The New Search Engine Optimization – SEO 2.0

Specialists.  They are wonderful, smart, and talented people who can push boundaries and solve complicated problems.  They are also the people who invented lead plumbing, asbestos insulation, and solved our toxic waste disposal issue by sinking leaky barrels down to the ocean floor.

When specialists solve a problem, they often create other, unforeseen problems because they tend to look through their own self-imposed keyholes.  Over time, these specialists broaden their horizons after realizing that the materials they use and methods they employ matter just as much as the predicted outcome.  Turns out copper won’t make poison of your drinking water.

So you’re probably asking me to get to the point – what does this have to do with SEO?

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with many professional SEOs over the years who understand that the point of SEO is not to gather a trophy collection of high rankings in Google, but to have those trophies produce traffic, interaction, and ultimately revenue (or some other comparable value).  To this end, they understand that ranking number 1 for “women’s fashion” and sending users to a page that looks like this is a failure:

Women’s Fashion – Fashion for Women who like Fashion

Women’s fashion is a fashionable, womanly way of being a woman with style (commonly referred to as Fashion, or Women’s fashion).  Check out this link to women’s fashion (it comes right back to this page! surprise! FASHION).  Maybe you’re looking for fashion BY women, or fashiony women.

Whatever you want in the world of women’s fashion, we have fashion for the woman in your life (unless you are a woman, and want fashion).  Let’s say hooray for fashion, fashion, fashion! Go women! Fashion!

Let’s do some math:

Fashion + women = women’s fashion.


Women McFashionton

Of course, that’s a bit of an extreme example, but we’ve all seen it.

Unfortunately, I’ve also had the displeasure of working with some SEOs who have a total disregard for usability (although truthfully, I’ve seen this problem much more frequently the other way around: usability engineers who pretend that search isn’t a top-5 use case, when it’s usually #1).  They literally say, “Our job is to get rankings, and it’s someone else’s job to make the conversions happen.”  That attitude is the lead pipe with mercury strychnine lining of the internet.  Since SEO involves the modification of the very pages that will need to produce conversion post-click, this is an incredibly irresponsible, naive, and downright ridiculous way of going about search engine optimization, but I’d say that 3 out of 4 SEO engagements end up more or less this way.

This notion of unaccountability is the age-old plague of specialists who have not yet matured (or learned) enough to realize the value of synthesizing efforts into a single fabric, rather than loosely stitching together a hideous quilt of specialist’s favorite patterns.

How to pick a good SEO

So with all of that specialist ragging behind me, let’s break it down into how you can prevent this disaster on your site (or your company’s).

1.  Get a reporting sample. You’re looking for a report that talks about what’s happening with rankings, and WHY.  If your SEO doesn’t have an opinion on why movement is happening, what are the chances they’ll come up with a tactic to change it?  You’re also looking for post-click actions in the report, and again WHY.  Your SEO should be trying to drive good traffic to your site, and either diagnosing or doing their best to help your usability / analytics resources diagnose any issues with on-site performance.  Let’s not forget, you’re investing in SEO for a return, not a trophy case.

2.  Talk to the SEOs, both the ones who do the selling and the ones who will do the actual work.  Larger agencies may put less-experienced staff on the busy work of keyword buildouts and title + meta creation, but guess what?  Those are arguably the most important tasks.  Make sure that their process includes a review and some sort of feedback from analytics and usability folks (or a savvy businessperson) to validate that these phrases will work on these pages.  Refine keyword lists, even if you have to give up search frequency, to best fit the purpose of the target page and ensure a positive experience for visitors if engines choose that page as the best for that key phrase (and of course, there’s no guarantee of that).  Also, try to get a general feel for the value they place on the return of the program.  If it “feels” like all they care about is rankings, they aren’t going to be a true partner.

3.  Demand 6-month performance reviews. This is something that both you and your SEO should love.  One of the hardest parts of search engine optimization is deciding how to keep it going.  By having in-depth reviews of engine and site-side performance every 6 months, the strategy and tactics can be refined to continue boosting performance over time as the algorithm and competitive aggression changes.

Follow these three rules and I’m sure you’ll be shocked by how many candidates are weeded out.  Remember that the professions of SEO and analytics / usability are VERY different, so you shouldn’t expect to get one person that wears both hats: that would just be a waste of a specialist’s time.  What you’re looking for is a specialist who is aware of and cares about the collateral effects of their work.  This person/agency will apply their specialized knowledge responsibly so you don’t end up with mutant fish at the bottom of your sea.

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  1. Hi Evan,
    Enjoyed your rhetorical devices in describing the SEO specialist problem and the three easy take aways.

    Posted August 18, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  2. Evan,

    Nice article. My background/bias is more on the technical side of analytics. I agree that you need a strong SEO, but if the people with the task of tagging the site, implementing the tracking code, and ensuring that all is working well. You would not be able to get the data needed to have a truly effective analysis.

    A lot of emphasis is put on the business side of analytics, but the folks in cubes coding away are often overlooked for their role in the process.


    Posted August 19, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  3. im a newbie in Search Engine Optimization and i still need to study more on internal linking. Currently, what i do to optimize my website is just make as many backlinks as possible.

    Posted November 16, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  4. the most important thing when doing search engine optimization is get a good amount of backlinks first. when you have a sufficient amount of backlinks, then you can start optimizing in page links, keyword density and other factors which affects your ranking.

    Posted February 17, 2010 at 11:59 pm | Permalink
  5. Ken,

    You’re right that links are important, but I’m going to have to recommend to most people that going out and getting links is not the first thing to do – you need something worth linking to! Focus on creating good, high-quality content, and the links will come. The quality of the links is much more important than the quantity, and the only way to attract quality links is to have a quality site.

    Posted February 18, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Permalink
  6. i am a newbie in Search Engine Optimization but i think that the submission of articles in article directories is one of the best ways to gain backlinks. ~

    Posted April 28, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  7. Shantelle,

    Thanks for dropping by!

    To all new SEOs (and amateurs): spend less time trying to figure out the “tricks” for gaining rankings in Google. Nothing is a substitute for good quality content and markup. Make sure you have unique title tags, and a user-friendly navigation experience.

    Google is shutting doors on the tricks and tweaks SEOs talk about daily. So don’t waste your time and resources. Instead, focus on making a great site and the rankings will come. Almost all of the sites that rank well today do so by offering more content, richer content, and clean code.

    I can’t stress enough to just follow the fundamentals Google outlines in their webmaster guidelines and forget about gaming the engines. Google employs tens of thousands of the smartest people on earth, so the chances of the rest of us figuring out back doors that won’t be shut within a matter of weeks is slim, at best.

    As a beginner SEO, focus on the fundamentals and adhere to white hat SEO (and avoid gimmicks) as much as possible.

    Submitting articles is good if it’s good for your users. But backlinks from these directories are weak and the engines are wise to this tactic. Probably a waste of time.

    Write another article, instead!

    Best of luck.

    Posted April 28, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  8. Shadab Malik

    Evan, I like the way you defined a specialists role. However, for Mid-sized companies, generally apart from SEO, he is expected to do Usability, Conv Optimization, Analytics etc. In such cases, it becomes very difficult to strike the right balance when recruiting an SEO. It is understood when you say “Remember that the professions of SEO and analytics / usability are VERY different..” but whats the choice?

    The comments perhaps diverted from the article theme a bit but I would like to make a point. I work for a company having a non-native market. Our SEO and marketing techniques are all in non-english language and culture plays a great role in conversion. However all you have mentioned to Shantolle about Google’s algorithms are so untrue when you check this region. I was so amazed myself. I sometimes dont believe I am trying to optimize for Google. Its frustrating. I dont know when would Google do something about it!

    Posted September 4, 2010 at 4:21 am | Permalink
  9. Thanks for commenting and adding these thoughts.

    When I say SEO, I mean professional seos, just like saying race car driver doesn’t talk about people who occasionally drive fast 🙂

    What you’re describing, I would call a web developer or web specialist. They may know SEO, but they are not seos. I say this for a reason, they will not approach problems the same way specialists do: these developers are inherently generalists and will be more open minded in their recommendations. That’s a good thing!

    As for google, I can only speak for the USA. There is no doubting the algorithm places high value on links, but that is not what will make it all work in the long run.

    Posted September 4, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  10. Good post and great tips. Thank u for sharing.

    Posted July 7, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink
  11. You can certainly see your skills within the work you write.

    The sector hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.

    Posted January 13, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

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