How to Take on a Major SEO Client

Wanted: Someone that can boost my page views and increase my ad revenue. Must be willing to start from the ground up and work with a homegrown content management system. Over 130,000 pages of content are available and must be optimized in a way that does not tax my technical or editorial resources. Looking for innovative tactics for short-term, immediate results, as well as long-term benefits. Compensation based upon results and a fixed fee.

Would your company answer this ad? The challenge was put to my agency by a large publishing client, and we delivered results that made our client look like a genius to their higher-ups, and improved the site overall.

It seems daunting, I know, but let’s walk through this step by step.

Give ‘Em What They Need

Any SEO engagement needs a solid foundation in order to succeed. In the case of the publishing client, they were about to redesign their Web site, so we had an opportunity to impact the site structure right from the start.

Unlike some clients who only consider SEO after the site launch, this client had the foresight to bring us in during the initial planning of the redesign. We reviewed wireframes as they were developed, helped define requirements for content management selection (a first in my SEO career), and reviewed code and architecture.

We prepared internal linking strategies, URL structures, and naming conventions. We also provided training to the editorial staff for content development and set up a proper redirect strategy for all legacy URLs — all 130,000 of them.

Basically, we had a chance to prevent any search nightmare you can think of at the planning stage. Preparing the proper groundwork ensures that the site will be in good SEO shape and the redesign won’t harm current search rankings. Nothing sexy about this work, but it can make or break a site.

Give ‘Em What They Want

SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. So when a client specifically asks what can be done in the short term to make an impact, the team usually cringes.

In this case, we explored social media outlets for a short-term impact that could also have a longer-term benefit. First was a Google News feed — more of a no-brainer, but something the client had not explored previously. Next, we guided their creation and optimization of RSS feeds and improved their visibility by ensuring they were added to the RSS engines.

The real winner was incorporating social media badges on each piece of published content. This allowed the readers to share and disseminate the content on their own. From these tactics alone, we saw a 1,000 percent increase (yes there are supposed to be three zeros there) in traffic. Not a bad start, but this was only the beginning.

Give ‘Em What They Don’t Know They Need

As the site build progressed, we worked closely with the client’s editorial staff to identify content gaps. Our keyword research uncovered areas where the client had minimal content and little to no search competition. We made recommendations around content development and keywords to take advantage of in the space. We also worked with on-site bloggers to make sure they were writing for both the readers and the engines, using terms relevant to searchers on their blog posts.

The keyword research and competitive landscape analysis turned out to be invaluable to the client, as it uncovered untapped business opportunities.

As a valuable addition, we also worked on the online reputations of a few of their editors. Some of these editors had quite a few negative listings appearing above their profiles and articles in name-based search results, so we worked with them on optimizing their online reputations. By helping them push down some of the negative listings with more positive articles, we helped provide a more balanced story about them, and the client by association.

Take ‘Em to the Next Level

After a very successful year one, we’re now in year two of our contract with the client, and we were scratching our heads a little over what to do next. Social media expansion seemed like a logical extension for this client.

Leveraging Facebook, we created a client profile as another way for them to syndicate their content. We recommended this over MySpace or other social networks, as our research showed the Facebook demographic more closely aligned with their Web site demographics.

In order to get more mileage out of their video content, we created a YouTube channel of their video library. In hopes of driving a wider reader base to the Web site, we also had their content included as available content for the Amazon Kindle Reader.

While these may not seem like typical SEO tactics, they’re all designed to drive traffic to the site and encourage repeat visits. And residual benefits include additional property listings in search, new connections to the main site, and increased visibility online. SEO or not, social media gets you more eyeballs.

Crunching the Numbers

To date, this case has been one of our more successful SEO client engagements. We’ve seen a 41 percent increase in organic traffic and page views overall, and a 43 percent increase in traffic and 58 percent increase in page views in Google alone. MSN and Yahoo have also shown similar lifts in traffic and page views.

While our team has done a great job with this client, it all started with the client knowing when to engage us — from the beginning of the planning, not when they were ready to launch. Strong planning up front when combined with an understanding (and somewhat adventurous) client can make for a very successful search campaign.

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