What Is Your SEO Strategy?

How do you determine your SEO strategy?

Actually, before you answer, let’s step back.

What Is SEO, Anyway?

“Search engine optimization” has always been an odd term as it’s somewhat misleading. After all, we’re not optimizing search engines.

SEO came about when webmasters optimized websites. Specifically, they optimized the source code of pages to appeal to search engines. The intent of SEO was to ensure websites appeared higher in search results than if the site was simply left to site designers and copywriters. Often, designers would inadvertently make sites uncrawlable, and therefore invisible in search engines.

But there was more to it than just enhancing crawlability.

SEOs examined the highest ranking page, looked at the source code, often copied it wholesale, added a few tweaks, then republished the page. In the days of Infoseek, this was all you needed to do to get an instant top ranking.

I know, because I used to do it!

At the time, I thought it was an amusing hacker trick. It also occurred to me that such positioning could be valuable. Of course, this rather obvious truth occurred to many other people, too. A similar game had been going on in the Yahoo Directory where people named sites “AAAA...whatever” because Yahoo listed sites in alphabetical order. People also used to obsessively track spiders, spotting fresh spiders (Hey Scooter!) as they appeared and....cough......guiding them through their websites in a favourable fashion.

When it comes to search engines, there’s always been gaming. The glittering prize awaits.

The new breed of search engines made things a bit more tricky. You couldn’t just focus on optimizing code in order to rank well. There was something else going on.


So, SEO was no longer just about optimizing the underlying page code, SEO was also about getting links. At that point, SEO jumped from being just a technical coding exercise to a marketing exercise. Webmasters had to reach out to other webmasters and convince them to link up.

A young upstart, Google, placed heavy emphasis on links, making use of a clever algorithm that sorted “good” links from, well, “evil” links. This helped make Google’s result set more relevant than other search engines. Amusingly enough, Google once claimed it wasn’t possible to spam Google.

Webmasters responded by spamming Google.

Or, should I say, Google likely categorized what many webmasters were doing as “spam”, at least internally, and may have regretted their earlier hubris. Webmasters sought links that looked like “good” links. Sometimes, they even earned them.

And Google has been pushing back ever since.

Building links pre-dated SEO, and search engines, but, once backlinks were counted in ranking scores, link building was blended into SEO. These days, most SEO's consider link building a natural part of SEO. But, as we've seen, it wasn’t always this way.

We sometimes get comments on this blog about how marketing is different from SEO. Well, it is, but if you look at the history of SEO, there has always been marketing elements involved. Getting external links could be characterized as PR, or relationship building, or marketing, but I doubt anyone would claim getting links is not SEO.

More recently, we’ve seen a massive change in Google. It’s a change that is likely being rolled out over a number of years. It’s a change that makes a lot of old school SEO a lot less effective in the same way introducing link analysis made meta-tag optimization a lot less effective.

My takeaways from Panda are that this is not an individual change or something with a magic bullet solution. Panda is clearly based on data about the user interacting with the SERP (Bounce, Pogo Sticking), time on site, page views, etc., but it is not something you can easily reduce to 1 number or a short set of recommendations. To address a site that has been Pandalized requires you to isolate the "best content" based on your user engagement and try to improve that.

Google is likely applying different algorithms to different sectors, so the SEO tactics used in on sector don’t work in another. They’re also looking at engagement metrics, so they’re trying to figure out if the user really wanted the result they clicked on. When you consider Google's work on PPC landing pages, this development is obvious. It’s the same measure. If people click back often, too quickly, then the landing page quality score drops. This is likely happening in the SERPs, too.

So, just like link building once got rolled into SEO, engagement will be rolled into SEO. Some may see that as a death of SEO, and in some ways it is, just like when meta-tag optimization, and other code optimizations, were deprecated in favour of other, more useful relevancy metrics. In others ways, it's SEO just changing like it always has done.

The objective remains the same.

Deciding On Strategy

So, how do you construct your SEO strategy? What will be your strategy going forward?

Some read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. They'll watch every Matt Cutts video. They follow it all to the letter. There’s nothing wrong with this approach.

Others read Google’s Guidelines. They'll watch every Matt Cutts video. They read between the lines and do the complete opposite. Nothing wrong with that approach, either.

It depends on what strategy you've adopted.

One of the problems with letting Google define your game is that they can move the goalposts anytime they like. The linking that used to be acceptable, at least in practice, often no longer is. Thinking of firing off a press release? Well, think carefully before loading it with keywords:

This is one of the big changes that may have not been so clear for many webmasters. Google said, “links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites,” is an example of an unnatural link that violate their guidelines. The key are the examples given and the phrase “distributed on other sites.” If you are publishing a press release or an article on your site and distribute it through a wire or through an article site, you must make sure to nofollow the links if those links are “optimized anchor text.

Do you now have to go back and unwind a lot of link building in order to stay in their good books? Or, perhaps you conclude that links in press releases must work a little too well, else Google wouldn’t be making a point of it. Or conclude that Google is running a cunning double-bluff hoping you’ll spend a lot more time doing things you think Google does or doesn’t like, but really Google doesn’t care about at all, as they’ve found a way to mitigate it.

Bulk guest posting were also included in Google's webmaster guidelines as a no no. Along with keyword rich anchors in article directories. Even how a site monetizes by doing things like blocking the back button can be considered "deceptive" and grounds for banning.

How about the simple strategy of finding the top ranking sites, do what they do, and add a little more? Do you avoid saturated niches, and aim for the low-hanging fruit? Do you try and guess all the metrics and make sure you cover every one? Do you churn and burn? Do you play the long game with one site? Is social media and marketing part of your game, or do you leave these aspects out of the SEO equation? Is your currency persuasion?

Think about your personal influence and the influence you can manage without dollars or gold or permission from Google. Think about how people throughout history have sought karma, invested in social credits, and injected good will into their communities, as a way to “prep” for disaster. Think about it.

We may be “search marketers” and “search engine optimizers” who work within the confines of an economy controlled (manipulated) by Google, but our currency is persuasion. Persuasion within a market niche transcends Google

It would be interesting to hear the strategies you use, and if you plan on using different strategy going forward.

Published: July 31, 2013 by A Reader in google


August 1, 2013 - 1:02am

This is a good article. There are many more things to add, but space does not provide. There is becoming fewer and fewer niche markets with more websites coming online worldwide. The Seo strategy also has to fit with the marketing strategy. The two need to go hand in glove. For instance let's say you want to sell urns for ashes. There is already many websites out there doing this including Walmart. So rather than try to squeeze into that crowded market, part of the marketing strategy ought to be to think smarter. Developing an information website about cremation, and giving all sorts of information about how to be cremated is one way. Then when people are searching for that information, they can see your products even before they were ready to shop. It's much easier to rank for cremation then urns. The strategies that work best are the ones that are most creative.

One of the first areas of the Seo strategy I use, is thinking about link bait. What is the easiest most effective link bait I can use for this website. If I start with link bait, it helps me develop perspective. In the above example, I can think of many link bait pages to create.

August 3, 2013 - 1:47pm

...that has been a big big theme among the verticals where Google has inserted their own vertical search results (aka: ads) above the organic search results on the commercial keywords.

August 1, 2013 - 8:43am

Damn right things have changed, 'link building' should now be considered a thing of the past, it's replacement being 'link earning' through creative content marketing both on-site (blogging) and outreach to relevant third part authority sites/blogs.

Intergrate this with on-page SEO optimisation and social media marketing and you'll be looking at a long term, Google-proof strategy!

I actually wrote an article about this the other day. hope you like it! :)

[link drop unlinked: earn your links! :D ]

August 1, 2013 - 2:28pm

We work at the lower end of the pay spectrum and our clients are reluctant to buy into content marketing (and dont have enough time for this to be effective) so our strategies are pretty classic.

1. Edit/grow/contract the websites content so that each page targets a single core keyword (loosly called inbound marketing)

2. Prospect using competitor backlink analysis, searches and lists to find websites in our niche that have the potential to drive qualified tra

August 1, 2013 - 2:31pm

(pressed save by mistake)

...ffic and identify the types of links we could make and any relevant contacts

3. filter by DA, PR, Alexa, Backlinks and manually check the traffic of each site using SEMrush and work through the list in an ordered fashion

4. find out whats working in analytics and maximise it by ramping up exposure or buying banners etc

thats about it.

August 3, 2013 - 1:54pm

...the phrase "inbound marketing" originally came from "inbound telemarketing" and the phrase was used to push over-priced CMS tools, crap on SEO, & rename existing techniques (rather than adding anything new to the marketplace).

In terms of what you are doing generally though...all sounds pretty smart. It is always easiest to start building off of existing momentum than it is to try to conquer new lands. One thing I would suggest though is setting up some form of diversification to your model. The 2 big/obvious options would be:

  • building a few of your own affiliate sites, such that you can work on those when consulting leads are thin or such.
  • spending some percent of your time on building the awareness of your agency so that as Google keeps increasing the chunk size of competition by making SEO unprofitable for more and more small businesses, you are still able to be found & hired by the larger businesses that Google is making things easier on.
August 1, 2013 - 3:03pm

For us SEO is almost as simple as it was few years ago. Still, high PR backlinks work, relevant links work, relevant blog comments work (not spammy but truly relevant!), forum links work VERY good! Overall strategy is rather simple, get onPage SEO 100% right (one page targeting one keyword plus.... [can't tell this publicly ;) ]), and get high PR and possibly relevant links. Diversify anchors, keep main keyword around 7-15% in total, keep eye on velocity, justify rapid growth of links, fake Social Media activity till it becomes REAL.

BTW, I think we actually optimizing search engines to rank our sites higher. Or it should be kept separately... optimization of webpages and optimization of SEs (backlinking etc.)

August 1, 2013 - 4:56pm

Great article Peter. It does help connect the dots over a few issues for me. I must say I spend a lot of time considering every facet of this question:

Do you now have to go back and unwind a lot of link building in order to stay in their good books? Or, perhaps you conclude that links in press releases must work a little too well, else Google wouldn’t be making a point of it. Or conclude that Google is running a cunning double-bluff hoping you’ll spend a lot more time doing things you think Google does or doesn’t like, but really Google doesn’t care about at all, as they’ve found a way to mitigate it.

August 3, 2013 - 2:01pm

I imagine that most of the most successful sites spend almost all their time on growing new links and exposure & very little time on link removals. Of course those bigger sites tend to get the benefit of the doubt & smaller sites typically do not enjoy that.

But for smaller sites it probably comes down to what the overall link profile looks like. If there is just a bit of spammy links then you could try to remove a few of them & paper over any losses with more higher quality link building. If the profile is mostly spam then you might not be able to clean it up enough to matter no matter what. In that sort of situation it might make sense to have a separate parallel ultra clean project & leave the dirtier one as is.

August 22, 2013 - 10:35am

SEO strategies are constantly evolving as (primarily) Google change the goalposts so any strategy is a consistently a working document that must be reviewed on a regular basis.

Our strategy is pretty much the same as TrooperBill's at present with each of our blog posts focusing on one particular keyword. The easiest way to do this is by writing tutorials.

Keeping up with Google is a full time job!

Anuradha Sarkar
August 29, 2013 - 2:38pm

Modern SEO has evolved through a lot of changes, specially after the introduction of Google Panda and Penguin, it has proved to be pretty hard hitting for many high ranking sites. Where as sites with original content, authentic links and a strong social media presence, are getting the push. Except social presence the other two are good old on-page and off-page white hat techniques. My strategy is to make mix for a long term result, as I believe both are important and effective in their own ways. I have shared my ideas regarding this here: betaout.com/blog/on-page-vs-off-page-optimization-whats-the-diffrence/

September 3, 2013 - 9:27am

Interesting article! It looks like search engine optimization has changed a lot over last few years. Keeping pace with times and trends is essential. You have to identify the changing trends to keep pace with them. Failing to do so will mean you are out of market. Strategy is very important too. Randomly doing things is just a waste of time.


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