There's No Secret Recipe to SEO

Just about everything worth doing comes with a process of some sort. More often than not, these are stringent step-by-step instructions on how to get something done, such as cooking an omelet.

But SEO isn't an omelet. While a general framework is necessary to be effective, the optimization process must be adaptable to each unique client.

SEO is like the Incredible Edible Egg of online marketing. You might start out cooking an omelet, but wind up with scrambled eggs after you try to flip the omelet. Along the way, you made an adjustment, but the end result will still be eggs for breakfast.

There are no hard-set rules for strong keyword optimization and SEO, only guidelines. So here are a few of those guidelines to follow for proper SEO.

Step 1: The Nebulous World of Research

Completing some competitive analysis and keyword research should be among the first steps you address, but there's no order to doing so. Competition often informs keyword research, and keywords often indicate search competitors. Feel it out a bit and be willing to update your research (which should always be ongoing anyway).

First, determine what keywords you want to rank for, and whether you have the content on site to rank for those terms. Once that analysis is done and a keyword list (and potentially a content development strategy) is created, it's time to look at your competitors. Someone must be ranking well for these terms already, so check out what they're doing.

The competitive analysis we create for clients measures them against 20 different elements that can influence rankings. The insight gained from looking at the client's competitors will help inform and shape the overall strategy for the program. Competitive analysis and keyword research feed each other, so start with whichever you like, then go back and inform your old research with the findings of the other report. Or do them at the same time. However you choose to do it, get the research done!

Step 2: Prepping for SEO

The Web site is the center of any SEO program, so address any on-site issues early. The ability of a search spider to crawl your site has a major impact on keyword ranking. Therefore, address site-level architecture and framework issues first. These issues can be quick-win opportunities as they impact the entire site.

Next, focus on the individual site pages, leveraging the keyword list and content development strategy developed in Step 1. Look at on-page keyword density, the prominent theme of the page, and use of the target keywords in page titles and anchor text.

Once your site is SEO friendly, apply all of that competitive and keyword research.

Step 3: Cut Loose, Measure Constantly

Now that the house is in order, let's get some people over. It's time to start link building, social media optimization (SMO), and reporting.

Link building raises a flag to the search engines about your relevancy on specific keywords and helps drive relevant traffic to your site. Set up a strong foundation, a natural link mix of formational links (directories and other starters), community links (like social media), authoritative links (trusted sources in your niche), and naturally generated links (links that come to you). With a little link research and strategic thinking, you can gain the link weight and traffic you need to make your site thrive.

These link targets are, of course, found by springboarding off your initial research. Link research may cause you to go back and reexamine your initial keyword and competitive data as well (see what I mean about no set order?).

SMO involves using social media outlets -- Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. -- to develop a social media profile for your brand. This helps boost visibility and traffic, and can also protect your reputation in search results from unwarranted character attacks. Social media also allows you to assess user needs in real time, develop universal listings, and gain more SERP real estate.

Once your on-site changes are made, start measuring them against results before the start of the program. This measurement can take the form of rankings for target keyword terms, share of voice in the search engines, traffic to the site, and/or conversions.

This is an ongoing process that should never be considered complete. Each of these elements takes time to develop and work. Reporting, like research, fuel each other and keep your site at the top of the search results.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

An SEO program is never done in the traditional sense. It's a cycle, not a once-and-done process. The length of certain parts of the cycle can increase if a Web site doesn't change that often, but SEO should become part of the routine maintenance and updating schedule.

Each step in the SEO process informs the others. Be prepared to go back and make adjustments along the way.

The end result of an SEO program is a sum of its parts, and the path you take to get there is up to you. Even if you start by making an omelet, you may end up making the perfect scrambled eggs.

About the author

William Flaiz is vice president of search engine optimization (SEO) and web analytics at Razorfish (formerly Avenue A | Razorfish). In this role, he oversees the firm's global SEO and web analytics practice that services clients across the US, Europe, and Asia.

William manages a staff of more than 30 account services partners, analysts, and strategists, in defining the needs and providing solutions that help clients to measure and optimize their web site investments.

William joined the Philadelphia office of Avenue A | Razorfish in 2002 to establish the web development practice there and, within six months, he led the development of an award-winning healthcare portal for eMedicine. During this time, he managed the creative, user experience, and customer insights groups, growing the revenue and staff dedicated to web development projects, which accounts for approximately 1/3 of the office's revenues today. More recently, William served as vice president of operations for the Philadelphia office, overseeing all agency planning and financials.

William taught classes on web development and the Internet at various universities in Philadelphia, and has served as a judge for the eHealthcare Leadership Awards for the past three years. He has spoken at industry conferences and authored articles for industry publications, including MD Net Guide, the Center for Business Intelligence pharmaceutical series, and the Nashville Advertising Federation.

William earned a B.S. in accounting and finance and MS in information systems from Drexel University.