Is SEO just a game?
Consider two chess players, Mike and Tom. Mike has never been able to win against Tom. Mike knows all the rules of the game: how to move every piece, when to capture, when to castle; he even knows all the tactical ideas like forks, pins, skewers and discovered attacks.
Mike's problem is that while he knows all the rules and has read a lot of chess books, he still looks only one or two moves in advance. It is very hard to prepare a winning plan looking so short-term. Tom on the other hand thinks at least five moves ahead and moves all his pieces so that they complete his master plan. Tom anticipates all of Mike's moves and prepares for them with a strong counterattack.
The world of search engine optimization is no different than this. As SEOs we need to think ahead of our competitors and, more importantly, we need to be on top of search engine advances. The world of search is moving so fast that any slacker will be left behind, with no time or opportunity to catch up. Check and mate.
Most of the time we think tactically.
As SEOs, we think about fixing duplicate content issues, supplemental results, meta robot tags, long tail, etc. All this is necessary, but at the end of the day these are just tactics. We attack specific problems with known solutions.
As a technical guy I enjoy the intricacies of SEO a lot, especially the coding aspects, but at the end of the day what really matters is whether or not I have the ability to think strategically, to see the big picture, to think in creative ways and find that golden search opportunity. That is what can give me the edge in the rankings.
How to think strategically
How about instead of just well worn tactics, we focus more on strategies that will give us (or our clients) the edge? How about these: applying guerrilla marketing strategies to our keyword research, creating keyword lists that reflect consumers’ problems instead of our company’s solutions, or looking for links where no other SEO is looking—in product review sites, viral PDF e-books, and so on.
This is my method to think strategically and brainstorm new ideas:
Fully understand the problem (and the customer if the work is for a client). This is a fundamental step. Failing to do so makes the remaining steps an exercise in futility.
Understand competitors and the competitive landscape. Pay special attention to competitors’ solutions to shared problems. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of such solutions.
Think long and hard about other potential solutions in comparison with those of competitors. Weigh the pros and cons of each and pick the winning ideas.
There are a lot of firms and individuals that sell SEO services, yet they command only the most basic knowledge. Learning such information is not difficult. There are plenty of books, training seminars and the good ol’ blogs that teach SEO—this relatively new one included 😉
If you are considering hiring an SEO company, ask them this fundamental question: What is your exact plan to improve my search engine referrals? If you plan to sell SEO services, ask yourself if you can answer this question before you take on a new client.
Do you think strategically or tactically?
August 2, 2007 at 11:09 am
I agree, problem is there are so many clients looking at SEO's to provide an instant fix, a majic pill if you like, talking to this group about long term strategies is pointless.
August 3, 2007 at 7:49 am
This is a sad truth. It only takes a week or two for them to start pestering you why their site with no rank is nowhere to be seen. Another of my favorites is when people ask to be on page one of Google for 100s or 1000s of competative search terms. If it were that easy, the top spots would be forever changing. I'd be surprised if anyone ever asked 'What is your exact plan to improve my search engine referrals?'. It's more likely to be 'How much can you give me? How long is it going to take? and how little is it going to cost me? 2 cents a keyword?'
August 2, 2007 at 11:47 am
SEO Scotland - That is an unfortunate truth. I guess that is one of the reasons I work primarily on my own sites :-)
August 10, 2007 at 4:27 am
I was searching for a SEO job, but hell now I totally agree with you Hamlet. I'm currently working only on my sites, stepping into relation with a batch of mental midgets is too tiring, even as you can make nice money on that...
Jan from thrusites w
August 3, 2007 at 1:42 am
Well, tactical vs. strategic is a good idea. However, as SEOs we have to tell our customers what's gonna happen. For example, I lost many potential SEO jobs just because the customer wanted the results overnight. So they hired someone else who was 3 times cheaper than me and later that person wasn't able to deliver any result. SEO Scotland wrote the same thing. If you have to choose between serious 6-12 months SEO plan or 2-3 weeks "hurry up" SEO plan, there is no doubt what to choose. But unexperienced customers will probably choose the second option because it sounds much better... The customer must also look into his wallet because very detailed 6 months SEO can be very expensive.
August 3, 2007 at 5:12 am
Jan - Thanks for your comment. I'd see this other angle. Maybe the customers that one quick fixes are happy with non-competitive keyword rankings. Those do not require much effort. I guess the saying "you get what you pay for" is very appropriate here.
SEO ROI Services
November 24, 2007 at 4:20 pm
On the note of keywords reflecting problems rather than solutions, my personal experience has been that getting comments on your post/page can help you define the problem visitors are having. While this works better after a page is ranking, you can try beta-testing it by linking to it in forums where you find people using those keywords.
August 19, 2010 at 4:54 pm
If you have to choose between serious 6-12 months SEO plan or 2-3 weeks “hurry up” SEO plan, there is no doubt what to choose. But unexperienced customers will probably choose the second option because it sounds much better…
Area 1 Labs
December 16, 2007 at 8:11 pm
nice read. I like how you used the comparisons to chess. You always need to stay on top if not ahead of the game in order to survive. Its tough to find good clients but sometimes you got to learn where to market yourself towards a specific crowd.
April 27, 2008 at 9:45 am
I agree people who use seo service companies expect to be ranked and getting trafic immediately, and should really think about seo services and one part towards there marketing.
May 1, 2008 at 11:57 am
in my opinion its NOT only going after what the competition does but looking at innovative ways to get to the top by doing what the competition is NOT doing.. good chess analogy