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October 4, 2006

What’s your approach to SEO?

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There’s an excellent thread over at Search Engine Watch forums that touches on a variety of important SEO issues. The thread has been going strong for days. If haven’t been over there to check it out, now’s your chance.

Outwit, Outlast, Outplay?

The thread starts out with a newbie member trying to get a feel for what this whole SEO thing is all about. He asks whether SEO is really just about “playing the game” and outsmarting the search engines. While trusted SEOs would answer a categorical no, you can’t fault the new member for the question.

From the outside looking in, I imagine SEO looks a lot like a season of Survivor, with webmasters trying to design sites to outwit, outlast and outplay the search engines. However, it doesn’t take long in this field to realize that’s not how this game is won.

Search Engine Optimization isn’t about trying to play or outsmart the search engines. It’s about outplaying and outlasting your competition by building the best, most expert and search engine-friendly site possible.

But that’s not to say that the search engines aren’t an important part of your SEO campaign; they absolutely are, but you’re not trying to beat them at their own game. Instead you’re trying to understand them and learn their mindset. Learning the ways of the individual engines, seeing how they work and what they deem important is what gives you an edge over your competition. You’ve probably heard us talk about the concept of being equal before you can be better. Studying your competition is what allows you to be equal. Studying the engines is part of what will make you better.

What happens when everyone is designing SEO-friendly sites?

With basic SEO principles now understood, SEW member Mathese takes the thread on an interesting tangent. Mathese hypothesizes that one day sites will start to look the same because everyone will be using the same SEO cookie cutter format. What happens then?

First, I think that’s a ways away. Though more and more companies are waking up to the benefits of SEO, I think it will be some time before its adopted mainstream and old sites are redesigned to address SEOs specific needs.

But what happens if/when it does happen? The game changes. Again.

Employing an SEO-friendly site design, great keyword-rich content and site architecture are just two of many components needed to run a strong SEO campaign. Once those are addressed, it is time to concentrate on all those other factors important to search engine ranking. This is where little things like Meta tags come in to play. Though the engines may not give them much weight today, and many SEOs will advise you to ignore them, we’ve always held that cutting corners is never the way to successful SEO. When everything else is equal, the search engines will look for tiebreaker factors. If you’re utilizing Meta tags and your competition isn’t, that might be your edge to earning that top Google ranking. Good SEO isn’t about doing one thing well. It’s about launching a broad attack and placing strong across the board.

As SEO becomes more sophisticated, finding your niche will become increasingly more important. Sites will find it impossible to rank well for generic blanket terms like “shoes” or “boots”. Instead, sites must work themselves up one niche at a time. Garnering rankings for “leather cowboy boots” and then slowly working to incorporate other related terms as well.

Though most would say SEO is becoming more difficult and more methodical, one forum member asserted that ranking in Google has never been easier:

“You just need to realise it’s a serious form of marketing and get clients that are willing to pay to play. The days of slapping a page up, linking it and ranking are over – unless you know where to link to it from, put the content on an appropriate domain and treat SEO as seriously as PPC.”

While I’d agree that site owners can no longer “slap a page up” and get instant rankings, I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would agree that obtaining Google rankings (the right way) is easy. It’s not.

Sure, as the member says, there’s a “recipe” for high rankings, but that doesn’t make it easy. Knowing the ingredients doesn’t make the meal, it just gives you a place to start and build from. Trust me; I’ve burnt a lot of dinners learning that lesson.

Is SEO profitable?

From there, the newbie member has one final question and it’s something we touched on last Friday – the profitability of SEO.

SEW moderator Ian provides some terrific tips on how to build up an SEO business. I won’t quote them here because I think his entire comment is worth a good read, and frankly, I’ve ranted enough.

Go read Ian’s comment and then go read the rest of the thread. It’s worth your time.

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