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Mark Jackson

Avoiding Cookie Cutter SEO

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I wrote this column from SUNNY (yes “sunny” and warm) Seattle, where the Search Engine Strategies conference for Travel took place last week. I was fortunate enough to speak on two panels there: “Designing for the Senses and Search” and “Rise to the Top — Organic Tips.”

One thing I noticed is the attendees were very mindful and seemed to be appreciative of the actionable information they could take away from the presentations. But one thing that worries me is that many people take some of the recommendations quite literally. So I think it’s wise that I take this opportunity to touch on something that all should consider.

No two Web sites are exactly the same.

Know Who You Are

This is one of the reasons why I love my profession as much as I do. Each new client project is different and has its own set of unique circumstances that might cause a Web site not to rank as well organically in the search engines as its competitors. Each industry niche has its own competitive issues to deal with.

An example I used in one of my presentations was that you should “know who you are.” What I mean by this is that you must define yourself. You may or, more likely, may not be the next “Trip Advisor.” To compete with a Web site such as Trip Advisor (which has over 1.8 million pages indexed in Yahoo!) would be a daunting task. However, there may be a smaller, more defined niche that you could fill, and unique keywords that you could target, that would generate some great, targeted traffic to your Web site. Certainly, ranking highly for “travel” would be great, but ranking for “cancun activities” may be more up your alley.

Learn the Rules

I also spoke to some general guidelines as to how much copy you might want to have within your Web site for both the home page and your interior pages. I tried to identify these recommendations as “general guidelines” rather than hard and fast rules, but received the question, "Mark, are you saying that I should have 15 mentions of my keywords within the interior pages of my Web site?"

The answer is, "I don’t know your Web site, its competitors, or any of the challenges you may face, so it’s hard for me to say what you might need." It could be that one clear mention of the keyword phrase within the first paragraph could be enough. Without doing some research and analysis, I just don’t know.

I guess what I’m trying to get across here is that you can get some really good information from the Search Engine Strategies Conferences, reading Search Engine Watch, and from many other industry sources. You should take all of this information and figure out how all that learning applies to your own particular circumstances.

Perhaps you need to spend more resources on Web development issues. Or maybe you realize you need to bring in a copywriter to improve your content from a usability and SEO perspective. Perhaps your industry has been inundated with competitors, and link generation has become even more important to keep ahead of the pack. Every single Web site and industry has a unique set of challenges, and no one article can pretend to address everything you need to do in order to perform well in the organic search results of major search engines.

Cookie Cutter SEO

I recently spoke with a prospect who was unhappy with his current SEO provider. I asked him not to share the name of the company, as I don't like to bad mouth any "competitors" out there. This particular prospect sells used rolex watches. After digging around a little, I noticed a few other Web sites in the same industry that also had the exact same title tags, descriptions, and keyword tags. Since each of these Web sites had a link to its SEO firm, I was able to identify the company behind this "work." Much like firms that supply template Web site design, this firm was providing template SEO work.

A quality search engine optimization firm would identify the unique challenges and qualities of your Web site and create a unique strategy for success based on your business and site goals. Certainly, all search engine optimization firms learn from previous work and experience, but each business/Web site is unique and demands a unique SEO strategy.

Unique SEO Strategy

Below is a short list of questions you might ask yourself when developing your SEO strategy.

  1. Are we focused on the right keywords (keywords that have high count, relevancy, and conversion history)? A good way to find out is to test these keywords in your PPC efforts.
  2. How does our Web site match up to the competitors that currently rank for these keywords (the number of pages indexed, number/quality of the backlinks to the competitor sites)?
  3. Do we have good quality, original content to support these efforts?
  4. Is our Web site technically sound (built in a search engine "friendly" manner)?

Answers to these questions can ultimately help you determine what you should be doing for better rankings and identify the issues you need to focus on. While these same questions apply to anyone interested in ranking within the search engines, the answers to the questions will vary greatly depending on "who you are." Remember, like humans, all Web sites are unique.


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