10 Things I Learned in 2010: Daxon Edwards

This is the third in our year-end series of retrospectives by [meta]marketer staff.

I spend most of everyday managing link building for clients. Small to large. I use a growing staff of over 15 excellent part-time contractors to execute the SEO strategies we plan for clients and consistently achieve top rankings client after client. Here are the ten most important things I learned about SEO this year.

Onsite SEO Isn’t As Important As you Think

In my previous world, I thought marketers should spend most of their SEO time on making sure the text on your page matched target keywords. Without that, Google won’t rank you for what you want to rank for. But even as recently as today, we have a client that uses only one of the key phrases on their site we are targeting in our link building. Where they weren’t ranking for any of them two months ago, they are now ranking for eight related phrases and in the top 15 results for each. The client chose to rely on images to communicate their core message instead of text in targeted places, so Google had very little to go on by looking at the site. It is, of course, a harder climb in the results without onsite SEO, but it’s not as necessary as you might think. Of course the higher the competition, the more necessary onsite SEO becomes. But this client already had a great link base including several thousand links. We just needed to come along and add clarity for Google. Think what would be possible if they had their onsite SEO in order—how many more long-tail or broad phrasings they could rank for. Wow.

Meta Keywords Are Sooo 2002

Honestly, just leave them blank. They don’t help. Don’t put misspellings in there or competitor terms. Don’t use broader terms if you don’t have to. You’ll perform better in niches. You could use alternate words (e.g. hotels vs. inns), but they don’t weigh anymore than the text already on the page. They won’t get you better rankings. Focus on your page titles and urls before you consider these.

The Sweetest Tool

Most people know about Google’s Adwords tool for PPC management. But it’s also a very effective tool for SEO research. It not only gives you an idea of key phrase demand, but also helps you find related keywords you might not think relates to your business. It’s certainly not perfect at those suggestions. We still have to do a lot of the thinking for it, but it cuts down our time significantly. Just don’t expect it to know you better than you know yourself.

Choose Wisely

Many people and companies claim to do SEO and use various strategies. We’ve found the most effective SEO incorporates three elements: competitive research, onsite SEO, and link building. Without effective competitive research, no matter what onsite and offsite work you do, you may never reach your goal. So choose your targeted key terms wisely. Sometimes the ones with the highest volumes may not competitively be the easiest to target.

Managing Quickly

We have the SEO expertise, but making those tactics scalable has been a tough challenge while maintaining and improving quality and clarity. Although I’m not a management master, I have certainly learned how to improve managing quickly. This includes taking more time upfront to clarify direction, and improving visual cues to reduce worker reading time. Lastly, the people who work for me start as early as 8:00AM and work until 1:00AM quite often. So I try to offer several ways to be contacted all hours of the day to improve my ability for a fast response and keep them moving forward.

Bullets, Bullets, Bullets

I use bullets in almost all of my communication, and have a strict discipline when I do. Most of my communications include directions, but I have a certain semantical sequence I take into consideration when writing. I take careful consideration of process and preconceived notions when writing my direction. Whether someone consciously knows, I use numbers to communicate a sequence, priority or count and bullets to connote equality. Using numbers reduces repetition and increases the likeliness they’ll waste less time searching for the last place they were.

Reporting and Beyond

Although my communication includes directives 80% of the time, about half the time in my job I spend modifying or creating spreadsheet formulas. I have our link builders track the most important activities they do, and my formulas turn that information into meaningful stories for ourselves and/or clients. We track not only the number of potential links we get for a client, but their distribution, targets, and type. The best value we provide, other than rankings, is our link building variety. Every month we get better and better at tracking work and being able to aggregate the data into an area of effectiveness beyond just numbers and into qualitative areas of meaning and insight. With Raven’s seo management tools and our reporting, we piece together a mosaic that helps determine link building trust and highlights areas to which we can more strategically respond.

How Much Does It Cost?

There is some inexpensive, risky link building opportunities out there. Naturally, we don’t endorse them. We’ve heard too many horror stories to risk the long-term damage from those activities, or we’d even use them for our clients. But determine cost and value to doing SEO can be tough even after you’ve gathered appropriate research and planned a good strategy. Based on past research of our work, I built a spreadsheet to predict what we should charge for clients with about a 10% standard deduction. We simply set either link goals or budget and then distribute our tactics until it makes sense. In 15 minutes, I’ll know almost accurately what we can expect for a client. It offers a level of visibility unlikely in most marketing circles, especially SEO.

I Don’t Communicate Enough

Everyone knows communication is important, but one can mess it up pretty easily. We battle with that often and find that typically we just need to communicate more often. Our message is complex and intangible; the value of everything we do is generally defined by numbers. But nothing can be more valuable than communicating a simple message at the right times. I talk about Excel formulas, anchor text ratios, link builder productivity, conversion rates, and target spend. But in the end, “we get better rankings” is the most important message to say.

Go On an Adventure

Walking down the SEO trail can be down right confusing. You can get lost in all the despairing options and spend hours doing research with little meaning. But when you remember the masses behind your key terms, and then combine the perspective with research and analytics, you gain an insight and understanding about your customers in a much deeper way. However, many people don’t view SEO as a journey. They stop at the numbers. They forget that SEO can be used as a discovery tool.

So, do great research upfront, looking for opportunities, then stick to your guns when building links to your site. It takes time to rank (i.e. months). If you have to change direction, have a darn good reason because you’ll loose the momentum of what work you were doing. The adventure enters as you learn about the behavior behind the searchers and begin to modify your site’s content to help them see how your products/services meet their need. You can tweak your SEO direction to include or transition to higher converting search phrases. But make SEO part of your bi-weekly monitoring—indefinitely (or pay someone else to). The longer you do it, the more powerful you’ll be on the web. Trust me. You’ll thank me for it later.

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