The Search Ninjas

Between client work, running a small business, and trying to find time to market and promote our own services, I no longer have time to dedicate to personal blogging. For more up-to-date blog posts please visit The Search Ninjas’ blog which is located here. Thanks for reading!

This Morning’s Search News

Okay so it’s no secret that I’m pretty much a one-man show when it comes to search marketing, and that’s for a reason- I try to spend as much time on clients’ work as I can and less time talking about what they can be doing. It’s kind of a “practice what you preach” kind of deal.

Also, instead of just regurgitating content, I want to try to give the original authors some credit because most of the time, coming up with creative posts and ideas can be tough.

So I’ve decided to try something new- a daily recap of the top stories in search. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up with this, but here are a few stories that I found in my rss reader that I found interesting:

Google Local Launches Indexed Local Directory Portals- A great post by David Mihm (who is an expert at all things Google Places-related), originating from a Search Catalyst blog post, that finds a new Google Local directory that seems to be rolled out in certain markets (Austin, Portland, San Diego, and Madison Wisconsin, which I’m curious about).

Reviews are becoming increasingly important to Google Places rankings according to David’s amazing Google Places Ranking Factors survey (which was just updated last week and you REALLY need to check out if you’re a local business), and this might be another reason why because the places that are displayed on the front page seem to both a) have reviews, and b) have decent reviews.

If you’re a bar, coffee shop, gym, spa, hotel, restaurant, or retail store, you should make sure you’re on top of your Google Places game. These are the markets that these Google Places landing pages are targeting, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google get their greedy little hands into the lawyer and doctor directory market. (update: Search Engine Land has launched a blog post wondering if Google is trying to compete with Yelp and online Yellow pages)

Print Yellow Pages More Trusted Than Search Engines and Social Networks– An interesting post yesterday in Search Engine Land that shows that, according to a survey, Yellow Pages (either online or in print) were used more often in the past year than search engines, by 12%. You can make an argument that your offsite marketing efforts are extremely important not only to build links to your website to increase it’s search engine rankings, but because you need to maintain a presence where the majority of your target audience is spending their time. Speaking of off-site advertising…

Google Buys Admeld- There was a great post last week in Mashable talking about how display advertising is on the rise and will overtake search by 2015. Well, Google seems to agree that display is the future of Internet marketing, because they apparently recently shelled out $400 million to acquire Admeld. Read what Admeld’s CEO has to say about it (likely from his brand new yacht and/or private jet…wait, I guess it would just be “or” because you can’t be on a jet and yacht at the same time….yet.) here.

A Few Facebook News Items (since I finally watched The Social Network last night):

It’s from last week, but Facebook ad popularity continues to grow according to ZDNet with a high percentage of small business owners admitting that they use Facebook ads to promote their businesses.

Also, CNBC recently announced that Facebook could go public for over… wait for it… ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS!

The first person to send me a Zuckerburg doing the Doctor Evil finger pose gets… something.

I Saw You Coming You Big Ol Panda

Google Panda?

Not to toot my own horn, but I feel like I saw the ramifications of the recent Google Panda update growing since he was just a little cub.

I’ve said this in past blog posts, but my motto when it comes to SEO- “If everyone can do it, or it’s too easy- it probably isn’t worth much”, and, as always, the fine people at Google agree.

Can anyone write an article, spin it a few times, and submit it to 50 different free article directories using a tool that they pay $30 a month for so they can get more backlinks to their site? Yep.

Can anyone pay an offshore writer $10 to write a crappy article to have posted on their site which was probably copied from other sources anyway? Yep.

Can anyone add a feature to their site where anyone with an email address can login and post whatever content they’d like without any type of approval process before the content is posted? Yep.

And can anyone put up a site loaded with crappy and/or duplicated content, with every page packed with Adsense banners and “Your link here” messages, with visions of making $500 a day while spending 9-5 on a boat somewhere in the Caribbean? Maybe up until a few months ago (hopefully).

I used to hate seeing writers’ resumes on Craigslist offering quality, researched content at bargain basement prices because there were so many other content providers out there and so many webmasters looking for cheap content willing to hire them that they couldn’t bill for what they were worth. I’m not sure if it’s irony or not, but the same people that put traditional journalists and news reporters all but out of business are the same people who were working for day laborer rates as they were doing it, and Google is just now starting to do something about it.

Some might say that SEO is solely responsible for it all, because a good SEO’er can get a site to page one for pretty much anything, no matter how crappy the content is. This may be true- a lot of SEO is knowing how to screw the system and be smarter than a computer/spider, but that doesn’t mean that the shady SEO tactics of others is solely to blame.

What about the development community- who, by introducing free content management and blogging platforms like WordPress, Joomla, and Blogger, pretty much anyone can have an entire website (or number of websites) up in the matter of minutes?  What about the domain registrars- who offer domains at prices low enough, partnered with hosting partners, for someone to manage and launch hundreds of sites for a few bucks a month? I’m not complaining about any of these of course, because I use WordPress, and I launched this blog for about $10 up front and $7/month.

The question I read earlier that prompted me to write this blog post was- “Is content still the key”.

And my response?

Content was NEVER the key. People were, and still are, the key.

People who actually read, edit, and approve/deny the content that is on a website.

People (and not pieces of software or catchy tools) who go out and promote pages of a site through link building, social media marketing, and networking.

People who design and code EACH website to be up to industry standards, and designate page titles, meta descriptions, and other on-page attributes for each page.

People who review each website/web page to determine if it’s included in Google’s index? Probably not. But the funny part about it is- everyone taking the cheap, easy, automated route is what resulted in this happening in the first place, and at the end of the day, after webmasters and businesses scramble to figure out how to get back their visibility and search rankings- Google is still just a really smart robot.

Recent JC Penney SEO Allegations Shed Light on “Grey” Areas

The New York Times published an article over the weekend, Search Engine Optimization and its Dirty Little Secrets, in which they hired David Pierce of Blue Fountain Media (and, no, I’m not linking to their website because they’re getting enough press attention and link juice from this story as it is… not that this blog is worth anything :) ) to play “SEO Private Investigator” and look into JC Penney’s SEO tactics after the retail company was outranking seemingly larger websites and companies for some very competitive keyword terms.

After plugging JCPenney.com into DMoz’s Open Site Explorer, Pierce was able to uncover some pretty shady and completely unrelated websites which were linking to JC Penney’s site.

Taken directly from the article:

Some of the 2,015 pages are on sites related, at least nominally, to clothing. But most are not. The phrase “black dresses” and a Penney link were tacked to the bottom of a site called nuclear.engineeringaddict.com. “Evening dresses” appeared on a site called casino-focus.com. “Cocktail dresses” showed up on bulgariapropertyportal.com. ”Casual dresses” was on a site called elistofbanks.com. “Semi-formal dresses” was pasted, rather incongruously, on usclettermen.org.

These link building services were apparently performed by a Dallas-based company named SearchDex (no link for you!), who JC Penney contracted out to perform the services. How they formed a relationship still seems unclear to me, but if you have info or something I missed please let me know. There is a reference to a Stanford alumni newsletter, and Searchdex’s CTO is listed as a Stanford alumni, but that doesn’t seem to be related. Both companies are based in Texas so I’m going to assume that it was through a connection or referral.

Either way, a lesson that can be learned from this article: Always research the SEO “firm (yes, there’s a reason I always put this in quotations)” or consultant that you may be hiring.

A few things that I usually check when trying to decide a “firm”‘s legitimacy:

1) The website’s Whois information, to see if the domain was registered in the US or elsewhere. Usually, if it’s a company from India, the Philippines, etc. I write them off (sorry to stereotype but in the past five years I’ve yet to find an offshore SEO provider who meets my standards). SearchDex’s info is unknown, so onto number 2:

2) The inbound links of the company’s website. If you’re promising to be SEO experts, you should at least be able to build your OWN website’s authority, right? (Please don’t use this blog as an example, it’s brand new and one of many websites I use)

Well, despite listing themselves as “being founded in 1998 and headquartered in Dallas, Texas, with offices and staff located in San Diego, Kansas City, and Ft. Lauderdale”, they have a very limited number of inbound links and a fairly low Google Pagerank (which I assumed dropped after Cutts and Google found out who they are, but maybe not). Either way, if I was researching this company and saw the lack of quality inbound links to their website, it would have been a red flag for me. MOST of the time, you can also use this method to find:

3) Who their clients are and what inbound links THEIR websites have. A lot of times, “firms” will find ways to get links from clients’ websites to their own in order to gain more inbound links and authority for their own site, especially when the “firm” is also a website design company. These links are usually footer links, and might be image links with the company’s logo on the bottom of their clients’ page, or a small sentence or two.

I wasn’t able to find any of Searchdex’s clients using this method, but after looking around on their website, I did find a few of their clients listed on their “news” section.

They are:

The goal of this blog post isn’t to call out these two websites and create a stir-up, so I’m not going to go into details of what I found, but let’s just say that I found a few links that leads me to believe that a) someone is actively building links for both of these websites, and b) someone that is doing this may be familiar with some black-hat tactics.

The point I’m trying to make here is: even though I agree with JC Penney’s response to the NYT Article that a lot of the allegations are unwarranted and unnecessary (see why below), they should have done their research and known who they were dealing with when they were considering hiring SearchDex.

Here are a few issues I have, with both the story, and some underlying topics:

a) Who at the New York Times decided that David Pierce and Blue Fountain Media would be hired to conduct the JCP “investigation”? Yes they are a very legitimate company and I respect their work, and they are also in New York, but it seems a little fishy to me that NYT wouldn’t reach out to more than one firm for their opinion. Blue Fountain’s website is sure to get a lot of quality links for their investigation work, that’s for sure.

b) SearchDex will probably just put together a new company website, new company name, and will likely never really see a huge impact from this, while JC Penney takes all of the heat for simply not knowing enough about SEO. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect mothers to tell their kids that they’re not going to JC Penney’s anymore because they do black-hat link building (those monsters!). But will SearchDex ever be held accountable? Probably not.

If there’s one thing that upsets me about the SEO industry it’s that there are people out there who know how to beat the system and still come off as legitimate and “gurus” simply by knowing how to keep from being transparent.

One example is a company called Lawyer Edge, I spoke to a former client of theirs last week who expressed a concern with some things they did for them and, sure enough, they were right. They have designed hundreds of lawyers’ websites, and many of them have the same content, the wrong firm name on some of their pages, improper on-page attributes, and one of their clients even had multiple pages about Cialis and were flagged as a mal-ware threat. Long story short: they just had no idea what they were doing.

So what did they do? Changed their names to Vuria and apparently went on like nothing had happened. Meanwhile, every lawyer who paid them for their services ends up being screwed and nobody is held accountable.

c) There is a fine line sometimes between White Hat and Black Hat.

Is buying a link on a WordPress blog that much different than buying a link on a directory?

It’s not always black and white, especially for a website like JC Penney which can obtain links from pretty much anywhere and it could be justified. But as always, using “good taste” as the measuring stick for a potential back-linking website is probably the best advice anyone could take from this.

Websites that:

a) Have numerous links to unrelated websites on the same page- always see what other websites are being linked from the web page where your link would be. If they’re not related, go to gambling, porn, offshore, or drug sites, probably best to stay away.

b) Sell links and aren’t a trusted directory- I only hold a few general directories, like DMoz, Yahoo!, BOTW, Business.com, etc. in the “trusted” category, unless it’s a niche directory with a good amount of authority.

c) Have content that is completely unrelated to your product or service- part of Google’s ranking algorithm is the text surrounding the link, so if the content isn’t related to your website, that link likely isn’t worth much.

d) Just seem shady.

are probably the ones you want to ignore and not try to get back links from.

As always, when it comes to SEO: If you’re going to hire someone, make sure they know what they’re doing and you can verify their past work along with references. If you’re one of those brave souls that are going to try to do it themselves: make sure YOU know what YOU’RE doing, one slip-up could cost you.

-Murph

Using images for link building

George Murphy

Sometimes, when it comes to building links to your website to increase it’s search engine rankings, thinking outside of the box and being a little more creative with what techniques you use can make all of the difference.

I’ve spent plenty of time link building for clients and training others on effective ways to build links from other websites and I know first-hand how tedious and frustrating it can be when you’re looking for new ideas. I mean, how many times can you really do a social bookmarking, press release, or article blast before it gets repetitive? Not to mention that:

a) Google and other search engines know these sites are used by SEO’ers to build links, so how much are they really worth (article submissions with quality content can be debated, depending on if you’re just submitting the same article to every site of course)?

b) You’re getting links from the same domains over and over. One of the top ways to build your website’s authority is to increase the number of (quality) domains that your site is linked from. Is it more effective to have 100 links coming from some crappy dofollow social bookmarking site, or 50 links from a variety of websites? Probably the latter.

That being said, thinking of ways to get links from a variety of domains can be tough, especially if you take relevancy into account. Is it important for the website that is linking to your site to be relevant? Yes. Is it 100% mandatory? Not always.

The other night I was looking for some closet design ideas for a bedroom I’m remodeling. I went into Google SketchUp (which is awesome, by the way, and free if you only need it for a few hours) and drew a diagram of the bedroom layout so that I could show what I’m working with.

I went into a few DIY remodeling forums to ask a few people for advice and when I went to add the image I thought to myself… (light bulb) this could be a link building opportunity.

So instead of uploading the layout image to a free picture sharing service like TinyPic or Postimage, I uploaded it to one of my other websites. And instead of just inserting the picture directly into the forum post, I also included a link to it.

This got me a deep link (a link to a page on my site other than the home page or main focus/organic landing pages) from a domain that I wouldn’t normally look at when putting together a link building strategy, and I’m killing two birds with one stone because I also got some awesome ideas for my closet project.

This method works on forums/message boards, answer sites, and any other community-related websites that you can register on and is more effective than the obvious spammer link building method that offers no substance or benefit.

The Top 5 Ways Changes to Google Can Influence EVERYONE

Last month was Google Instant, this month is Google… Places?

If you haven’t noticed by now, Google is spying on you (and always was). If you do a generic search for something like “podiatrist” or “DVD rental”, not only will you get the normal organic/nationwide search results, but you’ll also likely get a local business website along with its Google Places profile.

Here’s an example:

(and, no, I’m not looking into getting bunions removed. I just did a webinar for a group of podiatrists last night).

So between Google Instant and Google Places recently being launched, who will be affected, and how?

Here are my top 10 ways that Google Instant and Google Places can affect users, advertisers, and SEO’ers.

5. SEO’ers and Webmasters: Did You Ignore Google Local? Oops, Your bad.

From the research that has been done, the way that search results are displayed in Google’s new Places results are a combination of organic ranking factors and Google Places ranking factors. So if you had a website that ranked well organically for certain local searches, but you swept the Google Local idea under the rug hoping that it never saw the light of day again, that day has come.

A few tips: claim your profile, provide as much information as you can, include keywords where possible (and NOT in the Local profile title, because your listing will be suspended), and get an account at Localeze. There’s your Google Places 101 lesson for the day, and if you want some advanced information on how to increase your Google Places rankings then find me on Facebook or Twitter and hit me up.

Also, be sure to stay on top of Google Boost news to make sure you do everything you can to stay a step ahead of your competitors. Yes, it may be just another way for Google to make more money, but what isn’t these days?

4. Adwords Advertisers: Don’t Be Surprised if Keywords Bids Go Up

Now that Google Instant is attempting to get more and more users to search for certain keywords and try to eliminate long-tail keyword searches, don’t be surprised if the amount that you’re paying for certain keywords increases.

SearchEngineLand published a study this morning showing that searches for shorter-length keywords have increased, and long-tail searches have decreased. As the search volume and number of competitors for these shorter keywords continue to increase as a result of Google Instant, so will the CPC for each keyword. Did you think Google launched Instant to improve the user experience? Not a chance. Be prepared to bid higher over the next few weeks and months on keywords that are in high demand (based on Google Instant’s recommendations) and becoming more and more competitive.

3. Webmasters and SEO’ers: Quality Content versus Quantity of Content

As Google Instant continues to suggest vanity keywords, it’s possible that long-tail searches will continue to decrease over time.

That means that organic SEO for certain keywords will be more and more competitive (if the SEO’ers are actually doing their jobs and researching what suggestions Google Instant is making for specific keyword searches) and that the “just keep adding content” approach may not be the best way to utilize your time and money.

Adding pages and pages and pages of content used to be a good way to rank well for a variety of different search terms and phrases, but now that Google Instant is recommending shorter and more specific keywords, more users will be searching for these specific keywords based on their suggestions. This means that you might want to stop adding any old piece of content on your website hoping that it gets found for a long-tail search and spend more time improving the quality of the content on pages that show up for your main keyword searches.

Take a step back and make sure your meta descriptions are not written specifically for the search engines, because this is a big part of what will convince the user to choose your website over your competitors in search engine results. And also make sure that the content on your main pages is well-written for conversion and not just mentioning the same keywords over and over again in an attempt to obtain better rankings. And, of course, you need to have good strong calls-to-action.

With certain search terms becoming more competitive, obtaining top search engine rankings is still important, but copy that converts on the search engines (ie gets the searcher to click on your website in the results) and on your website will be key to you maximizing those high organic rankings and turning visits into leads or sales.

2. Will Users Actually Trust Google Instant?

A company called Conductor published a study earlier this week that showed a number of different search results four weeks after Google Instant launched and compared them to 2 weeks prior.

What stands out to me are the drops in conversions that one and two-word searches saw after Google Instant launched, and the increase in conversions that the longer keyword searches produced.

There still aren’t a lot of changes that would result in a conclusion that Google Instant is affecting user behavior, but it’s very possible that users will not be impressed with the results that Google Instant displays based on their recommendations, and that the users will continue to search for what they’re specifically looking for versus letting Google Instant interrupt them and clicking on premature suggestions. Again, it’s probably too early to tell, but this theory would suggest that long-tail keyword searches might not be completely screwed.

1. Will Users Change the Way They Search for Local Businesses?

The best part about Adwords and PPC advertising is the ability to target a specific user based on his or her geographic location. So if someone within a 45 mile radius of Baltimore were to do a search for anything involving the word “Podiatrist”, I can tell Adwords that I want to target that user because he or she is part of my target audience based on their location and my ad will likely appear depending on how much I bid.

But most search engine users have evolved over time and know that they can’t just type in “Pizza” and expect to get 10 local pizza shops close to where they work or live that easily.

Now, with Google Places coming up for these types of non-geo-based-keyword searches, will more and more users get lazy (and…devolve?) and just start typing in one and two-word keyword searches knowing that now they will get local results? Possibly.

I know I will.

This makes the other four ways even more important. The number one mistake you can make when it comes to search engine marketing is to stereotype all users and assume that everyone searches the same way and for the same keywords.

As a local business owner, webmaster, or SEO’er, If you think that search engine users are not going to figure out these shortcuts and are going to keep typing in city and state-based searches forever, think again. It’s important to stay on top of changes like these for a reason: so you can be prepared.

How Important is it to be Number 1 ? More Than You Think

Tom Foster and I attended SMX East a few weeks ago in New York, and among all of information in the presentations and seminars that I attended, one set of images stood out in my mind and really seemed to re-emphasize how important search engine optimization really is.

There have always been debates as to whether or not it matters for a website to rank number one on Google for a specific search term. I mean, as long as the site is on page one, it should be found just fine, right?

Not necessarily, and no matter how often SEO’ers try to convince their clients that just being on page one isn’t always enough, there’s almost always some hesitancy for the client to accept this “opinion” and invest more in their SEO efforts.

Well, during one SMX East presentation entitled “Google Instant’s Impact on SEO and User Behavior”, presenter Ian Everdell of Inquiro Solutions shared some interesting graphics that confirmed the legitimacy of the “number one or bust” theory.

The overall purpose of the presentation was to show those in the search industry how Google’s new Instant feature, where suggestions are made in real-time and search results are displayed based on these suggestion as the user types in keywords and keyword phrases, has impacted search engine optimization and how the average user reacts to certain aspects of the new search engine feature.

In addition to Ian were presenters Eli Feldblum of RankAbove and Othar Hansson of Google (by the way, did I ever mention that I am jealous of everyone in the SEO industry who have unique names? Have you ever tried getting on page one for “George Murphy”?? Ugh).

Before I share the graphics that I’m referring to, just a quick recap of the entire presentation. A survey was conducted asking Google Instant users how they viewed the new search engine feature. The results were:

  1. People don’t love Google Instant
  2. People don’t hate Google Instant, and
  3. During the presentation Google pleaded the fifth on any interesting questions, like how many people actually disable Google Instant and some other questions that they side-stepped or simply “couldn’t share that at this time”.

In other words, Google Instant isn’t doing much in terms of improving the user’s overall experience, and in my opinion, seems like an unnecessary “improvement” and possibly a way for Google to hike up the costs for certain keywords on the PPC side by determining what suggestions are made during user search queries.

Okay, back to the main topic: Why it’s important to be number one on Google.

During his presentation, Ian shared results from an eye tracking survey that was performed on users who searched for certain search terms on both Google (traditional) and Google Instant. The survey tracked the user’s eyes and behavior and recorded the results as heatmaps, showing where the users paid the most attention, and where they barely looked.

Google Search, No Instant or Local Results

The first image is from a normal Google search (without Google Instant and without Google Local being displayed). The red is the area where users paid the most attention, the yellow is the second most , and the green is the least.

Google Eye Tracking Result

Obviously the number one result stood out the most for the users, with number two getting a few looks, number three getting less than that, and it continues to trickle down as the users scrolled down the page. Also, the PPC ads on the right didn’t get too many looks, but were paid attention to by some.

Google Instant Search, No Google Local

The second image is a search where users were suggested search phrases by Google Instant.

Google Instant

The users did pay attention to the suggestions that Google Instant made, but in terms of which search results they looked at the most, number one still stood out from the most by a wide margin.

Actually, if you look closely, the page title for the first result in the non-Google-Instant graphic is where most users looked the most. But in the Google Instant result, the users looked at the preview first, which could mean that users don’t fully trust Google Instant and want to read the preview to make sure the result is relevant to what they are actually looking for.

What does that mean for you as a webmaster or SEO’er? A meta description that ensures the searcher (and your potential client) that your website/page is what they are looking for from a conversion standpoint, while also being optimized for keywords from an SEO-standpoint may be more important than ever.

And of course, this image follows the general theme: number one is the hottest, number two is lukewarm, number three is cooling down, and number ten is frigid.

It’s also interesting that some users looked to the right for PPC ads even though they weren’t there. Maybe they were thinking too hard knowing that they were being surveyed, or maybe some users look to the right not even knowing it because they’re so used to how Google results are displayed and expect the Sponsored Listings to be there. Either way you look at it, an argument can be made that PPC advertising on Google still has some value and that not everyone completely ignores these ads.

Google Search With Local Results, No Instant

The third image is from a search query without Google Instant where Google Local results are displayed.

Google Local without Instant

If this image were to summarize Google users’ behavior, is it important for your business to come up for Google Maps/Google Local searches? Um, yes.

Google Local results also seem to follow the same pattern, where the top results are more prevalent than lower results.

Organic listings are still paid attention to on this search, but the most views went to the Local results that appeared above the fold. And, once again, the Sponsored Listings on the right also got a few looks.

Google Instant and Google Local

And the last image is from a search where Google Instant AND Google Local results were displayed

Google instant with local

What’s interesting in this search is that users apparently paid so much attention to the Google Instant recommendations and Google Local results on the top, that they hardly even looked at the actual organic search results.

This means that, with Google Instant apparently being used by a large majority of users (meaning that most users don’t opt to deactivate the Instant feature), if you’re a local business and you know that you want to rank well for certain local searches, it’s pretty important that your business appears on the Google Local searches and preferably somewhere near the top. If you’re ranking number eight on Google and counting on that to be enough, you might be mistaken.

Conclusion

Do these graphics represent all search users? No. Everyone searches on and uses Google in different ways. Not everyone searches for the same keywords and keyword phrases, not everyone clicks on the same results based on position, and not everyone pays attention to the same features such as maps and recommendations.

Also, is this likely to change as Google Instant evolves and users become more familiar with the new way of search? Probably.

But one thing seems certain: if you’re not number one for a search terms that you know you should be ranking well for, you’re probably losing out on a good amount of visits (and, in all likelihood, more clients/leads).

Better Keywords vs. More Keywords: The Eternal Debate

Keywords

When SEO consultants are looking at a potential client and trying to determine a strategy for what keywords they would like to recommend optimizing a website for, the first thing they (should) look at is the business itself.

Understanding who the client’s target audience and who they are trying to reach through search engine marketing is crucial to the success of any online marketing efforts, whether it be search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, remarketing, newsletter distribution, etc.

SEO is not going to be effective for everyone, and there are a lot of SEO’ers out there who will promise you page one or number one rankings on Google for keywords that are either a) not going to result in more QUALITY visits to you website, or b) are very easy to obtain top rankings for because your competition is not focusing on these keywords, which (most of the time) is because these keywords are hardly ever searched for.

I’ve been on the record in the past saying that keyword research is not always necessary for SEO. Google Keyword Tool, Wordtracker, and other keyword research tools are not always accurate when giving search estimates, and a lot of times SEO’ers will be so focused on obtaining top rankings for a small number of “crucial” keywords that they fail to focus time and attention to keywords that aren’t recommended but actually are important keywords to rank for.

Keyword research can be good for certain national websites and non-geographic-specific products and services, but for most local businesses, it’s a waste of time.

I have spent the past four years working for small businesses, and the majority of this time (over the past three years) has been with solo attorneys and small law firms.

SEO works for these clients. Not because they rank number one for keywords like “accident law firm” and “trial lawyer” that keyword research tools tell them they should be ranking for based on estimated monthly search volume, but because they don’t think that every search engine user is the same.

The worst thing that SEO’ers can do is stereotype, and assume that every person who uses Google, Bing, or Yahoo! searches for the same thing.

So, let’s say I am doing SEO for a personal injury attorney in Dallas, Texas. This attorney has a brand new website, a brand new domain, and he handles practice areas such as auto accidents, child injuries (specifically shaken baby syndrome), and medical malpractice.

From my experience and after analyzing the client’s competitors, I know that I will not be working for this client for very long if I recommend that we go after keywords like “Dallas personal injury attorney” and “Texas medical malpractice lawyer” because, even though a keyword research tool may tell me that these are the best phrases to go after, I know that I will not be able to get him page one results within the first 6 months to a year because of the level of competition. The websites that he is competing against have domain names that have been around from anywhere between 5-8 years, and have a large number of quality back links coming into the site focusing on these types of vanity keyword phrases.

But Dallas is a big market, which means there are plenty of other opportunities out there.

I notice that phrases like “best shaken baby syndrome lawyers in Texas, “Dallas auto accident caused by drunk driver”, “Dallas accident settlements”, “Dallas car crash lawyer”, and “Texas lawyer lawsuit against hospital” aren’t as competitive.

I also notice that some areas just outside of Dallas, like Irving, Richardson, Duncanville, and Grand Prairie are pretty much un-touched by the client’s competitors, but instead of assuming that we should go after these areas, I schedule a call with the client to see which of these areas personal injury events such as auto accidents and medical malpractice (maybe there are hospitals in these areas where med-mal claims occur more frequently) occur more often and which area has residents that are more likely to contact my client based on his location and his knowledge of his area.

Now we’ve put together a strategy, and the client is likely excited because he sees that I’m going the extra mile to not only out-think his competition and whoever is handling his SEO strategy, but I’m also taking the time to understand his business and the best ways that we can reach his target audience.

Or at least he’s a lot more excited than if I were to say “let’s get you on page one for Texas Personal Injury attorney, it may take a while, but just keep paying me every month and wait for the clients to come piling in”.

For certain websites, especially local businesses, spending all of your time and effort on ranking for 5 keywords is likely going to result in your client complaining about lack of results, and ultimately (and the only thing that your client really cares about), lack of business.

Marketing 101: Know The Product You’re Promoting

SEO

I’ve spoken to a few SEO’ers in the past who focus so much time and attention on getting their client’s website to rank well for certain keywords that they failed to take the time to actually educate themselves on the product that they’re marketing.

Yes, that’s right… the product that they’re marketing.

If you perform search engine optimization and you don’t look at yourself as a marketer than you can pretty much put yourself in the category of the SEO’ers who are nothing but smoke and mirrors and who are out to make a quick buck by promising your client “better rankings on search engines, which means you’re get more business! Can I have my check now?”.

Link building is important to search engine optimization, and is becoming a lost art now that so many automated options are out there. Within a half of an hour you can pretty much blast out a piece of content to 50+ social bookmarking sites, blast a press release out to multiple distribution sites, and submit an article to a number of different content syndication sites.

But how valuable are these links, and another question that you probably never ask yourself: how many RELEVANT visits will these sites actually get your client? Oh wait, you mean the links aren’t just for SEO? Not if they’re good links!

This is why it’s important for anyone who considers search engine optimization as their profession to know the clients’ product or service inside and out.

By educating yourself on every aspect of your client’s business, you are better prepared to understand your client’s target audience, and what types of sites you can look for to market to them (and also build links from). If you’re just building links from any old site and hoping that their search engine rankings will mysteriously start to rise and that they’ll be on top of the world six months from now, well, good luck, especially after you promised them six months ago that they’d be doubling their business once you’ve gotten them there.

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