The Art of SEO: An SEO Book Review

The Art of SEOI tripped over SEO last night. O’Reilly Media sent me a copy of their latest SEO book “The Art of SEO,” which I had peer reviewed a couple of months ago. I was pleasantly surprised to find it waiting for me on my doorstep when I got home from work, though my toes were less pleased.

Reviewing the “The Art of SEO” in-progress was an interesting and humbling experience, especially with four well known SEOs tackling the authorship jointly:

The result is a collection of the best practices in search engine optimization from soup to nuts. Or rather from 301s to web spam.

The first two chapters focus set the stage with general level setting on what SEO is, how it differs from other forms of marketing, and how search engines work. For SEO newbies, this is a valuable introduction to understand how to talk the talk. More experienced folks may pick up a nugget or two on the ins and outs of the algorithms but  for the most part it’s a refresher.

The goal setting, planning and measurement chapters (3, 4 & 9) should be required reading. Creating an SEO program isn’t just deciding to update a few title tags. Brainstorming a list of 100 keywords to target does not constitute planning. SEO professionals must know what to analyze and benchmark to set realistic goals, determine where time spent is most likely to produce a positive ROI, and collecting the data for measuring progress down the road. Read. These. Chapters.

Chapter 5 covers the basics of keyword research, one of the cornerstones of all SEO decision making. I would hope that everyone has their keyword research data (yes, actual numerical data) stapled to their foreheads before touching their sites …. On second thought, add chapter 5 to the required reading list with 3, 4 & 9.

Chapter 6 & 10 are probably my favorites, because they focus on the structural, technical and architectural aspects of SEO. The down-and-dirty geeky stuff. These chapters cover crawl paths, subdomains, URLs, duplicate content, content delivery, redirects, robots, geotargeting, redesigns, spamming methods (to avoid) and other juicy topics. It’s just not possible to cover all the intricacies in two chapters, all the issues and decisions that real businesses run into every day managing their sites, but this is a great introduction at a 1,000-foot level.

Chapter 7 covers linking in more detail from both the engines’ algorithmic perspectives and the marketing perspective. How do you get more links? Are all links equal? What about buying links? How can you get more inks to be popular when you aren’t popular enough to get links? All good questions. Read chapter 7.

Vertical search is covered in Chapter 8 — local search, mobile, video, shopping, image, news, etc. Each of these has its own SEO peculiarities to consider.

Chapter 11 essentially provides a guide to continuing education. It’s hard to know whose SEO knowledge to trust. This chapter outlines some ways to educate yourself through competitive research and how to sniff out the reputable sources of information.

Chapter 12 is a doozy — the perennial question of in-house or agency. Both have their pros and cons, which are debated well here. The authors also cover hiring, choosing a reputable SEO agency, and working with mixed models.

The last chapter is the obligatory “The Future Of…” chapter. I was prepared to be bored, frankly. As conclusions go, this one was well written and actually insightful on the future of search engines, their algorithmic potential and the ways in which the SEO industry will need to evolve to remain relevant.

Bottom line: I think what I liked best about this book is the variety of perspectives. Four authors means four different ways of describing the SEO universe. I can’t say that it completely changed my world, but I wouldn’t be a very good SEO consultant if I hadn’t already been pretty intimate with these concepts. I did walk away from this review with some new perspectives, new ways to think about the same old issues, new data sources to analyze and new ways to analyze the same old data sources. That’s what I love about SEO: Every day you learn something new, every day your experience evolves as you expose yourself to new clients, new data, new theories. Everyone, even old dogs, can learn some new tricks. If you’re new to SEO and looking for a primer that covers the gamut, this book will serve you well. Give it a read.

Disclosure: I work at Netconcepts, Stephan Spencer’s SEO firm, as Director of Search Consulting Services. I was advising O’Reilly Media on their SEO when the book was going through review. Despite my double tie to the book, the opinions expressed here are specifically my own.

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.

Are Coats Really Hot & Flip Flops Really Cold? Find out with Google Keyword Tool Annualizer

If you take a look at October’s keyword data in isolation, you’d quickly come to the conclusion that [coats] is a hugely popular keyword and no one is searching for [flip flops]. Researching highly seasonal keyword phrases has always been challenging, but with the Google Keyword Tool it’s even more so.

After much peer debate and soul searching, I’ve come to rely on Google Keyword Tool for my keyword research needs. Sure, I check in with Keyword Discovery, but GKT’s has the most representative data set because it pulls directly from the largest search engine’s actual searches. But GKT has a core weakness: seasonality.

The Google Keyword Tool Annualizer developed by Brian Brown at Netconcepts provides a template for annualizing the data so that seasonal phrases can be compared on common ground. Take a look at the Google Keyword Tool Annualizer for instructions and screen grabs to get the right data out of the system, and to download the tool.

Let’s go back to coats & flop flops as an example. Just looking at October’s local data (US English, exact match), I see [coats] at 823,000 searches and [flip flops] at 74,000. But looking at the cute little trend chart GKT offers, you can see that coats are at a seasonal peak and flip flops are at a seasonal valley. But how much? If you sell both coats & flip flops, and you want to know which will be more valuable to optimize over the whole year, the trend chart visual doesn’t provide useful numerical data to make that decision. Pasting the data into the Google Keyword Tool Annualizer shows that [coats] represents 2,485,460 searches annually in Google with October as the peak month, while [flip flops] represents 1,301,727 searches that peak in May and June. Just looking at the trend chart visual and the global monthly search volume for these two terms, I would have guessed they were more evenly matched annually, but [coats] is clearly the larger opportunity.

Now imagine doing this exercise across all the major categories and brands your site carries. You’d know which content to target for optimization based on its annual search opportunity, as well as which seasons to target the optimization to go live (approx. 3 months before the peak month). That’s incredibly powerful. This tool and the data that comes out of it will change the way you create and optimize content. At least, it should.

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.

Social Promotion: Brands Hide Their Lights under Bushels

Once upon a time Jesus is said to have proclaimed that his followers shouldn’t “hide their light under a bushel.” Actually, I didn’t know Jesus coined the phrase until I looked it up. But 2,000 years later, in the same spirit, I proclaim that you shouldn’t hide your social networks under a bushel.

An incredible number of brands maintain profiles on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social networks. Why, oh why wouldn’t they promote participation in those networks on their sites and blogs?

Let’s pick on a couple of big brands:

Old Navy: The only place on their site where they promote their Twitter and Facebook profiles is below the fold on their stores & events page. Why not as a standard part of their template near the e-mail sign up form?

Banana Republic: Old Navy’s big sister similarly hides their social profiles away on the mysteriously named Style Download page. Again, its below the fold, even though they participate in 3 networks (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube). Who would think of looking for Banana Republic on YouTube? If they promoted it, even passively, on their site’s template and as a standard inclusion in their e-mail marketing template think how much more exposure they would gain. The sad part is that in a couple of months they’ll likely decide that this social media thing just doesn’t work, when part of the problem could be their own lack of promotion of these channels.

DSW Shoe Warehouse: They actually have an active Twitter presence, with tweets to the media that cover them, tweets to customers and tweets to other shoe lovers. But not a single mention of their Twitter life on their ecommerce site.

It’s as if some ecommerce sites don’t want to come out of the closet on social media. They want the benefits, sure, but they don’t want to rick losing their shoppers to a medium where customers can’t directly convert. Guess what, when a customer follows your brand on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or another social network, they’re actually volunteering — opting in — to receive your message. These are your brand loyalists. What do you gain by making it harder for them to follow you on the network of their choice?

Social media promotion has upside, folks. When that brand loyalist fans you on Facebook or follows you on Twitter, she’s saying “YES tell me more.” And when you follow up on that request to tell her more with intelligent tweets about your products, charitable initiatives, industry insight into coming trends, product intelligence tidbits, as well as sales and promotions, you’re helping her feel in the know. And she’s going to crow about that to her friends and fans. As your fans and followers spread your brand’s messages to their networks, it widens your brand’s reach for at least that single communication. As others in her network like what your brand has to say they too may opt in to be in the know. And now your brand’s sphere of influence has increased as well.

Let’s look at a couple of brands who do this well:

Kansas City Steak Co: Persistent Twitter & Facebook icons in the left navigation, on every page. They’re a nice size to draw attention but not dominate, and they may even be in the first page view on some screens.

Eastbay: Persistent Twitter and Facebook icons in with the footer with their e-mail sign up on every page. I could wish they were more prominent and perhaps a bit larger, but they’re there on every page at least.

Sure, critics may say something you’d rather they didn’t on your Facebook wall or in a Twitter mention, but a brand’s visible response to that individual in a caring and professional manner reflects well on your brand. Trust me, if they’re going to say bad things on your profile, they’re saying them anyway. Your management just doesn’t know it yet. Owning your brand and promoting it via social media just gives brands the chance to respond and turn something unpleasant at least into a neutral in the eyes of the fans following the brand.

You’re spending the resources to create and maintain social profiles. Claim them loud and proud to get the benefit from them, before upper management decides that social media doesn’t work for your brand.

Image source: Poeticpixel

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.