days of the web, it was easy to make money by being a generalist. However, as the web got deeper and richer, it became difficult to maintain a generalist position unless you had significant resources.
Specialization, by way of niches, allows for greater targeting, and this targeting can increase value. Leads and advertising become more valuable, because the target audience can be reached more efficiently.
The hub and spoke approach is this theory in microcosm. The hub is the generalist authority, whilst the spokes allow for niche specialization.
We'll see how this dove-tails with SEO shortly.
If you were to create a series of sites on different topics, it might take a significant period of time to know each area well. However, if you create niche topics within your own area of expertise, you should be able to create new sites very quickly.
Why would you create new sites? Why not just stick with one?
Let's say your main site is fairly broad in it's appeal. However, you've discovered some lucrative niche keyword areas within that broad topic area. By creating spoke sites, you can focus on these keyword areas, and dig deeper, without compromising the general appeal of your main site.
An example might be a hub site that is aimed at community education, whilst spoke sites might cover private tuition, corporate learning materials, and education facility hire.
This segmentation can be done in a number of ways. You could aggressively target one search engines algorithm and/or audience (MSN) with one spoke, whilst targeting another search engine on another spoke. One site might be aimed at do-it-yourself people, whilst another site is aimed at a person looking to hire a professional. Both sites cover the same topic, but require a different approach in terms of language, structure, offer and tone.
Likewise, you may use spoke sites for brand reasons. When Google bought YouTube they wisely kept the YouTube name, as the brand appealed to users. Google Video - not so much. There is a general perception that YouTube does video, and Google is a search company, and never the twain shall meet.
Google knew better than to force the issue.
A hub site on education that links out to pharmaceutical affiliates could easily get hit by Google. The relationship between the two areas is questionable. However, if you link out to your spoke sites, that cover related niches, your link pattern will be much more acceptable.
From an SEO standpoint, it can be difficult to get links to purely commercial sites. If you have a hub site that already has link authority - or is created specifically to attract links - then you can pass this authority to your more specialized spokes. Once the spokes become more popular, you can either pass that authority along to yet more specialized sites (one way), or even promote your hub site (reciprocal). Either way, the link graph makes sense.
Each site doesn't need to be directly profitable. You can use one site to attract links, and pass this authority on to your monetarized domains. One can subsidize the production of the other.
If you've already built up name recognition in your niche, you'll find it easier to get links and press attention for your new projects.
Status is important because if no one knows who you are, they probably don't care about the content so much. Let's say Danny Sullivan or Matt Cutts writes something, it will instantly get attention because of who they are and the trust relationship they have with their audience. If you're new to the SEO space, no matter how profound your content is, it could easily get over-looked.
This is why it can be more difficult building multiple areas across unrelated niches. You may need to establish yourself in each new area, which can be a lot more difficult than leveraging your name recognition in your existing niche, then going granular.
Enhanced Monetarization Opportunities
We've looked at how you can target the most profitable areas aggressively using a hub and spoke strategy, without affecting the main brand.
Other advantages include economies of scale. As your network grows, you have more ad inventory to sell people. The inventory can be segmented, as opposed to the advertiser having to accept a one-size-fits-all approach of a generalist site. Similarly, you may be able to demand higher affiliate payouts, because you can precisely target offers.
Another question we received recently from the SEOBook.com community was:
What qualities are common in Aaron Wall, DaveN, Bob Massa, Jason Duke, SugarRae, et al, that new SEOs can adopt, to come closer to people like these in expertise. Where do most new SEOs go wrong when they set learning priorities?
I've asked these people to provide their views, which I'll get to shortly.
It's a great question, because the avalanche of SEO information that confronts the beginner can be overwhelming. How do you know what information is important? What aspects do you really need to spend you time on, and what information do you need to reject? What are the qualities that make for a good SEO?
Let's take a look...
Most people stumble into being an SEO.
An awareness of SEO usually comes about when a person launches a site, only to find that the site doesn't magically appear #1.
Soon after, the webmaster will likely find themselves knee deep in SEO forums and blogs, where everyone has a viewpoint, and often those viewpoints contradict each other. Contradiction is rife in SEO. To understand why, we need to understand the history of search engines.
The first step in setting learning priorities for SEO is to.....
Infoseek was one of the early search engines. Infoseek introduced a feature around 1996 , whereby they would crawl a site and update their index immediately. This feature made it easy for webmasters to game the algorithm.
I had just launched a small, commercial site. I thought all I had to do was publish a site, and the search engine would do it's job, and put me at number one! Unsurprisingly, that didn't happen.
So, I tried to figure out why Infoseek didn't think my site was great. I could see that there were sites ranking above mine, so there was clearly something about those sites that Infoseek did like. I looked at the code of the high ranking sites. Did that have something to do with it? To test that idea, I cut and pasted it their code into my own code and republished my site. Viola, I was at number 2!
So far, so good.
But why wasn't I number one? The sites that were ranking highly tended to have long pages on the same topic, so I added more text to my pages. Soon enough, with a little trial and error, I was number one. Predictably, Infoseek soon pulled this feature when they saw what was happening.
I was clearly not alone in my underhanded trickery.
At the time, I thought my cut n paste trick was an amusing hack, but I wasn't earning my bread and butter from the internet. I was working in the computer industry, and unaware of "SEO". I soon forgot about it.
A few years later, a whole cottage industry had sprung up around SEO. The search technology had become a lot more sophisticated. My dubious copy n' paste hack no longer worked, and the search engines were locked in a war against webmasters who were trying to game their ranking criteria.
There is an inherent conflict between the business model of the search engine, and that of the SEO. The SEO wants their site to rank, the search engine wants to rank a page a searcher will find useful.
That isn't necessarily the same thing.
Therefore, the search engines are notoriously secret about their ranking formulas. SEOs try and reverse engineer the formulas, or just guess the factors involved, which is why you'll see so many contradictory viewpoints.
So who do you listen to? What information is relevant?
2. Technical Know-How
Dave Naylor had this to say about doing too much at once:
Common qualities that's simple we notice the little things and understand the larger impact that they will have in long term,
And where do you most new SEOs go wrong when they set learning priorities?
From the new SEO's on the block that I chat too, they seem to run at a million miles an hour trying 100 different things at once, they need to slow get a decent data set of information and slowly pick though it and test small things at a time, and work out thing like why is it when I search for The FT in Google it returns Grand Theft Auto ?
Most people new to SEO place a lot of emphasis on the technical aspects. It's natural to seek out the secret recipe of high rankings. Whilst most forums obsess over these issues, much of what you'll read is irrelevant fluff. These days, SEO is more about a holistic process, rather than an end unto itself.
Start with a solid, credible source - like SEOBook's course for example ;) The cost of a well researched course is nothing compared to the time you may spend heading in the wrong direction.
Most people will benefit by applying the 80/20 rule. To rank in Google, you need to be on-topic, you need to be crawlable, and you need to have inbound links.
You could spend a lifetime trying to figure out the other 20%. Unfortunately, the formula is in Google's hands, and even then, only known to a few. It is reasonable to assume Google tweaks the dials often, especially once a common exploit makes the rounds. Take Dave's advice and take it one step at a time. Focus on the key aspects first - relevance, crawlability and linking - then methodically test and evaluate in order to expand your knowledge.
I honestly think the only way anyone can go wrong, new to online promotion or a seasoned veteran, is to not look too hard for tricks and magic beans from those who make their names posting those so-called tricks, in forums.
I believe anyone can be successful at online marketing or even traffic generation and search engine placement specifically, if they just stop looking for ways to trick machines and instead look for ways to connect with humans.
search engines are just computer programs and algorithms written by humans. The engine is only a tool intended to aide humans do things faster and easier that are important to their lives. I think machines can help with connecting humans BUT the humans are the target, the goal, the end that machines can provide the means to.
I think one thing that is common among the list of people you mentioned is that they all realize, understand and accept that concept.
3. Strategy & Goals
The opportunity in SEO lies in the fact that Google must have content, around which it places advertising. If you rank high, you get "free" clicks.
Of course, nothing in this world is free, and SEO is no exception. There is significant time cost involved in getting lucrative rankings. And that cost comes with a reasonable degree of risk. Google has no obligation to show you at position x, and your competitors will always try and eat your lunch.
Strategy is the most important aspect, and one you should spend a lot of your time on. Why are you trying to rank? Are there better things you could be doing i.e. building up a community? Do you have an on-going publishing model? How is your brochure-web site ever going to attract links? Are you building enough link juice to ensure your entire 500K page affiliate site gets indexed?
I think some of the general principals that apply to most of them are that they are: smart, curious, hard working, blunt, honest, and sharing. They also view SEO as a tool to help them achieve other goals, rather than having SEO be the end goal.
Where a lot of people go wrong with SEO is that they try to think in concrete numbers based on a limited perspective built off a limited set of data. Some things may happen sometimes, but there are very few universal truths to the shifting field of SEO beyond preparing for change. And the certain lasting truths do not provide much competitive advantage...that is built through curiosity, testing, hard work, and creativity - Aaron Wall.
It's surprising how little time is spent talking about measurement, because without it, SEOs are flying blind.
One common metric is rank. It's not a very good metric, because it doesn't tell you very much, other than you've won the ranking game.
But so what?
What if that rank doesn't help you achieve your goals? What if every person who clicks on your link ends up buying from the guy who is advertising on Adwords instead?
This is why measurement, aligned with your goals, is important. If you track SEO efforts through to a goal, and most of those goals tend to involve making money, then you'll be head and shoulders above most of the forum hacks and pretenders. It doesn't matter what tracking software you use. Become an expert and tracking and metrics.
There have been SEOs who have argued - with a straight face - that whilst it's ok for them to game search engine algorithms, it's not ok for others to do so. This is usually because the other guy isn't following "the rules".
What are the rules?
The rules are decided - and vaguely defined - by the search engines, and then interpreted to mean whatever an SEO decides they mean. Far be it for a search engine to create rules that serve their own business interests, which may not align with the interests of the webmaster.
SEO is built on shifting sands. What do you do when what you were doing was "within the guidelines" and no longer is because the rules change? Do you willfully decide to rank lower?
Conclusion: Spam is what the other guy does. Also an acronym for "Sites Positioned Above Mine".
2. How To Create Meta Tags
Hard to believe now, but forum wars were fought over how many times a webmaster could repeat a keyword in a meta keyword tag. Twice was often deemed ok, but any more than that and you were almost certainly an "evil spammer" (see #1).
Meta tag manipulation doesn't count for anything these days. The tags are mainly used to describe the content of pages, that the search engines may display as snippet text.
Conclusion: Deader than AltaVista
3. Is SEO Ethical?
A curious framing of SEO in terms of ethics and morality.
Is it good and proper to try to get a higher rank than the search engine would bestow otherwise? The point of SEO is, of course, to get a higher rank than the search engines would bestow otherwise.
These people were usually in the wrong game. Many went on to join Seminaries.
Conclusion: Welcome to the jungle
4. Should I Buy Links?
Paranoia runs rampant in SEO, especially when search engines make a example of someone. Like SearchKing.
The argument quickly descended into a semantic war i.e. define "paid". Money changing hands? Favors? Nepotism? Erm...Yahoo Directory? One of the more interesting conclusions often got buried: "Hey, perhaps if Google dislike them so much, paid links really do work!"
Conclusion: Yeah, they work
5. Should There Be SEO Standards?
A natural progression of the ethical debate. It was proposed that SEOs should all conform to a common code of practice, as other professions often do.
The problem was that the relationship between search engines and SEOs has always been grey. Only the search engine can really define what the search engine wants, and what the search engine wants might not align with what the SEO, or their client, wants. In any case, the search engine isn't going to publicly define exactly what they want, as they are worried that people, like SEOs, will game their systems.
So, you got a few self-appointed search police officers, who would suggest that everyone followed their particular code of practice, based on their interpretation of the search engines guidelines. The self-appointed cops usually out-numbered those who followed them, and invariably disagreed amongst themselves anyway.
Continuing on with our community questions, here are a few requests for specific ranking information:
"What are the 100+ variables Google considers in their ranking algorithm?"
Easy to say, hard to do. Take a job at Google, work your way up the ranks and join the inner circle.
Another question we received is along the same lines:
How do you outrank a super established website in your niche, one where Google is giving site links and their domain is older
Again, easy to say, hard to do. Either forget outranking the domain and buy it, or spend time doing exactly what they have done, and hope they also stop their SEO efforts in order to let you catch up.
These types of questions arise often. "If I could just learn a few quick-fix insider secrets, I can outrank everyone!"
If there was a quick n easy secret formula that would guarantee high rank, why would those who know it, reveal it?
The reality is that quick-fix secret formulas don't exist.
Sure, there are quirks in the algorithms that can be exploited, but they are often trumped by historical factors, like authority metrics, that are difficult to fake. One common blackhat technique is to hack an established domain, and place "money" pages on that domain. That's an admission, if ever there was, that technical trickery on your own domain is either too time consuming, or doesn't work so well.
I know some of the worlds top SEOs, and I can't recall them spending much time talking about secret sauce. What they do talk about is making money and growing empires. They're more focused on the business strategy of SEO.
The effectiveness of many SEO techniques will be dead soon, anyway.
What you need to think about for the future is user interaction.
The Future Of SEO
Have a read of this document, by my good friend and Merlot drinker, Mike Grehan. Mike outlines his view on the future of search, and he makes a number of important points:
The web crawler model is nearing the end of its useful life
Signals from users, not content creators, will become more important
Universal Search changed the ranking game forever
Forget rank, think engagement
If you want to future proof your SEO strategy, take heed of Mike's words.
The crawler model is failing because the crawler was designed for structured text, not multimedia. The crawler can't see behind pay-walls. It has trouble navigating databases in which the data isn't interlinked or marked-up. The search engines will need to look for other ways of finding and making sense of data.
Social networks, blogs, Twitter etc indicate a move away from the webmaster as signaler of importance i.e. who you choose to link out to. The search engines will need to mine the social signals form those networks. The user will signal where their attention is focused by their interaction and paths.
Universal search, in may cases, has pushed results listings down below the fold. For example, to get a client seen high up on the results page may involve making sure making sure they are featured on Google Maps. Similarly, if they have video content, it should be placed on YouTube. Google have shown they are increasingly looking to the aggregators for results and featuring their content in prominent positions.
That list of search results is becoming more and more personalized, and this will continue. Who knows, we may not have a list before too long. More and more "search" data - meaning "answers to questions" - might be pushed to us, rather than us having to go hunt for it.
The future of SEO, therefore, will be increasingly about engaging people. The search engines will be measuring the signals users send. In the past, it's all been about the signals webmasters send i.e. links and marked up content.
For now, you still need to cover the obvious bases - create crawlable, on-topic content, backed by quality linking. But you'll also need to think about the users - and the signals they send - in order to future proof your site. Google has long placed the user at the center of the web. Their algorithms are surely heading towards measuring them, too.
What are these signals? Ah, now there's a question.....
"SEO as we know it will be dead within the next 2 years – true or false? With the wealth of info at their fingertips combined with localized, customized search to name but a few Google will no longer need to do what it does now to determine rankings?"
I'd say "false".
People have been predicting the death of SEO since, well, the beginning of SEO. Here's a debate from 2004, and another from 2006. These arguments probably started around 1995.
So long as search engines display a list of sites, for which payment is not required, SEO will exist.
How SEO is done will change. It has always changed. In the bad old days, SEO was all about getting listed in the Yahoo Directory. If you didn't, you were pretty much invisible. There was a time that listing with Looksmart got you decent rankings in MSN. These days, few of those new to SEO have even heard of Looksmart.
Google will certainly adapt and change, and use a variety of metrics in order to determine relevance. SEOs will adapt and change, trying to work out what these metrics are.
Recently, Eric Schmidt made the following comment:
The internet is fast becoming a "cesspool" where false information thrives, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said yesterday. Speaking with an audience of magazine executives visiting the Google campus here as part of their annual industry conference, he said their brands were increasingly important signals that content can be trusted"
So, having a brand might be a signal of quality, which may, in turn, lead to a higher rank. Or perhaps Schmidt was just playing to the audience of newspaper owners. Difficult to tell ;)
Google collects a wealth of usage data from toolbars, analytics, and their ad systems, so it is conceivable they might fold these metrics into their ranking systems. Marissa Mayer recently suggested that SearchWiki data might be used ranking calculations.
Will the bar get raised? Will SEO become more difficult? Of course. But a raised bar works two ways. If you can reach it, there's a new barrier between you and those who follow you. That gives you some level of defensibility.
So how do you do SEO going forward?
I've written a lot about the importance of holistic strategy. Your aim should be to sell something to people - be it an opinion, a product, a service. All your endeavors should support this goal, and most of the time, that means doing the basics well - make your site crawlable, well linked, and solve a genuine problem for people. If your SEO efforts are not resulting in an improvement in the bottom line , then there is little point doing SEO.
"I believe anyone can be successful at online marketing or even traffic generation and search engine placement specifically, if they just stop looking for ways to trick machines and instead look for ways to connect with humans".