A New Kind of Search Engine Spider

In the year 2000 I drove an ’83 Cadillac Seville, lived in a three bedroom apartment with four other dudes, and I had just secured an internship at Sitewire in Tempe, Arizona. My then-coworker and ever since-good friend, Chris Corak, returned from a search engine conference wearing an interesting t-shirt. I asked him about it: “What’s a ‘google’?” He told me that it was a new search engine that was gaining in popularity. We took a look in our favorite web browser, Internet Explorer, and found that same multi-color logo, an open field and two buttons. “There is nothing to this”, we thought. It had no chance agains Lycos, Alta Vista or even Looksmart.

You may have heard that the search engine with the funny name continued to pick up steam (well, just a bit). We monitored its progress and started to optimize client web pages to rank more prominently in Google results. Due to lack of competition and necessary sophistication, search engine optimization was kind of easy. It went a little something like this…

  1. Go find keywords with a tool like Wordtracker
  2. Include those terms in the page title and meta description. Stuff terms overtly into the meta keywords (pointless today). And include the keywords in the page text in such a repetitive manner that Google would be silly not to rank your page well (and customers would be silly to purchase anything from such a poorly written website).
  3. Submit the site to search engines manually and allow their meta crawlers, also known as ‘spiders’, to index the website.

That was about it, and believe it or not, that REALLY worked.

Today the role of an SEO professional is much more complicated. We’ve seen waves of algorithm updates from Google, each with a cute little name. Over the years, the good people in Mountain View have rolled out Florida, Jagger, Vince, MayDay and most recently the Panda/Farmer updates. With every new iteration, Google has made it more difficult for SEOs to sway the robots controlling the system, and some would argue, made the experience better for humans.

Thankfully we are no longer writing for robots.

I would argue that our role as search engine optimization professionals has morphed from one that involves the cajoling of search engine spiders into becoming multi-talented arachnids ourselves. Perhaps some of us would be better characterized as eight legged freaks. Here are eight roles necessary for a well-rounded SEO practitioner in 2011.

Modern Day Search Arachnid – 8 Legs

Leg 1 – Researcher: Find and analyze keyword targets using myriad tools. I personally prefer the Google Keyword Tool.

Leg 2 – Competitive Analyst: Uncover how those ranking well for target terms are doing so and what specific on-page (site optimization) and off-page (link marketing) tactics they employ. Determine what methods you should employ to mimic, thwart or combat those competitors’ efforts. Here’s a good primer on how to perform a competitive SEO analysis.

Leg 3 – Technical Savant: Understand the nuances of SEO-friendly website design and coding. Know what search engines like and don’t like and how to modify site code and structure to provide for proper search indexing. View this technical SEO checklist.

Leg 4 – Writer/Producer: Create and develop new content that resonates with the audience and is attractive to search engines. Content could be classified as text, photos, graphics or video. Here’s some more info on content marketing strategy.

Leg 5 – PR Pro / Pitchman: In the realm of link building, a certain amount of salesperson panache is necessary to develop a dialogue with bloggers, site owners and other online influencers who hold the keys to unlocking new links to your website. This link building graphic tends to resonate with many of my clients. Also see notes from Jason Falls, a terrific proponent of blogger outreach done respectfully and effectively.

Leg 6 – Social Butterfly: Be cognizant of social media’s impact on search engine rankings and positioning. Utilize popular tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to generate links and promote new content. Check out the “Future of Search” section of this amazing collection of Search Engine Ranking Factors from SEOMoz.

Leg 7 – Data Hound: Get comfortable with website analytics to discover new opportunities for your SEO campaign as well as provide a method for measuring real progress. Rely on history to impact future successes.

Leg 8 – Strategic Sage: Think past search engine page rankings, visits from search, new inbound links and other tactic-oriented accomplishments. The end game should always involve a dollar sign. Generate a sound SEO strategy that supports your website/marketing objectives and dutifully communicates your message online to the right audiences to produce revenue.

modern day seo practices

If all that sounds like too much (fun) for one person, sometimes it can be. Such shifts in the practice have required one-man SEO departments to evolve into full-blown search engine optimization teams within organizations and marketing agencies. To simplify matters, generating results in Google and other search engines has always been about one thing only: create and promote content your audience finds meaningful and useful. Failure to abide by that mantra ultimately renders all the tactical exercises pointless.

Have you provided SEO services for some time? How have your efforts changed over the years?