SEO Process: Why Everything You Know is Wrong

A while back I wrote about my web development project workflow and thought I'd detail some of the steps I take here at RLM when optimizing a client's website for higher search engine rankings.

Actually, what sparked this blog post was an email I got from a potential client recently. We get a lot of proposal requests on this website for our core business, SEO. Reading a good chunk of those requests, especially from smaller companies, it's clear to me that many people have read a lot of bad information online about SEO.

The Cause of Bad SEO Info

Number One Fan
You have to sort through the bull$%#@ before you can rank #1 - Image Source:

First, where does all this misinformation come from? I believe there are two reasons there is so much bad SEO advice out there and what causes so many people to believe there is some magical secret that can help you get your website ranked at the top of Google for two-hundred bucks (or some other absurdly low number).

Hopefully I can address some of those issues and, while I don't intend to directly invalidate specific methods per say, I want to give readers an idea of the process we take when promoting a website and perhaps dispel two myths I see perpetuated again and again.So, first things first. The two sources I believe are the root cause of all this misinformation:

  1. The first is money. Not that money is bad, I'm one of the biggest proponents of capitalism you'll ever run into, but some people are willing to do just about anything in the pursuit of money. All those SEO gurus out there make their livings telling people how to get ranked. As far as the SEO gurus go, they usually have a product to sell, whether it be an eBook or an SEO course and, whatever it is, they are going to say what it takes to sell it.A time-tested maxim in advertising is that people want the easiest, quickest solution to their problems. So, a lot of SEO gurus promote quick and easy methods of getting ranked. I'm sure some of the so-called "gurus" out there actually know what they're talking about, but you can pretty much guarantee that if it's quick and easy, it won't work.
  2. And what about the SEO bloggers? Well, there is certainly value to be had by keeping up with the latest information in whatever field you work in (or are trying to master 😉 ), but it's easy to get a skewed perspective by reading too much.
  3. Think about this…if you were a big-time SEO blogger and you really knew how to get websites ranked, would you give away everything on your blog? I imagine not, and for good reason.
  4. First, if you tell everything you know, what's to keep people coming back? Nothing. They've got the info they need and they don't need you anymore. And of course if you explain the basics of SEO and then say, "the rest is just hard work," your readers won't have any incentive to come back in hopes of discovering the next big secret.
  5. Second, I've found that the effectiveness of any one SEO tactic is inversely proportional to the number of people doing it. Back in the day, consistent blogging was a sure-fire way to get your name out there. It's not that easy anymore because everyone's doing it. So, if an SEO blogger actually gave away all the good information, he'd (a) soon find himself out of readers and (b) his SEO efforts wouldn't be as effective.
  6. The second cause of misinformation is, in my humble opinion, a direct result of both the anonymity and sheer reach of the internet.In public, we all filter ourselves. If I'm in a room full of Geologists, I'm not going to start spouting off crazy ideas about why I think Mount St. Helens will erupt tomorrow. They'd think I was nuts and didn't know what I was talking about…and they'd be right. The internet is the only place in the world where the SEO ramblings of a guy who lives in his mom's basement and takes orders at the local drive-through will be taken seriously. When that guy actually knows what he's talking about, fantastic! A diamond in the rough! But most times he doesn't have a clue.
  7. The internet is also the only place where that guy can have a global audience of crazies to back him up.

The Big Secret About SEO

So, you want the insider's secret to effective SEO? The secret to glorious internet riches that are beyond your wildest dreams? You wanna get you some of that internet money? Here's the big secret:

There is no secret.

Ranking a website is a lot of hard work and a few solid ideas. That's it. That's the big secret.

Not to minimize the value of my own profession or that of other SEOs out there. I certainly provide value to my clients in that (I'd like to think 😉 ) I have the experience, knowledge and skill to do the job better and faster than they can by themselves. I also like to think I'm pretty good at my job. But I don't rub a magic genie bottle every day to wish for solid Google rankings. I spent 3 years doing nothing but studying and testing internet marketing ideas until I found a simple process that works. I'd hire an engineer if I wanted to build a bridge, and my clients hire me if they want to improve their search engine rankings.

The SEO Process

So, after all that rambling, let's get to the point of this article. Here's the basic process I go through on nearly every single SEO project as well as a few things to consider if you represent a company looking to generate business online:

Nuggets of Wisdom

  1. Marketing online needs to be approached just like marketing offline in that you need to commit a budget to the process and be willing to put in the time and money to see the project through.
  2. The idea that you can just throw up a website and start raking in the cash is wrong. That was much easier in 1995 (although even then it wasn't sure-fire), but now everyone has rushed to the web, guns blazing, in hopes of generating business online and so the market is crowded. The system seeks a state of equilibrium. Enough people flood the market and competition increases until it's no longer "easy."
  3. Almost every single example out there of a company that appears to have found easy success online is a mirage. Either they started in 1995 and have 15 years on you, or, and this is probably more common, you don't hear about the success stories until they've already put in the years and years of hard work required to get there. So, by the time you hear about them it looks like they just popped out of nowhere when, in reality, they've been grinding away with little result for quite some time.

My 6-Step Process

I want to point out that I'm publishing this process for three reasons. The first is to show that there's no secret. The second is to perhaps limit the number of proposal requests I get asking for front-page Google rankings for the term "reading glasses" on a $200 budget (yes, that's an actual request I received). And the third is to help demystify the process a bit so any potential clients reading this know what to expect from us.

  1. The very first thing that should happen is research. In optimizing any website, as much as a full quarter to a third of all time spent should be on researching the niche, researching potential link-building measures, researching the strength of your competition to better predict how much time/money it will take to beat them, etc.
  2. Commit a budget to a PPC campaign with two goals in mind:
  1. To find out which keywords convert into the most sales per dollar spent.
  2. For clients with lower budgets, I recommend using the Pay Per Click campaign to generate a profit that will then be used to pay for SEO.
  • Next, start with the following on-site SEO tasks:
  1. Add a blog to your site and publish to it as much as you can, but a bare minimum of once per week. You generally need around 50-100 articles before you'll see any significant increase in traffic; but that varies depending on the quality of the writing, the topics chosen and the niche itself.
  2. Have someone go through every page of code to make sure it's as optimized as it can be for general SEO. This means meta tags, keyword density, overall site structure, not relying entirely on JavaScript for main navigation, etc.
  3. Optimize each page on the site for a single, high-performing keyword from the PPC campaign. In other word, chose one keyword and match it up with one page on the site that you'll optimize for that keyword. In some cases, you can optimize a page for multiple, closely-related keywords, but they better be very closely related and the content on the page better match the keywords. Repeat until you've optimized x-number of pages for all x-number of top performing keywords on the site.
  4. Note: I'd like to point out here that while starting with a Pay Per Click campaign is usually ideal, sometimes it won't give us the information we need. In that case, we can write some general link bait and use analytics data to get similar information and adjust from there.
  • After you've done on-site SEO, start low-level off-site link and brand-awareness building:
  1. Get involved in discussions on related blogs.
  2. Get involved in discussions on related forums.
  3. Publish press releases.
  • A note about Press Releases: Don't just publish crap in your press releases on every press release site that will take them. Publish meaningful information when your company actually has something happening and don't blast it out to every press release site out there. Depending on the way bloggers/news sites in your niche function, you may only have to publish press releases on your blog and they'll get picked up by Google blog search and spread to the world. While you may find some benefit pushing releases to some of the paid services out there, it's not the first thing I'd spend your budget on.
  • After low-level off-site work, you can start the more advanced off-site link building
  1. This is where creativity comes in, so I can't say what you should do exactly, it really depends.
  2. I can, however, say that link bait and useful tools are the way to go. Here are a few examples:
  • Contract a WordPress designer/developer to create a WordPress theme and publish it to the theme directory
  • Contract a developer to create mortgage calculator plugin and publish it free of charge
  • Write link bait – a recent article we did has brought in nearly 1,000 links to date to the target site
  • The most important part of this phase is putting in the research to find strong opportunities. The actual implementation, while time-consuming, is not the most important part.
  • After you're happy with the SEO results and they're generating sufficient revenues, you can disable the PPC campaign if you really want to.

To do this full process effectively takes a bare minimum of 6 months. You'll only start to see worthwhile results from SEO by the end of that time (depending on the niche). By the time you shut off your PPC campaign, you'll likely have been working on all this for between 1 and 2 years.

The length of time between the start of work on organic SEO and when you see actual revenues means, at least in our experience, it can be a challenge getting management to stick to the plan unless they understand and are fully committed to the process.

If there's no secret, how can an SEO company provide value?

  1. A good SEO company can conduct required research so as to ensure the conclusions drawn from that research are correct. Anyone can do research, not everyone can understand the implications of that research.
  2. A good SEO company can execute the entire process much faster and more efficiently than a client can do by themselves. We do this stuff all day everyday so the process has become a well-oiled machine.
  3. A good SEO company will have a track record of excellent ideas when it comes to the more advanced link-building measures. Our results speak for themselves on that, but there are 10 million different things you can do to build links…only a handful are worth doing and a good SEO company can help you determine what those are.

So, any thoughts on this? Why do you think there is so much misinformation out there with regard to SEO? Why do you think so many people look at web marketing through "get rich quick" goggles?

John Crenshaw
John Crenshaw
UFO company founder. 15+ years experience in performance marketing.
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