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The Secret Side of SEO

Of all of my readers, I most enjoy Natasha Robinson. Honestly, I think it’s the name…. Natasha… that exotic beauty from Rocky And BullWinkle. Natasha Fatale is one of those overly-managed “properties” in cartoon world, so no graphic here, but she is described by her “manager” Classic Media as follows:

Natasha Fatale, the female counterpart to Boris Badenow, is a former Miss Transylvania and gives a whole new meaning to the word “vamp”. Although much of her younger life remains a secret, there is substantial evidence that Natasha is the only child of Axis Sally and Count Dracula. Besides her work with the infamous baddie Boris Badenow, Natasha has also had previous stints as a model for Charles Adams and popping out of cakes at embalmer’s stag parties.

So when Natasha comments, I read it for all the wrong reasons. Anyway, Natasha commented yesterday :

In trying to explain to an engineer why knowing what to do with the pages that you already have indexed in Google is more important than having all of the pages to the site indexed in Google I started to explain to him that there is basic SEO which everyone can learn from any forum, Google’s webmaster guidelines, etc and there there is Strategic SEO.

and of course she is correct. Strategic SEO is not the same as technical SEO. In fact, as I suspect she is learning, “strategic SEO” is not SEO at all but competitive webmastering, which uses SEO tactics. The same is true for “optimized SEM” and the newer “social media optimization”. They are tactics, which must be executed within a plan that has goals and objectives. Competitive Webmastering, too, will someday cease to exist when business finally wakes up to the fact that the Internet is everything, and we will just refer to all this clever competitive stuff as “business” once again.

But what “that girl from marketing” said above was interesting to me not because of the mention of competitive webmastering, but because of what she was preaching to that poor engineer. It’s not about more pages indexed any more.

Sorry to throw yet another monkey wrench into your SEO business model, but if you are still working to get your client’s sites fully indexed in Google (or worse, still paying an SEO “firm” to get all of your pages indexed), I’m sorry to hear of your continued inability to get SEO and the web. It doesn’t matter so much how many of your pages are indexed, but it matters which of your pages are indexed and whether or not they are indexed such that they appear in the right SERPs for your business objectives. Google started trimming it’s inclusion long ago. It’s not interested in more millions any more. Google wants quality.

Here are a few more things that your SEO “firm” may not have told you :

5 6 Things Your SEO Firm May Not Have Told You

  1. Google figured out how to spider and index your dynamic pages long ago, including the duplicates, most of the the broken ones, and the ones buried deep in your CMS. You don’t need to change your URLs to get Google to spider and index your site. You may want to change your URLs for other reasons (that being based, of course, on a business strategy), but unless you’ve had strategic business planning meetings with your SEO, having your SEO convert your CMS to use “search engine friendly” URLs is probably not cost effective.
  2. Nobody knows your money terms. Nobody. Not you, and not your SEO. The list of search terms that produce best for your web site is dependent upon overall Internet traffic patterns, your specific industry trends and events, and culture. At any given moment, the value of search terms can be estimated, the currently-working search terms can be identified, and new candidates for productive search terms can be identified. But which terms produce can only be known from actual experience or testing. Every keyword list is dynamic, and keyword list management is major part of the ongoing SEO efforts.
  3. There is a new Supplemental Hell, and it’s called Zero Traffic Hell. Google is no longer labeling all of your low-value pages as “Supplemental”, but instead has decided to simply not refer visitors to those low value pages. So if you’re SEO firm is still showing you “see, it was in Supplemental before, but we pulled it out” then you probably need a new SEO firm. Check your logs. They are dying to tell you what your low value pages are.
  4. Less is More, Sometimes. If your SEO firm is still saying “more pages = more traffic” then you probably should hire a competitive webmaster consultant to check on your SEO consultant. I think of it like a freight train. There’s an “engineer” driving the train, and then there’s an “engineer” setting the track signals that enable the trains to go where they need to go, at the right times. Which engineer is driving the train?  If your SEO is out there working to get your site to bring in traffic, who is setting the guidelines on exactly what traffic you actually want to garner? Your business needs traffic that does what you want it to do (e.g. buy something) and all other traffic is a cost for you, consuming bandwidth, occupying your SEO at an hourly rate, etc. Sometimes less is more. Google knows that.
  5. Sometimes it is smart to simply STOP. This is a tough one for both the SEO “firm” and the client to accept, so I don’t expect it to change soon. Sometimes, the best thing to do is stop and wait. Stop and monitor the signs of change. Stop and measure. That’s not free time, off-the-books, but part of good SEO. Think of it like creative time: when an artists dreams, it is productive work. But nobody likes to pay an artist for the time she is dreaming, and so artists are basically poor for the most part and suffer under a sponsorship model. SEO firms tend to average the effort over time to come up with a reasonable hourly rate for work, that covers the crunch time and the dream time. The parallels continue to be remarkable…. art critics/seo experts,  art auctions/seo proposals, galleries/web design firms, etc etc etc. Anyway SEO is a creative endeavor more than a technical endeavor, even if your SEO firm doesn’t acknowledge that.
  6. SEO changes daily. Another tough one, because it basically means yesterday’s proposal needs another change order. Seriously, folks, if you hold your SEO to a fixed contract you will get just that – a fixed performance. There is simply no way to specify an SEO engagement, and so we have what we have today: a whole bunch of dysfunctional SEO firms. I’m not saying it’s kismet, but you are far better off challenging your SEO team to achieve a monthly business objective than challenging them to meet a specification for work. Hard to put that into a contract? Yes. Hard to know what matters and what doesn’t? Yes. That’s why I believe in strategic consulting, and that’s why I advise everyone who hires and SEO form to also hire an expensive, independent, capable competitive webmaster to keep an eye on the project and advise the business team on how to move on beyond the SEO work – in parallel. Not to work with the SEOs, but to work with the business team on the next steps, while keeping an eye on SEO progress from the business perspective. It’s the right way to do it, but almost nobody does it that way.




  1. Natasha is really smart. I know her mostly from Threadwatch, where she routinely brings the heat. But this post here is another reason why always survives my weekly Bloglines pruning. I’d throw out more superlatives, but airport hopping has killed my mojo for today.

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 1:32 am | Permalink
  2. John,

    Why thank you. Re: “I suspect she is learning, ‘strategic SEO’ is not SEO at all but competitive webmastering” very true. This was one of the problems when I worked at an agency… trying to explain that we were offering more than basic SEO and no we could not charge less (lol). And you hit it right on the head with “yesterday’s proposal needs another change order.” It’s just one of the reasons why I think more companies will bring SEOs In-House because it’s easier to justify a high yearly salary than the continually escalating (yet necessary) fees for an SEO firm needed for them to do a a complete job.

    And Brian, I am more a rabble-rouser than anything else – lol

    And BTW: Natasha was a very popular name in 1974 because of Boris and Natasha and War and Peace. There was actually a girl I went to school with who was born a day after me whose parents also named her after the character from War and Peace.

    John replies: Google Wikipedia says of the War & peace Natasha: “Natasha Rostova, the chief female character, charming due to her exuberant, enthusiastic personality” and “…the vivacious younger daughter Natalya Rostova (‘Natasha’)“. Nuff said.

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 10:36 am | Permalink
  3. paisley wrote:

    throw #1 and #2 out, they are already outdated and false..
    #3 – if you have to explain this to your client your wasting their time.
    #4 – seems biased and fluff… self-promotion
    #5 – we call it “watching the grass grow” – definately something you should always explain to an SEO client BEFORE you start the project. very good advice..
    #6 – It’s not hard to develop a contract or service agreement with your client to encompass this.. it took about 4 or 5 years to figure this out, but I started doing SEO in 95 when webcrawler was the index for Yahoo! Directory. If you have to hire someone to watch your SEO, then you need to schedule soem time between the client’s marketing director and the project manager on the SEO to make sure you have common goals and objectives to better manage the client’s expectations. Once you accurately define your goals and objectives their should be no “scope creep” or “change orders”.

    and yes i work for an Advertising/PR/Internet Marketing Agency who has been in business for just over 20 years and has fortune 50 clients on their client list.

    Natasha is a totally hot name…

    Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 9:58 am | Permalink
  4. john andrews wrote:

    Thanks for the comment. Do allow me to address your suggestion that #1 and #2 are “outdated and false”. I’d like to understand you better.

    Are you saying #1 is “outdated and false” because you believe it is important to get every page indexed, you believe in working probability (more pages is better long tail coverage), or because of details in the use of SDI/SSID/ID or frames or flash (exceptions) or because of other aspects (keywords, UI) I consider part of the business case?

    Are you saying #2 is “outdated and false” because you believe, as an experienced agency, you know the money terms for a specific niche?

    As much as #4 seems like fluff to you, it reflects my experience dealing with “agencies” who guide their clients along a path of enrichment that is too often their own enrichment. I know that’s not you guys, but maybe you can clarify your comment?

    Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 11:26 am | Permalink
  5. Thx for an interesting

    Regarding advise no 1 I would say its pretty much true. Google can in fact even link page sessions on PHP sites. The most important thing must then be to make the link attractive for clicking and then of course have the link send the user exactly to the page of interest.

    Have you ever seen frameset pages with only one entry page and only one page title for the entire site… Make relevance and actually providing interesting and relevant stuff available for the sites potential customers. If you do google will rank your page accordingly. How do I know? Well I have used rougly the same techniques while following the forums since 1997 and both Google and MSN still follows my leash. Relevance rules simply because search enginges wants quality.

    Regards, Adam

    Wednesday, February 21, 2007 at 2:30 am | Permalink
  6. john andrews wrote:

    Paisley never replied. He has so much to say everywhere, I wonder why not?

    Wednesday, March 21, 2007 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  7. Greg wrote:

    The difference between SEO and strategic SEO is that one optimizes for the search engine and the other optimizes for the search engine with respect to competitors, corporate objectives and customers needs and wants.

    You contradict yourself in #5/#6. The technology labyrinth is the most dynamic market that exists – YES. Waiting as it pertains to any part of SEO is nonsense, strategically or otherwise. Certain off the shelf consultants would have you believe in #5 because it means less work for said consultants. And as you sit and wait for results, your competitors are leaving you in the dust.

    I work with national and global clients on strategic SEO campaigns. I only rest when the objective has been achieved.

    Kind Regards,

    Johnn replies:  Greg I am hoping we have a slightly different working understanding of SEO in this case. If you are saying you never stop, because you have a pre-set plan and continue to execute on it, then ok. But if you are saying you simply keep going without ever pausing to allow the outcomes to reveal their successes (or failures), we disagree. There are several facets of search placement that I have found to be less-than-deterministic. We have to make changes and leave them alone before we can re-tune them. That doesn’t mean we ‘stop” other aspects of an SEO effort… it just means that we stop THAT process to await an outcome, before we can firmly commit to the next stage of that aspect.

    By my read #5 and #6 do not contradict. But I can see how for a service provider (especially an agency or firm committed on contract)  they might appear to contradict, because it is so hard to adapt in real time to the changes taking place (hence my reference to “yet another change order”). I don’t believe the SEO contract model works for clients. It works for service providers, for sure, but it only seems to work for clients when things are not changing.
    Remember too I am in this game for the long term success (client site or my own site). I’m not addressing short term engagements promising a particular outcome, as much as long term SEO efforts designed to get a site ranking and holding strong in its SERP. Again, I can see your point if from a different perspective.

    Friday, January 4, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Permalink