Lessons and Insights from the History of SEO


Nine years ago I was playing basketball with a group of internet marketers here in Charlotte. I was new to the group…but not the industry. I had already made some waves successfully marketing in one of the most competitive spaces and separately, used …

Nine years ago I was playing basketball with a group of internet marketers here in Charlotte. I was new to the group…but not the industry. I had already made some waves successfully marketing in one of the most competitive spaces and separately, used a “learn and burn” website to obtain top rank for “charlotte seo”.

For the record, “charlotte seo” was a vanity phrase back then. It didn’t generate business but local marketers used their rank position as something to boast about. Within two weeks of registering my test website, I had it ranking for multiple positions on the front page. Needless to say, that first basketball game was contentious.

So here’s a wayback look at the then-and-now of search marketing along with some insights on how to apply old tactics to new situations… which I’ve obtusely wrapped in a basketball theme because I’m watching the 2015 tourney and I’m trying to score some false relevancy.

Lesson One: Never underestimate the power of domaining.

My test site was nothing special: a (fictitious) search marketing company’s home/services/blog/contact) with 2-3 starter articles. It was ranked through complete SEO trickery. I found a strong outbound link (on an international website) that was misspelled. The domain the site was actually pointing to had never been registered.

Nowadays I still look for domain opportunities. There are no original thoughts, just new combinations of old ones. There have been 2-3 dozen-if-not-hundreds of predecessors that marketed similar solutions to similar audiences. Some of them have garnered good press (and links). Some of them have failed and their domains have expired. Others have links pointing to them that are misspelled. Look for opportunities.

Don’t stop there. Have a strategy in place to determine how to evaluate a domain’s risk/reward ratio and then what to do with it. Some things to consider:

  1. The strength/relevancy of the link. Is it a good source and is it talking about what your website is about?

  2. The longevity of the link. Do the sources that cite it update often?

  3. The long term strategy for the link. Is it a simple 301 or will that affect item 2 above?

  4. If buying a domain, is it still respected? Or did the previous owner burn all its credibility on black hat tactics?

Lesson 2: Create valuable content.

Back to basketball nine years ago. Outside of the shady learn-and-burn site, the other argument I was having with some of the group had to do with my view on SEO and user experience. Most of them were of the opinion that SEO’s job ended at achieving high rank for targeted keyworks.

Even back then I thought this was myopic. I argued that any meaningful levels of traffic that Google sends required meaningful interactions with the website. Search result, click through and bounce back rates have been, and always will be, a factor in search result pages and thus user experience is at the heart of SEO.

Nowadays there isn’t even an argument in the industry, but you may still hear this from a client flush with VC money:“How much will it cost to rank #1 for ‘life insurance’ or better yet, just ‘insurance’?”

Counter this with a query: “What will your site have on it that earns it #1 out of the 253 million or, better yet, the 1.1 billion websites already in that space?” Will your site experience match so many requirements from so many people? If they can meet those requirements, chances are they have the budget, time, and energy to make a first page push. Few do.

The takeaway for business owners is always to focus on your clients. Ask them what content they want on your site. Survey your biggest clients for opportunities. Check your web stats to see which pages get the most eyeballs and shares. Don’t exclusively focus on the pages that generate leads and conversion.

Which leads to my last point.

Lesson 3: Tag all of the things.

Tag managers are all the rage now as most everyone has seen their utility for managing tracking codes and site snippets. But if you are using a tag manager exclusively for tag management, you are missing out on the larger picture. Google’s Tag Manager, for example provides advanced functionality through data attributes and a data later. These features allow you to track advanced interactions with your site’s content. Utilize these advanced features to streamline your event tracking. Most importantly, tracking considerations should be part of your development planning process. They need to be in place before a site is developed. Build web experiences from the ground up that are ready to be tracked.

The takeaway for advertisers is to utilize tags creatively. Is it a return visitor? Referred? Tag it. Did they click on a form but not fill it out? Hover over the “Get a Quote” button and not click? Tag it. Push these values into your analytics program to tie insight to experiment to result. Rinse. Repeat.

And, speaking of repeat, let’s recap:

Domains as Links. When building a marketing campaign, an SEO’s perspective ultimately boils down to what word or phrase prospective clients type or speak into search engines. Look for opportunities. What domains are out there already that talk about those phrases? Where are they linking to? Are those links all spelled right?

Content. Writing quality content is tough. Writing quality business content for business clients is next to impossible without asking your clients themselves. So ask them either directly or, even better, deploy surveys based on how visitors are tagged and use the information in those surveys to refine your message and fine-tune your content strategy.

Measure. Properly tagged visitor interactions provide insight on what content is driving sales or interactions. Design your online content to be measured. What can be measured? Everything.

  • Want to know more about the tools we use and the strategies we deploy for domaining in particular or link building in general?

  • Stuck in a rut with your content and not sure what to write?

  • Having trouble setting measurable goals for your digital campaigns?

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