6 Things I Know (or think I know) about SEO

Disclaimer: Apparently this blog and more specifically this blog entry have been getting a lot of notice lately, and I attribute that to a brief mention on SEOmoz by a certain Montreal SEO located at SEO ROI.

I do know my Google numbers are way off. I originally wrote this article over a year ago as an article submission and I posted it on here back in February. But instead of updating the statistics, my claim still stands – Google isn’t everybody (regardless of how much market share they currently have).

If everyone else is chasing the big G – that means you can get a larger percentage of the traffic coming from the other search engines ~ which usually send traffic that converts better anyway.

Thank you for visiting, I hope you enjoy.

I am not an SEO expert. I don’t know enough.Actually, I simply can’t know enough.The amount of information available on SEO (search engine optimization) is staggering. Between the forums, blogs and podcasts (which sometimes have the juiceist tidbits) it is all too overwhelming. I think just following the developments of Google would be a full-time job. And I don’t have the time or the energy to keep up with the most up-to-date trends in the SEO industry.I think a really good SEO can be worth their weight in gold to a high-volume website that has the ability to monetize search engine traffic. I don’t have any of those, so I have had to go it alone – both by necessity and choice.

My sole claim to fame is that I am the proud owner and operator of a handful of sites that I’ve managed to get into the top positions of the leading search engines for certain keyword searches.

One of these is on the first page of Google and in the number 1 spot on Yahoo for a competitive keyword phrase that returns close to 7 million sites. (The others rank very high, but in much less competitive spaces.)

And I’ve done it without paying a dime for a link (so far).

Here is what I’ve discovered about SEO.

1. Planning Matters

I am a researcher and analyst at heart. So this is the area where I feel the most confident.

Right after that moment when you decide you want a website, you need to get on the internet and do some important keyword research (even before you pick out a domain name).

Open up a handful of search engines in multiple browser windows, and start typing in keyword phrases for your idea. Find a keyword research tool on one of the major search engines and record what keywords work with your idea. Determine what are people searching for and how are they typing in the keyword phrases.

To me this is a fundamental step, and I’ve seen too many small business websites that haven’t done it.

These keywords should serve as an outline for the bulk of your website architecture.

Each relevant keyword could be a page, or a link, or a paragraph. I say relevant because you can’t and shouldn’t try to fit in everything that comes up. Its unfair to your readers if you (or someone you’ve hired) can’t speak with some authority on a topic that you’re presenting.

So take the keywords, sit down in a quiet location and put together an outline of what your site is going to look like. This should include all of the keyword content you’ve decided on, as well the pages you would like included and all the standard pages of internet sites (about us, contact us, site map, etc.).

2. Text is King

Absolutely forget that flash site you like. And while you’re at it, unless it is absolutely necessary – scrap any and all .pdf files everywhere.

Search engines can’t read the first one at all and even if they can read the second one, nobody likes to click on them.

Search engines like text. They eat it up like candy. The more real meaty text they can get (not html code, or java script, or tables, or inline styles, etc.) the better.

Put your style sheets off page. Put your javascript off page. Use CSS to style your pages (there are some absolute geniuses out there as far as this kind of stuff is concerned – find them and hire them).

3. Content isn’t everything

While I do honestly believe that content is important (why else would someone come to your site), for some search engines – it isn’t everything.

Right now as I type this I have a half-built e-commerce site on the internet. I hired someone to program the ASP of it, which they did. I was to do the content (write the pages, clean up the design, etc.) which I did not.

But I have links to the site from most of my other websites. Some of these rank rather high in SERPs.

I was doing some keyword research the other day (preparing to flesh the site out) when I discovered it is already placing on the front page of Google. Since the site is right now only made up of about 4 ASP pages, some of which are no more than input fields, I can only attribute this to the links I have pointing to the site (and the keyword relevant anchor text of the links).

But the site is no where to be found on Yahoo or any of the other search engines.

On the flip side, I have a website with about 108 pages of great keyword relevant content (but not many links) and it ranks #1 on Yahoo and MSN, but only on the second or third page of Google.

So what I know is, if you’re interested in traffic (which you should be), you need to focus on both content AND links. Not either or.

4. Google isn’t everybody

I’m amazed at how many site owners seem to worry about their Google ranking. Google is big to be sure. A media behemoth the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while. But right now they are only about 40-45% of the search engine market.

Furthermore, I have found that people who come to my site from Yahoo and MSN are more likely to click through and request information than people from Google.

Optimizing just for Google and to the exclusion of others can be a mistake. You need to try to please all of the people, all of the time.

5. Update regularly and be very patient.

Either get into the habit of updating your site, or hire someone else to do it, but in any case it should be on your schedule.

Depending on the site it can be as regular as going to work every day, going to the gym a few days a week, or changing the oil in your car every few months. Sites need to be updated with fresh (not just new) and timely content. Search engines like it, and your audience will like it.

Don’t worry about whether your rankings change right away after you update the content. Update and forget about it. If you’re doing it correctly – improvements in rankings (and traffic) will follow.

Speaking about forgetting. Here is the most important thing I know about SEO: You have to be patient.

When it comes to SEO, no one seems to want to be patient. Most SEOs are probably called after a site has been ranked too low, for too long.

At that point, the last thing the site owner wants to hear is – we’re going to make some changes and then it might be a few months or more before your rankings improve.

Good SERPs come with time. It takes time for trust to build. It takes time to build content. And it takes time for links to build naturally. Depending on the competition it could take anywhere from a few months, to several months, or more.

You have to be patient.

6. You can’t ever stop.

If you’re trying to remain visible in a competitive space, even if you get to be #1, you can’t ever stop working on SEO. It is like gunslinging in the old west.

Right now someone else is researching all of the content, keywords and backlinks of the website in the number 1 position for your keyword phrase. If that website is you, they’re coming for you.

They’re going to probably work harder than you did to get to number 1, but they are willing to put in the time and effort.

If they have to and they’re able, they’ll outspend you on content, links, and design. They’ll do it because they think the money is there – even if you know it isn’t.

To stay in the number 1 position, you need to keep updating your content, keep building links, and even give your site a design face-lift every year or so.

If you don’t stay on top of your game, someone else will take it from you.

And that is what I know about SEO.

Update: Guytae Park wrote a rebuttal to all of the above. He mentions it in the comments, but I thought I’d feature it here: 6 Things You Don’t Know (but think you know) about SEO.


6 Things I Know (or think I know) about SEO — 14 Comments

  1. Great Post. I became a Webmaster in 2001. Web Design and SEO were so different back then. Constantly adding fresh content to static websites weren’t as important back then as it is today. Gone is the day when you could make a website and tweak it with SEO and forget about it. Adding fresh content to your site on a regular basis is a must!!


  2. I agree that clean text is important, but I know that the proper user of HTML formatting (not css) helps you a lot in the search engines. (i.e., bold, italics, ordered lists, headers, etc.)

  3. While text is king, I disagree with getting rid of your pdfs. Accessibility for pdfs has increased tremendously recently and SEs have gotten much better at being able to search and spider content in PDFs. Also there are ways to optimize the properties of your PDF, similar adding meta info to your html.

    In many industries and sectors (ie – education and government) pdfs are and will be the defining document for the foreseeable future.

  4. Your missing one of the biggest points #6, Content is nothing without Links that are relevant / themed. Just today I had a guy who called who had bought WebCEO a while ago, and had been doing his own SEO for several months. The sad news was he is at position #150 for his keyphrase. He didn’t understand this because he had been submitting his sites to the engines every several months. In total he had around 36 incoming links to his entire domain. His densities were a tiny bit low, but not too low to have been top 10 material. If he was to add around 300 links to that (10 times his current count roughly), he would most likely be top 5 within 6 months.

    I’m also a fan of PDFs, as Google can parse them, and I’ve seen them have Pagerank. I do believe a website has to be a certain size depending on competition level for the term, and why take a full PDF when you can summarize it on a single page geared at the main search phrases related to its content with a link to download it?

  5. Great article, Vinny. Love the look of your blog, especially the color scheme.

    But Google only 45% of the search market? Somebody check that for me!

  6. Great post!! I love that your first topic is planning matters. I think a lot of people jump into SEO without proper planning.

    I kind of relate it to that of a set of Brand Guidelines. You want to plan ahead, think about your brand and follow the guidelines, etc. The same goes for SEO.

  7. Nice post and Im glad you are doing well, I think your statement is way off about Google:

    “40-45% of the search engine market” – try at least 80% +

    Rest was spot on in my opinion

  8. Great post Vin. Glad to see it went hot on Sphinn! I agree with Patrick on the Google share though. According to MarketingSherpa, from some data collected from Compete, it breaks down like this:

    Google: 62.8%
    Yahoo: 24.2%
    MSN: 5.9%
    Ask: 3.9%

    The data is about a year old, but I believe these numbers to be pretty close.

  9. That Google market share is on the low side. I would put them around the 65% mark. I know their August market share was 64% and they are still seeing increases.

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  11. Your 6 points are all wrong, so therefore you know NOTHING about SEO. You have really made a jackass of yourself here.

  12. You know Vinny, I like your ability to net out what you feel to be the most important focal points of a search engine optimizer. I am going to link to your page from my site cause I mostly agree with your high level summarization. I especially like your comment about “don’t ignore all others in face of the fact that Google dominates the search engine market”. There is lots of traffic to be obtained elsewhere.

    Clearly you are addressing search engine optimizers in this text, and not people searching to gain that service and increased online traffic. Had you targeted the second audience I would have had multiple suggestions. And even understanding you were targeting fellow SEOs, should you not reference a good place to discover the most valuable backlinks we should be targeting to gain high search engine placement at Google?

    To be clear, I appreciate this article. It’s valuable to me and I will share it with others. My comments above are aimed at getting you to elaborate/share further. I know it’s in you. I want access to it!!!

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