Saturday, March 19, 2011

Is Promotion the Elephant in the SEO Room?

I've listened to many SEO gurus' presentations on SEO over the years. There's always a lot of discussion about keywords, meta tags, url's, page titles, headings, javascript, etc. And usually the presenter mentions that Google puts more weight on the links to your pages (and the "quality" of the referring site) than on the factors you can control on your site. But after that short statement, they always quickly move on. Even Google only reserves two of 31 pages to this subject in its SEO Starter Guide (see pages 28 and 29).

So hold on - the most important factor always gets the least amount of air time? Why is that?

My guess is that the things you can control are many, they are somewhat technical, and so they make site owners feel they need the services of SEO gurus. At the same time, the "external factors" are few, easily understandable, and take a lot of time and effort to get right. And you can probably do a better job in this area than your consultants could anyway.

I'm not saying that keyword research, meta tagging, etc are not important - they are. But those are just table stakes. If you want to differentiate your site, you have to focus on the external factors, and spend the time and effort to get this area right.

So what is it you should be doing? Here is a list of possible activities:
  • Find the most influential (i.e., highest ranking) sites that publish about the same subjects as you do on your site. If you make widgets, find out who publishes the most influential reviews of widgets, who posts educational content about widgets, who the biggest users are of widgets, etc.
  • Review your content to ensure that it will be seen as having value to those influential sites.
  • Build relationships with the influential sites' publishers. Show them who you are. Convince them of your authority in your shared market.
  • Build out your online relationships with these publishers. In other words, you want them to understand that linking to content on your site will enhance their content. At the same time, if they have content that your site visitors would value, be sure to link to it.
  • Use your relationships to find out what content they - and their visitors - want. If it's something that you can provide, and that will build your reputation or make people interested in you, develop that content - and let the publishers know when you have done so.
In other words - you have to promote your site - with the right crowd. If you can build your reputation as a valuable resource, and get influential sites to link to your content, you can optimize your search results rankings much more than you could by solely focusing on your internal factors.

Here's a good article on this subject:


Kenny said...

One other thing I noticed is that SEO "best practices" often compromise coding and content best practices. That is, they say that a flat site hierarchy is better for SEO, yet having everything in the root is a nightmare from an organizational standpoint. Or, as someone mentioned on Thursday (I think it was Thursday), making your content SEO optimized can often make the content awkward to the reader.

My point is that I think you have to walk a fine line between improving your SEO optimization and making your site completely SEO optimized at the expense of other factors.


Bill said...

I agree with you completely. With respect to content, if you've done a good job with tagging, your titles and headings, I'd think there's a point of diminishing returns in adding your keywords repeatedly to the content. At some point you visitors will wonder whether you've ever heard of synonyms, the thesaurus, or pronouns.

And with respect to the site hierarchy, it's also the case that you can use that hierarchy within your CMS to control what's displayed on the page. For example, you might always want to show a promotion on your products pages. If your hierarchy includes "/products/", your CMS may make this trivial.