Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Search Insider: You Can Still Handle These SEO Truths

You Can Still Handle These SEO Truths

Last week, author Rebecca Lieb managed to distill her new book "The Truth about Search Engine Optimization," from 51 chapters into a single truth. How can she top that? In the continuation of the interview, she first addresses what truth means in this context. Then she tackles the biggest SEO myth. She closes with answering a few questions submitted via Twitter, but I didn't limit her response to 140 characters.

Search Insider: Which chapter do you find marketers have the hardest time wrapping their heads around?

Rebecca Lieb: It all depends on the needs of the individual reader, of course, but I think the chapters on using SEO in social media, or in tandem with blogging, online PR, and reputation management, are of particular interest now that the spotlight's on social media in general. Another reason people will appreciate those chapters is because they provide a pretty clear roadmap for highly optimizing messaging with a minimum of expenditure. Budgets are tight these days, have you heard?

SI: Did you ever grapple with whether to call these chapters truths? For instance, one's "The Jury is Out on Paid Links," and another is "In-House or Outsource," where there aren't truths but rather two sides to the issue.

RL: Funny you should ask. Initially, I did grapple with some of these titles and tried hard to write all 51 chapter headers as absolute truths. Luckily, my clear-thinking editor let me relax the absolutes when logic dictated they're not so absolute. Your readers are marketers, so they're well acquainted with the biggest truth in anything marketing-related, which is, "It depends." But really, it is the truth to tell people that paid links have both advantages and disadvantages, and to weigh both arguments. This is, after all, a book, not a consulting engagement.

I hope readers will find the pro and con arguments in chapters such as paid links, in-house or outsourcing, or even the whole concept of what it means to be in number one in search rankings helpful. When there isn't an absolute truth -- and face it, sometimes there just isn't -- I hope I provide enough guidance for people to make educated, informed decisions.

SI: Again, since it's a book of truths, what's the biggest lie or myth you'd love to counter here?

RL: That SEO is a set-it-and-forget-it item you tick off a to-do list. SEO is an ongoing process that's both strategic and tactical. Probably the biggest value in my book is, it illustrates why. There are so many ways to optimize a Web site, and many of them challenge you to look at and think differently about your business. This means thinking from a searcher's perspective, of course (actually, from many searchers' perspectives). But it also means knowing about all the styles and flavors search comes in: local, vertical, directory, images, video, audio, personal -- the list just keeps getting longer. All this innovation is more complicated, sure. But at the same time, it exponentially expands the opportunities to get visible in new ways and in new places, as well as to maintain that visibility.

And if you'll indulge me a second, there's another myth I'd like to bust: that search is for geeks and techno-nerds. I'm not a developer; I'm a writer and editor, but search turns me on. Maybe it's because I'm weird, but maybe it's also because there's just so much interesting strategy and content behind the concepts. Search can really get both brain hemispheres revved -- right and left!

SI: This question comes from @matt_mcgowan on Twitter: How does social media marketing fit in with search engine optimization?

RL: Social media, particularly user-generated content, benefits SEO in myriad ways depending, of course, on the social media channel. Consumer reviews on an ecommerce site Web page, or a review site like Citysearch or Yelp, not only expand keyword-rich text, but provide added credibility for buyers and browsers. Blog platforms are built to be easily crawled and spidered by search engines, so blog content is incredibly search friendly. Social media allows users to provide their own metadata, not only to images and video on sites like Flickr and YouTube, but also directly to product pages on sites such as Amazon. In a sense, social media can be considered a great, collaborative effort to make almost anything on the Web more search-engine-friendly, including sites, images, video, products, and text.

SI: The final question, also via Twitter, comes from @annatalerico: Should companies measure ROI from SEO, and if so, how?

RL: Of course companies should measure ROI from SEO. The how is a bit stickier to answer, because measurement is tied to goals, and every company and Web site has different goals and objectives. These might include more search visibility for important keywords and phrases, e.g. ranking higher in organic search results. But a more ROI-related metric would be tracking not only the traffic that found your site or pages via organic search results, but also tracking how much of that traffic converted into a desired action such as a click or a sale. Other factors play into this, of course, such as optimized landing pages, compelling copy, and a clear call-to-action. Search won't do all that heavy lifting! But if searchers can't find you, they can't take action, so using your analytics package to track changes in search-engine-generated traffic, and the keywords searchers are using to find your pages, are an essential first step in calculating ROI.

If you want to find out more about Lieb and her book, visit RebeccaLieb.com.

David Berkowitz is director of emerging media and client strategy at 360i. You can reach him at dberkowitz@360i.com, on Twitter at @dberkowitz, and through his blog at MarketersStudio.com.

Search Insider for Tuesday, March 24, 2009:

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