Why do you put your time where you do?

On any given day, an SEO walks into their office and knows they have 8 hours to get 12 hours of work done (or is that 12 hours to get 18 hours of work done…?).  Where should they put their time?  Let’s review some of the options faced by SEOs every day and dig into each one a little bit.  This is not a priority ordered list, as everyone’s needs will stack the list differently.

Time into SEO

This is the technical side of things.  Running reports, performing audits and creating recommendations based on the output of the first two items, etc.  This is where you flex your skills as a technical SEO.  You find issues of non-compliance with known best practices, and then work with teams in your organization to get work done that will fix the offending issues.

Many SEOs spend their entire day on just this work.  In fact, many will spend their entire SEO career working on issues at this level.  And there’s a lot to be covered.  So many systems, so many customized elements, so many things not designed with SEO in mind.  Add to this the fact it simply takes time to get a meeting to present your recommendations, which leads to more time in planning to get the work done, then finally the work to fix item “2 B” from your list is complete.

This work, though, needs to be done.  Solving those technical issues can make previously undiscoverable content available for the engines.  It can result in us finding your latest content faster, or increasing relevancy on the topic in some cases.  The very best case you should shoot for is that this work not only helps the engines a bit, but more importantly, it improves the usability of the site making for a better user experience.

So why are you spending time doing this work?  To help improve the user experience.

Time into content

Out of everything in this list, this one item is the one most often overlooked when planning where to invest time.  I don’t mean people don’t think of it; I mean they don’t budget enough time for it.  Content is one of those things people think of and say, “It’s going to take time to create all that, I wonder if I can streamline it…?”

So begins the keyword research, to determine what volume of queries is happening on a given topic.  Great first step this is, but hardly where you should stop.  I mean, ranking well for a given phrase is great, but what’s the benefit to your website.  More traffic you say… Fair enough, but what if that traffic doesn’t convert?  I know at this point, some of you are tempted to point a finger at the site designers and say, “I brought the traffic, but your crappy design blocked the conversions.”

Stow that angry digit and ask yourself if you’ve fully defined the “value” side of the traffic you’re delivering.  Seeing people searching on a phrase does not tell you that they take an action.  What if that phrase, busy as it is, sees mostly people who are researching a topic?  Those people aren’t ready to make a purchase yet (or click an ad, drop an email address for you, etc.).  Any way to uncover this information?

Start by talking to the folks on the paid side of the house.  They are perfectly positioned to tell you which phrases convert and thus are truly valuable to the site on a revenue level.  Between the two pieces of information, you can start to see patterns that’ll help you understand what content to create and for which purpose?

And it’s a lot easier to get resources assigned to create content that’s known to convert.  Along the way, you’ll be better positioned to create useful content that searchers will appreciate and interact with.  Putting time into content is much more than simply typing out the words.

Time into social

This one is still new to a lot of businesses.  If you’re in this industry, you’ve probably got your head wrapped around social to a degree.  To start, make sure you have a solid foundation.  You’ve got accounts created for your business and you have options for sharing your content embedded into your site.  While the first step is simple, the second step can entail some work and there’s lots of room for refinement. I recently encountered a seemingly knowledgeable business owner who was perplexed why his highly regarded and trafficked niche website was struggling to get any content shared socially.  He’d post to the blog, get a dozen comments from registered users, and yet, no love socially from anyone.

I suggested he move his social sharing buttons from the top of his header to the bottom of each post.  A week later he was overjoyed to see hundreds of social shares across Facebook and Twitter for that week’s article.

This brings us to a critical point: having a social plan.  Having the options to share visually integrated in a smooth manner may work, then again, for your users, they may overlook that smooth integration and simply miss the buttons.  Placement matters, as does the quality of your content (there’s that content thing again) and to a degree, the quality of your users.

Time into customer service (customer first culture)

Zappos.  That about sums up what you should be shooting for in terms of customer service.  Did you know that every employee hired, regardless of their job and title, must start work on the customer service phone lines?  And we’re not talking “for the first week”.  We’re talking months.  So they truly get the hang of what it takes to offer excellent customer service.  I’m reasonably sure if I called them right now, they’d accept my morning yoghurt as a return!

OK, so that might be over the top, but the point is they are known for selling shoes, accessories, etc., but they are KNOWN for their customer service.  And it’s that customer service that turns unhappy clients into life-long fanatics of their company.

You may not be able to reach that level through your own program, but ask yourself, and your company, if you’re doing all that you could.  It’s almost a guarantee you’ll uncover instances where saying “No” could be turned into “Yes”.  Please the customer and that social work you’re doing will get easier as they start doing it for you.

Time into link building

If you’re doing the job right in the areas of content, social and customer service, this will almost entirely take care of itself.  And it’ll do so in the manner we (the engines) most want to see happening: organically.  So, what are you putting your time into here?

Reciprocal linking?  Meh, its fine, but is more useful for driving traffic to your site than boosting rankings.

Requesting one-way links from websites?  Still useful, but often simply a dead end and thus a waste of time. 

Link Farms? If you haven’t read the memo, avoid this.  You will get caught and ignored, resulting in work with no result.

Three way linking? Skip it, as it’ll be seen and ignored.

Directories?  Best viewed as potentially delivering direct traffic.  Chasing directory links to boost rankings is an old, tired game that just doesn’t pay dividends the way it used to.

Guest blogging?  Useful but be careful to define the value for yourself.  Are you simply giving away excellent content that could better serve you and gather more links than the one you get from the blog post?

If it’s my business, I’m going to tell you to put time into these areas in this order:

  • The customer first culture
  • Building valuable content
  • The social program
  • The technical SEO work (should be done at least once)

Redirect link building time into the areas above and link building will naturally happen.  Building good links still holds value, but so many people just get this wrong.  For the vast majority of businesses, it’s better to avoid active link building and concentrate time I the other areas which are easier to work on.

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