Where should companies focus their SEO efforts? This question is front-of-mind for me at the moment since from March, I'm the tutor of the new advanced SEO training course from Econsultancy.

It's also a good time to review this since I attended and spoke at Search Engine Strategies (SES) in London last week, so it was interesting to see which topics got the most attention, and SEO was certainly more popular than paid search.

If you didn't make it to SES London, or even if you did, you may want to checkout these other more in-depth writeups of the event including these excellent 77 SES London Takeaway Tips & Tricks from Kevin Gibbons. 

So what's important for SEO success?

On more general digital marketing training courses I still find it useful to refer attendees to the combined wisdom of the SEOmoz ranking factors checklist - although it could use a refresh since it's a couple of years old now.

This list is useful since it rates 30 plus ranking factors scored out of five in terms of importance by their panel of experts. The ones I highlight in training are:

On-page optimisation:

  • <title> tag = 4.9/5
  • Keyword frequency and density = 3.7/5
  • Keyword in headings = <h1> = 3.1, <h2> = 2.8
  • Keyword in document name = 2.8
  • Meta name description = 2/5
  • Meta name keywords = 1/5

It's useful to highlight the myth of the importance of meta tag which so many generalist marketers seem to cling to...

Off-page optimisation:

  • Link anchor text contains keyword = 4.4/5
  • More backlinks (higher PageRank)= 4/5
  • Link Popularity within the Site's Internal Link Structure=4/5
  • Page assessed as a hub = 3.5/5
  • Page assessed as an authority = 3.5/5
  • Link velocity (rate at which changes) = 3.5/5

Popular SEO topics from SES
Of course, these factors are well known by SEOs, so how should a company or an agency best improve their results from SEO?

I'm very much a process-driven person, so on the course we will be looking at using different tools and analytics to audit existing performance against competitors. For me, future sucess in SEO will be based on who makes the best use of web analytics together with other sources of customer and competitor insight. These techniques will help identify areas where competitors are stronger and opportunities for new and improved approaches. It's notable that many of the larger search and digital agencies now have teams devoted to 'insight'. For instance I was talking on the keyword research panel along with David Hughes who is head of analytics at iCrossing.

I thought the programming for Search Engine Strategies was great, with the session titles really highlighting the current / future issues of SEO well. So I don't have space for 77 pointers, but here's five, along with some tips and tools along the way.

1. Beyond Linkbait: Getting Authoritative Mentions Online

We saw more of a move to traditional PR techniques. With the aid of some excellent examples, Greg Jarboe reminded us we think of the "News Hook" beloved of traditional PR rather than "Link Bait".

It was good to pick up some tips on new free link analysis tools including http://labs.receptional.com and http://www.majesticseo.com.

2. Search Friendly Design and Duplicate Content & Multiple Site Issues

It's not all off-page optimisation, every site can be improved by reviewing the link architecture, page relevance and reducing the amount of duplicate content so Google identifies more unique pages.

There was a lot of discusion of the new Google, Yahoo! and Live rel="canonical" <link> tag attribute. While this was seen a Good Thing by many, caution was urged by the panellists since implementation needs to be precise and many felt disallowing duplicate content through robots.txt or using 301 redirects may still be better options.

3. Balancing Paid & Organic Listings

SEO really pays its way when the benefits in terms of savings in AdWords/CPC are demonstrated. Bill Hunt showed the type of analysis that needs to be done to focus PPC spend away from where SEO is already performing. Alternatively there may be issues where SEO isn't converting through the wrong-landing page or experience.

  • 16/20 highest CPC terms had Top 4 ranking in SEO
  • 8/20 highest CPC terms converted 2x more than SEO
  • 2 of highest CPC terms had no Google rankings in SEO

4. Blended/universal results

I had a discussion/argument with Mike Grehan about this since I don't believe it's the panacea that some present it to be. He reckons it's relatively more important in the US than Europe. Anyway I violently disagree with the assertion in the Forrester blog stating that Video is The Easiest Way to a First-Page Ranking on Google.

Still video/local/image search is definitely part of the SEO armoury but for most companies best results are going to continue to come from text rich pages.

5. Search Term Research & Targeting

Actually not so well attended since Social Media Optimization was next door, but my presentation focused on integrating data sources including web analytics to spot poorly performing keyphrases which I think is important. I have written up my presentation which suggests a process for auditing and improving SEO results.

Dave Chaffey

Published 25 February, 2009 by Dave Chaffey

Dr Dave Chaffey, CEO of Smart Insights, is author of the Econsultancy Best Practice Guide to SEO.

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Comments (10)

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Stephen Pratley

Stephen Pratley, Digtal Marketing Consultant at Visibly Better Marketing Limited

Nice post. I think that a focus on the relative importance of SEO factors is something that needs more attention, both from the perspective of getting rankings, and from the perspective of getting traffic that will actually convert to leads and sales

An update on the SEOMoz piece is sometime overdue, there's now much more focus on authority links and less on other on-site factors like keyword density.

I blogged about this and about ditching the obsession with on-site SEO a little while ago here in relation to an analysis of the new royal.gov.uk website:


over 9 years ago

Dave Chaffey

Dave Chaffey, Digital Marketing Consultant, Trainer, Author and Speaker at SmartInsights.com

Thx Stephen, like your post about Her Majesty's Backlinks and Keyword research, when most of the commentary was about her meta tags... so perpetuating the myth about on-page.

It's a classic example of gaining mentions through newsworthy content rather than direct seeking of IBLs - a common theme at SES.

over 9 years ago

Daniel Phillips

Daniel Phillips, E-Commerce Manager at HJ Hall

As mentioned that checklist definitely needs updating, many of the points in that 'checklist' are now pretty much obsolete or irrelevant.

On-site SEO is obviously necessary as a foundation, but it's not (and hasn't really ever been) the key to a strong presence on the major search engines (especially Google if you're focused solely on a UK market).

Links, links and more links is still the key to Google in my opinion.


over 9 years ago

Daniel Phillips

Daniel Phillips, E-Commerce Manager at HJ Hall

Oh, and the fascination with Toolbar PageRank still astounds me.

over 9 years ago

Daniel Phillips

Daniel Phillips, E-Commerce Manager at HJ Hall

There are many sites where the toolbar PageRank bears absolutely no correlation to the 'true' PageRank of the site/page.  Of course, we have no other direct indicator of a page's PageRank other than the toolbar - but to me, it's like the tabloid press - often untrue and even if it is vaugely correct, a lot of the 'facts' are actually misrepresented.

I still firmly believe that PageRank, and the wider concept of the power of IBL is central to Google's algorithm. 

I'm going to read up on the google.co.jp issue.  It'll be interesting to see how the site was 'punished' - and if it was merely a TBPR penalty, or if the ranking also suffered.

over 9 years ago

Daniel Phillips

Daniel Phillips, E-Commerce Manager at HJ Hall

Hope that's not a paid-for link Ashley... ;)

over 9 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at EconsultancyStaff

No... ;) But does doing someone a bit of a favour count as 'paid for' and is Google a cunning enough fox to figure that one out?

We're shortly to be adding no-follow to all comments and forum posts anyway so I'm not too worried ;)

over 9 years ago

Daniel Phillips

Daniel Phillips, E-Commerce Manager at HJ Hall

The reason paid-links are such an issue for Google is that IBLs are central to how Google's search works, and has been fundamental to their success.

What is a paid link?  I can see why Google should and does penalise sites blatantly selling non-relevant links in blocks.  These are also relatively easy for them to deal with (penalising the site selling the links, and devaluing the 'power' of these links).

But what about a blog post favourably reviewing a product?  If this contains a link, should the blog owner have to tag the link as a no-follow?  Why not provide a link that helps the product site?  Any car review you read (well most of them) will be subjective.  The manufacturer will have provided the journalist with a car, and probably a 'check-list' of points to mention in their write up.  Like a reference for someone for a job role, they avoid saying anything damning - and instead might omit something they feel they object with.  Of course, the amount the journalist is being paid, and any additional 'benefits' might help sway the tone of his piece.

Matt Cutts has repeatedly said that people shouldn't write about things they don't wholeheartedly agree with (not just talking in terms of paid-links now).  But that doesn't happen in other media, so why should the web be so different?  Economic drivers affect everything on the web, even Google's self-imposed rule to "Do no Evil" has become more of a guideline based on some of their activities.  Don't get me wrong - I think Google is a fantastic organisation.  But they do occasionally put forward a holier-than-thou attitude.

Isn't a major driver in terms of them cracking down on paid-links the fact that they would rather this money went into their coffers in the form of Adwords payments?

over 9 years ago


Ben Silverstein

I feel like every time I read an article about SEO I learn something new. I guess that's a good thing because I'm always learning, but at the same time I wonder if we really know what we're doing with all this SEO talk. Are we all out there just guessing and when we see increased sales and page visits we assume we're doing it right or is just a clusterf**k?

Or maybe it's just 2:33 a.m. and I need some sleep. Good stuff though, thanks for the post!

over 9 years ago


felix adewoye

This is an interesting discussion which has so many sides to it. Everytime you provide an answer it opens other questions. We all need lights to show our customers where we are so we buy the google bulbs because they are the brightest. For the moment it is good but ......

Enjoyed the post but now i have to cool my skin down!

over 9 years ago

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