Improving Visibility: Succeeding with SEO

by Michelle M. Wicmandy for ESX, Inc.

"SEO is a little bit Madison Avenue and a little bit Silicon Valley, but it's certainly not the Bermuda Triangle." - Rand Fishkin, CEO & Co-Founder of SEOmoz

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), when done properly, improves your ranking on major search engines, so your audience can find you when they need you. From 2000 to 2008, Internet usage has soared by over 300% globally and nearly 130% in the United States. The World Internet Usage and Population Statistics report from June 2008 claims that nearly 1.5 billion people worldwide use the Internet. In North America alone, a staggering 250 million, or 74% of the populace, is online(1). Of all U.S. online searches, Google leads with 61.9%, Yahoo follows with 20.5%, MSN trails with 8.9%, Ask and AOL lag with 4.5% and 4.2% respectively. For July 2008, the U.S neared 12 billion online searches(2).

Internet usage for education, online purchases, and general information will continue to skyrocket as technologies advance, online securities improve, and comfort levels rise. High rankings are critical, as search engine users tend to spotlight first page results. And rather than venture beyond page two or page three results, users are more likely to change key phrases and search engines when receiving inadequate search results(4). Therefore, residing on page one, and preferably above the fold, will increase your exposure, typically boost your traffic, and generate more sales.

Sensible Solutions
"From an outside perspective, SEO may seem mysterious or even as a type of 'black magic,'" states Rand Fishkin, CEO and Co-Founder of SEOmoz, "Some believe 'SEO secrets' exist that will miraculously open the door to high rankings and traffic. These are common myths." While there is much to learn about SEO, it is not mysterious or technical. Achieving high rankings may seem impossible when trying everything haphazardly. According to Aaron Kahlow, Chairman and Founder of Online Marketing Summit and Online Marketing Connect, "Successful SEO hinges on planning, prioritizing assignments and implementing best practices - planning being key." The process of SEO is founded on "gaining an understanding" of how everything works together. Many factors affect modern search engine relevance, and it is critical to look at everything the search engines do: from website copy to file naming and site navigation to internal link structures and licensing. The search engines have algorithms in place to reward high quality content with high search engine rankings. To illustrate, the Google algorithm is comprised of more than 100 factors. These determine the quality of a website, ensuring visitors receive genuine value. "Beyond the technical guidelines and limitations," adds Fishkin, "it's all marketing - building a site with pages that naturally attract high quality, editorial links." Because SEO involves many aspects of site design and content, it requires dedicated research, technical expertise, and superior communication skills. It's no longer sufficient to specify a list of keywords in your website's Meta tags.

Building a Foundation
"The common thread running through every successful SEO campaign is accurate keyword research, or keyword forensics," explains John Alexander, Director of Search Engine Academy. "Keyword forensics explores the hottest market trends to discover hidden keyword phrases." Thus, greater success is achieved when incorporating your audience's key search phrases - both long-tail and short-tail search terms - in all web content including domain names, page titles, headlines, meta description tags, alt tags, internal links, web site structure, and web copy.

"Web copy writing is a different genre from the traditional writing that teaches sentence structure, grammar, and word usage," continues Alexander. Since online readers scan text, writers should address main points within the first paragraph, apply headlines to guide the reader, write succinctly, and use lists as opposed to lengthy paragraphs whenever possible. Subsequently, the content should then be peppered with key search terms. Kahlow suggests analyzing your pages for an appropriate keyword density [of 3%-5%] and confirming the message speaks to your audience.

According to Alexander, good content, engaging articles, relevant news and other types of intriguing content for the Web will shine in 2009. Through artificial intelligence, the search engines read "context" and reward quality work. Winning over the search engines hearts' will depend on creating compelling dialog and building relationships with readers.

Strength in Numbers
So, how does one build a relationship via the Web? Web 2.0 is powerful and all about relationships. "It refers to user-generated content such as RSS, ML and AJAX technologies," asserts Fishkin, "empowering readers to vote or express opinions about the content influences the Web and SEO." Alexander follows, "This can nearly turn a website into a living, breathing community." When the community approves your content and adds inbound links, the site flourishes. Increased traffic from new and repeat visitors is the social proof that your site provides quality content.

Overcoming Obstacles
Implementing SEO is not without challenges. The biggest obstacles rest with the organization's culture and the resources devoted to the project. "From an organizational and scheduling perspective," explains Fishkin, "large firms tend to encounter roadblocks whereas smaller firms, although more nimble, usually lack the marketing talent or the sizeable web content to earn the necessary links to perform and rank well." Some universally challenging aspects to SEO include conflicting knowledge sources. "The vast majority of professional SEOs agree on the best practices and essential elements. Look for the leading industry sources of advice, and you'll find that on the key elements, very few disagreements exist."

2009 SEO Forecast
In 2009, expect to see some refinements. Alexander claims the biggest change since the invention of Pay Per Click will be "Personalization of Search." Search engines will shuffle results based on each person's search history, geography, timing and demographics. Therefore, traditional rank checking will become impossible.

Fishkin believes the engines will increase communication with search marketers, and services such as Google Webmaster Central and Live Webmaster Tools will offer more robust and essential toolsets and features. In addition, he surmises that the engines will suspend low quality, manipulative linking tactics. Those leveraging these practices will need to find new link acquisition methods to remain competitive. Furthermore, he predicts that vertical search integration and user participation will continue to grow. Google's introduction of SearchWiki and Yahoo!'s use of SearchMonkey tilt in this direction, and search results that include images, maps, video, instant answers and more are strong evidence as well.

Finally, Fishkin expects to see social media marketing growing to achieve SEO rankings; blogs and blogging driving search rankings from naturally earned links; social features on websites creating portals for user-generated content to drive long-tail search traffic; and advances in integration of social features & social media platforms impacting SEO.
Keeping Pace
Since advancements in the field happen rapidly, education is crucial. Kahlow encourages practitioners to seek assistance from seasoned consultants and attend credible, educational workshops. Alexander also recommends professionals acquire structural training. "Learning the fundamentals and functionality of SEO allows creativity and advancement. Whereas learning only the technical aspect, or how, leads one to believe a single method."

Recipe for SEO Success
"Remember that SEO, while it seems complex, is actually a very simple, four-step process. Begin with accessible, high quality content. Next, research keywords and target them appropriately on the site. Then, use marketing and creativity to earn editorial links. Finally, track your progress against the competition and make improvements wherever possible. It's hard work, but the rewards can be staggering," concludes Fishkin.


  1. Internet World Stats Usage and Population Statistics, US Census Bureau and Nielson/Net Ratings, June 30, 2008
  2. Almost 12 Billion U.S. Searches Conducted in July,, September 2, 2008
  3. Most people use 2 and 3 word phrases in search engines according to, October 31, 2007
  4. iProspect Blended Search Results Study, iProspect.,April 2008. [According to an iProspect study conducted in 2008, 68% of search engine users click the first page, and 49% of users change their search term or search engine when not finding what they seek on the first page results.]

  • John Alexander - Director, Search Engine Academy: John Alexander is Director of Search Engine Academy with hands-on SEO skills classes conducted in local business communities globally. John is also author of the Free SEO Tip of the Day offering hundreds of free tips (one each day).
  • Rand Fishkin - CEO & Co-Founder, SEOmoz: SEOmoz is the web's leading search engine optimization resource, with more than 30,000 daily readers and an active & vibrant community. SEOmoz provides consulting services and subscriptions to a suite of professional SEO tools & resources for search professionals.
  • Aaron Kahlow - Chairman & Founder, Online Marketing Summit and Online Marketing Connect: The Online Marketing Summit is the most comprehensive educational forum for Marketers to learn best practices in all online marketing disciplines. The Online Marketing Summit is exclusively for marketing professionals interested in learning and networking. The Online Marketing Council (OMC) is an organization of like-minded marketing professionals who are passionate about fostering best practices, peer collaboration and generally raising the bar of education in all the domains of Online Marketing.