11 июл. 2006 г.

What Makes a Good Search Engine Optimiser?

By Irina Ponomareva:

SEO is believed to be an easy profession. At first glance, it really is, which is probably why the number of various SEO specialists, SEO professionals and SEO experts is growing daily at a tremendous rate. Being a moderator on one of the major SEO forums, though, I know very well how many of these self-proclaimed experts offer their services first and come to forums asking the most basic questions later. For these people, the apparent simplicity of SEO works like a trap.

So, what actually makes a good SE optimiser these days? What knowledge and skills should an ideal SEO possess? What approach to the profession will ensure success?

SEO copywriting - what does it actually mean?

SEO copywriting is not stuffing good web copy with keywords until it becomes bad web copy, often to the point of being unreadable. SEO copywriting is copywriting first, and the SEO part second. This means you need to be fluent in the language of the website you are optimising. You also need to know how to be persuasive, which suggests being a psychologist, if only on an intuitive level. Only after you have achieved this can you start playing with keywords, but you must still never, ever forget that your primary readers are still humans, not the engines. So, be subtle when inserting keywords. They need to be prominent, but not annoying. And don't forget about the titles and other meta information. They need a lot of attention, and certain language skills, too.

Of course, you can always outsource the copywriting part, or at least hire an editor who will take care of your grammar and style, but we are now talking about an ideal SE optimiser, i.e. a hypothetical person capable of handling the whole SEO process all by him/herself.

Directories will keep you busy

Submitting to directories is mostly a routine task, which requires a lot of patience; it suits a hard worker. But, apart from this, certain knowledge and experience is required to tell a good directory from a spammy one, and to craft good, attractive titles/descriptions for the site you are promoting. Of course, if you are acting as a full-scale SEO for this website, you already know everything about its business goals and niche by the time you get to directory submissions, but if you are hired to do submissions only, make sure you have read and understood the site's content really well prior to starting. A short briefing with the client is a good idea, too.

The techie part

SEO involves a lot of design, programming and server administration issues, which you can't afford to neglect. An ideal SEO has to be a high-class PHP, ASP and Java programmer, an experienced server administrator and a perfect HTML coder. In real life, it's often enough to be able to explain the tasks (in depth) to the administrator/programmer, so you have to at least be fluent and convincing in their jargon, because they will often ask you: "Why do I have to do this?", "Are you sure it's so necessary?", and say "Methinks you're just making it up!"

How do you turn session IDs off for spiders? How do you implement the 301 redirect? What if the redirect has to be done using ASP on IIS? How do you use mod_rewrite? How do you make sure the HTML page with a Flash object embedded into it validates for the W3C standards and displays properly in all browsers? These are just a few questions out of many more you will have to find answers for if you want your SEO work to meet high standards of quality.

HTML itself presents a lot of problems, and a good optimiser is expected to be able to handle them all. A general code cleanup (removing unnecessary tags, moving JavaScripts and CSS styles to separate files, W3C validation and getting rid of unnecessary nested tables to reduce the code bloat) is a painstaking job; but according to the newest standards it's not enough any more. If you wish to be respected by your fellow SEOs as a really high class specialist, you need to be able to handle CSS-controlled layouts created without a single

tag.

Been there. Done that. If you think it's easy, I have to disappoint you: it is not. At least when it is your first time, be ready for a lot of sweat and tears, as well as a few moments of total desperation. Cross-browser compatibility is going to be the hardest part.

Marketing considerations

Offering pure old-fashioned SEO as a separate service is not the best idea these days. Your client needs to be able to estimate the ROI of the whole promotion campaign to make sure the start-up budget won't be wasted while waiting for the first results of the SEO campaign. Expenses on PPC and other marketing efforts should be carefully planned from the start and combined with the SEO expenses, otherwise the business is at risk of being ruined right after being born. So, if you offer SEO, you need to be able to offer SEM, too.

What's more, you need to be able to measure and analyse the results of the ongoing SEO/SEM efforts using various statistics packages and customised tracking software. You should be able to provide a well-grounded Usability advice aiming at the improvement of conversion rates. You should be the best.

Marketing your own service will be a never-ending effort you need to be ready for. The Internet is crowded; the competition in the SEO industry has become staggering. You will have to use all the opportunities the Net offers for businesses, to continuously market yourself, and to look for more. Let yourself relax just for a day and you will probably find yourself unemployed, even if you are a well established practitioner.

Professional ethics

There is no such thing as a widely acknowledged professional code of ethics in the SEO industry. All efforts aimed at creating one have so far been in vain. But it doesn't mean that all SEO practitioners/companies shouldn't have their own codes of ethics. It's just as important for an SEO as it is for every other representative of any legitimate industry existing in the world.

Apart from the importance of an ethical approach to SEO techniques as such (no blackhat techniques or strategies, no matter how tempted you might be), it's just as important that you never rip your client off. Your services should be worth the money paid for them, so make sure you always estimate the outcome of your campaign correctly. Don't overestimate. If you underestimate and over-deliver, it will create a much better impression, and your grateful clients will soon start referring their contacts and partners to you.

In regard to blackhat tactics, another issue arises. Even though you should stay away from them at all costs, you absolutely need to know what they are, and be able to spot them and evaluate potential consequences. When you start working on your client's site, you are often not the first person who has tried to optimise it. Often, your actual SEO work starts with cleaning up the mess created by your predecessor, and like the rest of the work, you have to do this part well.

What else?

A good SEO has to stay on the cutting edge of the industry's latest trends and changes. When you deal with the search engines and the Net as a whole, everything changes so fast that you have to continuously monitor forums and read newsletters and articles to maintain your touch with your profession. There is no other way.

A good SEO has to be patient and diplomatic, to communicate well with clients/partners and keep the relationships mutually beneficial.

And last but not least, a good SEO has to be realistic. Remember, you can spend the rest of your life trying to get #1 in all engines for a tough term like "SEO" - and never get there. Don't do this. Instead, concentrate on real goals, on something you can - and will - achieve.

Why the best SEOs work in teams

The number of skills an ideal SEO has to possess looks a bit overwhelming, doesn't it? Actually, the task of finding one person who can do all the things mentioned above (and some others) is close to impossible. That's why most SEO shops, even if they are small, usually consist of several people, not just one person wearing 15 or so hats. It seems reasonable. But as the industry develops and grows, we should expect the SEO companies to drift towards specialisation and partnerships. While larger companies will still be able to handle the whole range of SEO-related tasks by themselves, smaller ones will have no choice but to get more and more niche-specific, and form partnerships to outsource the work to and fill in the gaps. This way we're all doing what we do best.