SEO Web Best Practices

Better search visibility means more website traffic. Increased traffic leads to increased revenue.

Search engines haven't just revolutionized the way humans discover information, they’ve also revolutionized the way businesses attract customers. Marketing used to be about pushing messages out to large groups of consumers in an attempt to reach only a subset of those consumers who have some implicit need for your products or services. Now, thanks to the cultural ubiquity of web search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing, marketing is about pulling the messages in from individual consumers and responding to their explicit needs with exactly the right product or service.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising—such as Google AdWords or Bing Ads—can provide a fast, scalable way to respond to search engine users who, in the course of their search activity, are expressing an interest in your products or services, offering not only increased website traffic but also an unparalleled source of rich market intelligence, even on a small budget.

Non-paid ("organic") search traffic, on the other hand, comes from the search results themselves rather than the adjacent PPC ads, and though it doesn't provide the instant gratification of a PPC campaign in terms of immediately-increased traffic, increased visibility in organic results typically yields a much higher ROI than PPC since the visibility tends to persist over time, whereas paid traffic dries up the second you turn off the campaign.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of practices for improving a website's visibility in organic search results, both through optimizing a website to deliver clear, unambiguous signals to search engines as to the site's quality, relevance, authority and freshness with regards to the site's subject matter, and by legitimately improving the site's perceived authority on these topics elsewhere around the web.

Modern SEO targets not only web search, but also the sub-disciplines of optimizing for verticals such as local search, mobile search, voice search, product/shopping search, image search, video search, news search and academic search. Forward-thinking SEO practices can also prepare a web business for the future of human information-seeking activity including wearable devices such as Google Glass. The focus of an SEO engagement can be fluid and phasic, involving any number of these verticals appropriate to the goals of the project, or may be tightly-focused on a channel-specific goal.

Organic search offers businesses the most compelling opportunity of any potential source to grow online traffic, and in the hands of experts, grow it profitably and efficiently to deliver more targeted prospects to your website's sales or conversion funnel than any other medium.

This makes a well-optimized website the very underpinning of a profitable online marketing strategy, and as a full-service agency—digital as well as offline—Dirigo lives and breathes profitable online marketing strategies for our clients every day. This starts with the best sustainable SEO practices baked right into every project, and ends with compelling and integrative marketing solutions for which Dirigo has developed a rock-solid reputation. At Dirigo we think of ourselves as technical marketers for an increasingly-technical marketplace. Thanks to our founder David's intuitively-picky hiring process, he's given rise to a carefully-curated braintrust of strategists, creative artists and software engineers engaged in state-of-the-art and forward-thinking marketing, branding and selling. Our team embodies a wide spectrum of diverse and impressive educational and professional backgrounds, bringing to the table for every client a portfolio of perspectives that leverage decades of industry wisdom.

Our SEO Roots Run Deep

Of course wisdom is always hard-earned... Back in the day, several of us wore the black hats of the early SEO trade—we were the bot-cloakers, spamdexers, doorway-page moguls and affiliate-arbitrage gangsters of the wild online west, not simply manipulating but outright exploiting systemic weaknesses in search engine ranking algorithms to achieve ridiculously-high and utterly undeserved rankings for what were only ever short-term but nonetheless obscenely-high profits.

Remember how spammy and frustrating the search results used to be, back in the late 90’s or early oughts? (You're welcome.) It used to be a trivial thing to throw up a dozen disposable websites in order to trick people into ad clicks and affiliate cookies, or trick search engines into inflating your site's rankings based on the proliferation of links from these disposable sites. Well those days are long-gone now, thanks in particular to the significant algorithm improvements that have come from the user-focused approach of Google's Search Quality Team, and in particular the Webspam Team led by Matt Cutts.

We turned 100% white-hat early on—before the stakes got too high—to protect our web assets from most of the shock-loss people experienced following big Google algorithm updates over the years like Bourbon, Jagger, Vince, Panda and Penguin. Now we do everything the hard way, because the hard way yields the most sustainable gains for our clients. We even attended the 2003 inaugural meeting of SEMPO—the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization—and we're still a member.

These significant improvements to the logic that determines search result rankings have positively impacted the whole experience of web searching by filtering out a lot of useless webspam, but for the maintainers of legitimate business websites Google has effectively reversed the benefit of the doubt as to their legitimacy, adding in its place seemingly-infinite hoops to jump through, as if to cast reasonable doubt on your site's illegitimacy by a mere preponderance of evidence to the contrary. You now have to go out of your way to make your site look and act like it's not webspam. None of the most popular website CMS's (Content Management Systems) are prepared to do a satisfactory job of this right out-of-the-box, though most of them can be reconfigured, circumvented or superseded to bring the site they generate into compliance with Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

Frequently when we perform technical SEO audits for clients we find the cause of a site’s drop in organic search traffic—or an overall weak post-launch traffic curve on a new site—to be rooted in one or more technical violations of these guidelines, typically in the behavior of their web server or CMS, their URL or linking structure, execution of the page meta-tagging, or the content markup.

Each little technical issue adds up to a lot of missed opportunities to send positive ranking signals to the search engines that your competitors may already be sending them in your topic space, and in a race for rankings between two strong sites, the site with fewer technical issues will typically win. Only once those issues are firmly resolved will the site be able to perform to its full potential in organic search as a highly-efficient revenue or lead-generating machine.

We had plenty of heads-up in the early days that the SEO paradigm was going to shift, having ridden along through the evolution of Search packed into a tiny, turbocharged clown car of high-demand expertise with all of the industry's savagely-brilliant thought leaders we count among our good friends and acquaintances such as Danny Sullivan (of Search Engine Watch at the time, now of Search Engine Land), the pre-eminent SEO Bruce Clay (as well as one-time his most Sr. Analysts Lydia Fabry Mazorol) under whom Dirigo's founder David Addison studied SEO, Anne Kennedy and Alex Bennert of the highly-respected trailblazing SEO firm Beyond Ink at which Dirigo's Ryan Smith got his start in SEO, as well as hands-on experts from the search engines themselves such as Google's Matt Cutts, former-Googler Vanessa Fox under whom Ryan studied advanced technical SEO at her Seattle-based consultancy Nine By Blue, Tim Mayer of Yahoo! and Duane Forrester of Bing. These folks have been engaging the search industry for years in ongoing dialogue on what constitutes webspam and on where the search algorithms were headed. This dialogue continues to thrive both online and at industry conferences, including those where Dirigo contributes expertise as repeat speaker-panelists such as WebmasterWorld.

SEMPOThe days of SEO as a distinct, independent profession are probably numbered. SEO has quickly evolved into a more creative, diverse, and challenging profession. The new and upcoming acronym is SMI or Search Marketing Integration. As search engine algorithms increasingly measure content quality, brand mawkishness, and social popularity, SEO melds with traditional marketing roles. Search engine placement, for better or worse, is tied to higher digital, marketing and business practices.

It's even gotten to the stage where any purported SEO who's using the same techniques from 4 years ago is actually doing grave harm. Today, Matt Cutts (a leader at Google) wants the web to look like a brand new Apple iPhone and he wants every internet entrepreneur to think as hard about the look of their site as they do about the service or products they provide. Quality and originality count. So does social proof (e.g. likes and social chatter). Technologies and techniques come and go. Best practices mostly remain—albeit they evolve slowly. As an SEO, if you have a solid foundation in best practices you can move with the times and shifts in the algo with little difficult. The current shift in SEO can be defined by a single concept: integration of best practices. If we serve end-users and produce high quality content with an eye toward best practices, good search engine results follow. It's that simple. It sounds easy. Making good on that bold sentence is far more difficult than it seems.

Here's what we can do for you:

SEO Competitive Analysis: We can create a baseline competitive analysis that outlines how your site can benefit from Dirigo SEO services. We'll show you where and how to boost your site's overall traffic volume and more importantly, how to convert buyers.

SEO Site Analysis: We will examine your website to identify on-page errors that hinder SEO performance. We'll check for broken links, robot problems, crawl errors, canonical issues, page speed, site architecture, URL names, images and/or multimedia elements, well organized sitemaps and scads of other items. The list is extensive.

Keyword Research: We'll use paid tools like Experian Hitwise and Compete Pro Keywords to hone in on keywords and phrases that should be the cornerstone of your SEO campaign. Choosing the right keywords is vital to success. We'll work to create a complete keyword strategy.

Content/Editorial Development: The content on your site must be created around proper keywords. You need unique, high quality, non-duplicative, exclusive content on all your pages with regular and consistent updates. We'll drive a comprehensive content development strategy. We will create content themes and actual content if need be.

On-site SEO Optimization: After careful relevant keyword selection for every page on your site, we'll set out to optimize meta content (title tags, alt tags, alt texts and canonical tag, descriptions and Open Graph tags) that crawlers will use to rank your SEO value.

Off-site Optimization and Promotion: Offsite promotion and optimization of your website increases the popularity, value and relevancy of your site and gets you ranked higher in search engines.

Tracking, Reporting and Consulting: We'll track our progress and deliver meaningful return on investment.

Always, the best time to perform SEO tactics (e.g. instill best practices) is before a brand, marketing, website, and web content is put online. Retrofitting best practices after the fact can be tedious and time consuming. We specialize in SEO diagnostic, bot crawling/indexing issues for sites that see sudden/ mysterious drops in search engine referrals, crash audits, consulting for pre-builds and redesigns, usability, and analytics. Every major web development project should have a SEO sheriff with a six shooter pointed right at the development team. "Ah told him, do a 301 re-duh-rect... he dun-up a dang ol' 302... shot him dead." Yesum, the sheriff will get 'er done correctly.

Our Approach

The Dirigo SEO process can be divided into the following Steps (not always conducted simultaneously or in this order):

  • SEO discovery
  • Strategic planning
  • Focused keyword research and benchmarking
  • XML Sitemap creation and submission
  • Competitive analysis review
  • On-page and on-site edits
  • Review of inter-linking factors
  • Monitor search engine rankings and reporting
  • Link building
  • Content creation

In our opinion, on page optimization provides about 1/3 of the total ranking score (the value of having clean on-site SEO has grown over the last two years). Off page optimization accounts for roughly 2/3 of the total SEO ranking score. As a rule of thumb, we don't focus on quantity because quality tends to trump volume. One good link is word scads of mediocre links. A great piece of web copy will produce natural links while a low-end page will produce nothing. Dirigo's focus is on doing it right. In this game, the tortoise always wins the race. Our SEO fees are based on hours spent multiplied by our hourly rate and we have plans that will fit most any budget. Apply resources to SEO and you'll likely get worthy results. Four of us here at Dirigo (Jamie, Victoria, Ryan and David)—through dozens of formidable experiences—have used SEO tactics as a cornerstone to take internet start-ups from zero to as high as $20MM/year. We're happy discuss results.

Not all SEO offerings are alike. Dirigo is not your typical SEO firm. Our #1 priority is to make a measurable difference for our clients. E-mail us at hello@dirigodev.com or call 207-347-7360 to discuss how we can help.

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