Sun Tzu and the Art of SEO

Sun Tzu and the Art of SEO

The legendary Chinese military strategist and philosopher, Sun Tzu, once counseled strategists seeking to dominate their rivals to “avoid what is strong, strike at what is weak”. This advice from the 6th-century B.C. treatise “The Art of War” holds true today in the battle for organic search rankings, an application Master Sun surely would have found fascinating.

Of course, it makes perfect sense that SEOs should identify opportunistic keywords and content, which have the greatest probability to quickly increase rankings, visits, and revenue. Given limited resources – time, not the least of these – successful SEOs know they need to focus their resources on those efforts that will deliver results, for with results come more resources and the opportunity to create a virtuous cycle.

However, I regularly encounter marketers – and the executives driving them – bent on targeting head terms with massive search volumes, strong competitors, and for which they have no rankings. While setting such ambitious goals isn’t a terrible thing in and of itself, I usually counsel SEOs to focus the vast majority of their energies on those terms they can expect gains from within a quarter or two, keywords where “the enemy” is weak. Achieving those short-term gains will improve the organization’s situation, grow the internal credibility of the SEO team, and ultimately free up more resources to throw against greater targets down the road. Plus, if these short-term target keywords are variations on a broader head term, you may find yourself naturally gaining on that head term over time, even without specifically going after it.

An example is IronKey, a company I worked with back in the late 2000s and early 2010s that sold password-protected flash drives (and whose technology was bought by Imation and ultimately Kingston). While it might have been tempting in such a company to target terms such as “secure storage” or even “data security”, we instead started out targeting much more specific queries such as “secure flash drives” and “encrypted usb drives”. These were queries where we could win. By narrowing our focus we ended up not having to compete against the giants of the security industry and, in doing so, we won. Even today, six years after being acquired, I see IronKey listed in the top position for “secure flash drive” within the Google organic results.

However, I can’t count the number of times I’ve encountered SEOs who have been given goals by upper management to achieve certain rankings on certain highly visible keywords – even making their bonuses dependent on achieving these rankings – without consideration of which targets are strong and which are weak. This is the equivalent in Sun Tzu’s world of a king ordering his general to take all the highest hills held by the enemy, regardless of each hill’s defenses. Sound like a winning strategy? I’m sure Master Sun wouldn’t think so either.

I was once told by the CEO of a maturing Silicon Valley startup that he wanted to rank first on a particular head term so that his brand would start to be associated with that term. I explained to him that the search engine algorithms rewarded those web pages that were already associated with certain terms with high rankings for that term, and that without doing the heavy lifting of PR to build that association first (and seeing it expressed throughout the web via relevant inbound links) he couldn’t expect to see such rankings. Thankfully, he took it well, revised his strategy, and allowed me to suggest targets that were achievable within a quarter or two.

Beyond my general disagreement with ranking-based goals (a topic for another time), I believe setting overly aggressive and overly specific ranking goals hinders an SEO from going after targets of opportunity that may arise, targets that would actually drive revenue and success. In the language of Sun Tzu, SEOs are the generals in the field and he would agree that they are best suited to determine the disposition of their forces, the allocation of their resources, and the specific targets to pursue. It is the SEO, using effective and revenue-driven SEO tools, who should be informing management of which opportunities are priorities and how best to go after them, demonstrating by their results that the trust placed upon them is justified.

Let our patented algorithm be your secret weapon in the battle of organic search rankings. Try us out and see which opportunities you're missing out on.
Processing...

Thank you! We will contact you shortly to follow up on your request.

The Most Frequent SEO Mistake: Misaligned Content

The Most Frequent SEO Mistake: Misaligned Content

Of all the mistakes and missed opportunities that I encounter while serving the SEO world, there’s one that continually pops up the most, even where experienced, creative SEOs are in charge: misaligned content. It is generally misunderstood and rarely talked about. Here’s what happens.

Most organizations with SEO success are engaged in ongoing content creation. Whether it’s writing product descriptions, resource center articles, or blogging, these teams know that SEO is hard and that throwing content against the wall and seeing what sticks is a proven path to success. However, researching the keywords and building the corresponding content is where most companies stop. There is another step, one that isn’t immediately obvious, that can unleash much higher rankings, visits, and revenue – 24% higher revenue, on average, in our experience: revisiting your content and aligning it with how it’s been received by the search engines and the broader Internet.

Here’s an example I ran into recently. A Revvim customer had a page optimized for “women’s tops” that was driving lots of revenue through organic search. In fact, it was one of the top performing pages on their website. However, upon analysis, we found the page actually had negligible rankings for “women’s top”…but where it really shone was “silk blouses”.

This latter keyword and its variations had tens of thousands of searches each month, more refined buying intent, and our customer was ranked on the first page for it. People searching for “silk blouses” loved what this company was offering and were buying up their silk blouses left and right. Clearly, despite our customer’s best intentions to target the page for “women’s tops”, the Internet as a whole saw it as being about silk blouses, and the search engine rankings reflected that, as they are meant to do.

Now, the high ranking for “silk blouses” may have been driven by links from fans to the page with “silk blouses” in the anchor text, or perhaps Google recognized the high CTR of the organic listing, or it might even have been the incredibly high conversion rate of searchers for “silk blouses” as reported through Google Analytics. It doesn’t matter. The fact is, Google loved that page as a result for “silk blouses” and the broader Internet did as well, despite the fact that the key on-page SEO elements were optimized for “women’s tops”.

You can see the dilemma here. Either do nothing and stay true to the original “women’s tops” intent of the page, enjoying the fruits of a low first-page ranking on a great keyword…or revisit the on-page content to further align it with “silk blouses” in an effort to move up further. Our algorithms, driven by deep data on hundreds of thousands of similar situations, told us that by aligning the key SEO elements with “silk blouses” that we had a very high chance of achieving 2nd position, with its bounteous CTR that was a multiple of the CTR from their current position….

Sadly, most teams never get to enjoy such dilemmas, because they aren’t aware they even exist. They lack the data at scale to truly know which keywords are driving revenue from their organic search listings, or they are in need of proven algorithmic SEO insights to determine with confidence which keyword to optimize for which page, and as a result hesitate to act. Ultimately, they aren’t revisiting their successful content and aligning it to how it is being seen by the search engines, the broader Internet, and most importantly their target audience.

Don’t get me wrong…these teams are often successful, having gotten part of the formula right, the ongoing creation of great, targeted content…but are missing the tools to take that final, most lucrative step of aligning that content with how their content is ultimately received and driving revenue.

Reveal your most valuable keywords and get the insight you need to optimize your content using our proven algorithm.
Processing...

Thank you! We will contact you shortly to follow up on your request.

Why you need to automate your SEO in 2017

Why you need to automate your SEO in 2017

I talk to SEOs every day about how they spend their time and how they want to spend their time. There is nearly always a difference between the two.

Most SEOs know they should be strategic – using their creativity to plan effective link building strategies, their expertise to educate developers, their way of thinking to instruct content creators, their je ne sais quoi to engage executives. However, they find their precious – and costly – time held captive by spreadsheets, pulling in data from various sources, trying to make the right decision as to which page to optimize for which keyword and how best to do so, and then trying to report the result of their efforts.

Computers can crunch numbers faster than we can blink and with far greater accuracy and consistency. So…why do most SEOs include Spreadsheet Jockey amongst their list of jobs? Why haven’t we evolved beyond that job – fired ourselves from it – and made a career move to something more strategic?

The reason is that early solutions in SEO automation have been seriously flawed. They lack data, they lack algorithmic insight, and ultimately they lack efficacy. Recommendation engines suggest we do stupid things over and over again, and we rightly say “no”.

Many systems – some widely adopted as the best option amongst poor choices – have been focused on rankings and failed to consider CTR, transactions (or leads), and ultimately revenue. Most critically, they haven’t looked at the whole keyword portfolio and related content, and thus offer suggestions that would boost some minor term while possibly sacrificing a major term that is paying the bills.

As a result, SEOs have had no choice but to retreat back and be imprisoned in the cells of their spreadsheets, sacrificing time, creativity, strategic thinking, and ultimately opportunities for advancement for a job unworthy of them.

Don’t you think it’s about time good SEO automation killed that job?

Our patented algorithm has helped top companies achieve SEO greatness and it can help yours too. We'll prove it.
Processing...

Thank you! We will contact you shortly to follow up on your request.

Good SEO automation is about to kill jobs, and it’s a great thing.

Good SEO automation is about to kill jobs, and it’s a great thing.

April 24, 2017 – by Matt LeBaron

I talk to SEOs every day about how they spend their time and how they want to spend their time. There is nearly always a difference between the two.

Most SEOs know they should be strategic – using their creativity to plan effective link building strategies, their expertise to educate developers, their way of thinking to instruct content creators, their je ne sais quoi to engage executives. However, they find their precious – and costly – time held captive by spreadsheets, pulling in data from various sources, trying to make the right decision as to which page to optimize for which keyword and how best to do so, and then trying to report the result of their efforts.

Computers can crunch numbers faster than we can blink and with far greater accuracy and consistency. So…why do most SEOs include Spreadsheet Jockey amongst their list of jobs? Why haven’t we evolved beyond that job – fired ourselves from it – and made a career move to something more strategic?

The reason is that early solutions in SEO automation have been seriously flawed. They lack data, they lack algorithmic insight, and ultimately they lack efficacy. Recommendation engines suggest we do stupid things over and over again, and we rightly say “no”.

Many systems – some widely adopted as the best option amongst poor choices – have been focused on rankings and failed to consider CTR, transactions (or leads), and ultimately revenue. Most critically, they haven’t looked at the whole keyword portfolio and related content, and thus offer suggestions that would boost some minor term while possibly sacrificing a major term that is paying the bills.

As a result, SEOs have had no choice but to retreat back and be imprisoned in the cells of their spreadsheets, sacrificing time, creativity, strategic thinking, and ultimately opportunities for advancement for a job unworthy of them.

Don’t you think it’s about time good SEO automation killed that job?

Our patented algorithm has helped top companies achieve SEO greatness and it can help yours too. We'll prove it.
Processing...

Thank you! We will contact you shortly to follow up on your request.