The 4 Cs of integrating SEO into a company

The Four Cs of Integrating SEO Into Your Business

One of the most difficult problems SEO professionals can face is convincing companies that search engine optimization is a worthwhile investment. We spend a great deal of time dealing with industry specific lingo: algorithms, Panda, Penguin, link building, PageRank, nofollow, canonical tags. These words are completely meaningless to most people in most companies. In our favor are New York Times articles that reference how a big brand name may have had a tough time with link building. Unfortunately, that’s also a double-edged sword because some people will walk away from those stories thinking that SEO is spam, regardless of what Google publishes.

Misconceptions

I had an interesting email discussion with a very prominent blogger in the field of photography who had completely written off SEO as being a bag of card tricks that scammers and spammers use. In fact, his online marketing knowledge was so far off base that his yardstick for measuring success revolved around tracking the number of unique IP addresses visiting his website. You see, this is also part of the problem that some people exhibit–it’s not just about their perception of SEO, it’s about the online space as a whole. Metrics, to the uninformed, can be extremely deceiving, so before we get to the part where we sell the idea of SEO and what it can do for your business, we have to educate, reset expectations, and often explain the fundamentals of the online space.

Many times, it is as basic as explaining the difference between SEO and PPC, but more often it’s the nuances and the gray lines between them. The use of social media and its affects on SEO also play a role in causing confusion. This space is definitely getting more and more complicated, without a doubt. It wasn’t all that long ago that the online space was just SEO, certainly within the lifespan of my teenage daughter–it’s all relative. The online space is accelerating quickly in its sophistication, driven by impatient and fickle consumers and the need for marketers to find ways to quantify and measure segments of gray.

Watching the online space is not a business owner’s center of attention; they’re busy running their business, so it’s easy to miss the subtle changes that occur in the SEO world. However, this knowledge gap from the business owner’s point of view still does not excuse the attitude and dismissal of a practice that has greatly contributed towards the success of so many businesses. That shift in mindset requires us to optimize the brain, rather than a website, and typically SEO people overlook this.

OK, let’s regroup. Imagine that we’re now dealing with someone who is at least willing to listen and talk about it–someone who is curious and has the influence in the organization to make it happen. This is the person who we’re interested in talking to.

I describe the process of integrating SEO into your business using four Cs.

  1. Culture
  2. Curiosity
  3. Code
  4. Content

1) Culture

When we talk about culture within organizations, usually the first things that spring to mind are the more social aspects: dress code, working hours, ping pong, videos games, and free snacks. These are all good things, but corporate culture is what really counts here. That is how an organization operates and, most importantly, how it communicates. What are the chains of command? Who are the influencers and blockers? Who are, or have the potential to be, your greatest allies and informers?

This working knowledge of the corporate culture is important to understand because you need to know who needs more of your attention, what drives them, and which buttons to avoid pushing. The corporate culture also shares metrics and key performance indicators. If SEO doesn’t have much exposure here, you have work to do. In most businesses, SEO needs to have a top down approach. We need leadership to understand the importance as they’re the key decision makers and can quickly change company policies and bring focus to important issues.

Within Google, performance is a driving force behind a lot of what they do. Steven Levy wrote in his book In The Plex about how Sergey and Larry think about performance all the time and integrate it into everything they do. This top down approach and integration into the corporate culture ensures that everything they do will incorporate performance planning and measurement. I believe SEO needs to have the same approach within an organization to ensure that products and features are built with SEO baked in. Without this approach, SEO simply becomes the spit and polish on the final product.

So often SEO professionals find out about site changes when they’re live and perhaps only happen upon them by chance. This is extremely wasteful, especially if the changes cause problems. The frantic scramble to start testing and analyzing the changes causes scheduling problems and impacts other projects. In the extreme case, keeping an SEO professional out of the loop has even happened with a complete site redesign!

Here’s one really telling way to know if you’ve successfully conveyed the importance of SEO–when launching some new content, do you have managers and non-SEO people asking if you launched the XML sitemaps? Or whether a link needs to be nofollowed? If so, you’re on the right track. It doesn’t matter that they don’t understand where to submit them, what they are, or how they’re used. The point is, they know it’s an important item from an SEO point of view, which means they value it. So rather than scoff at them, embrace the fact that they’re trying to keep you in the loop and thank them with a big smile on your face.

2) Curiosity

People need to be curious about SEO, they need to have a hunger for knowledge and a playful sense of intrigue. If people are already in this state, you’re golden and can start the process of educating and bringing the right people up to speed. But too many times, this is not the case. What you may find is that it’s a blend of attitudes and mixed feelings. This is your chance to recognize the curious Georges and get them on your side. Don’t fight the battle alone; get allies on board and attack from multiple angles. Outflanking is also completely acceptable, as long as you don’t jeopardize your own position in the process. While this sounds like a battle strategy, my preferred method is more akin to psychological warfare.

To continue fostering curiosity, act upon the wisps of info that might come your way. Chase down each piece of info about a site problem, a new feature, or a conversation, and ensure that when you have to take action, your results are communicated back to the informer. Let them know that because of the info they provided, you were able to find the issue, put corrective measures in place, and make/save the company money. Also be sure to communicate this to their manager in their presence. What you’re doing is creating a cycle of behavior and reward. With enough repetitions you’ll soon have lots of people curious about how they can help you.

3) Code

This is where a lot of the magic happens and where small mistakes can cause big problems. Some of the best people to foster curiosity are the developers. Often they don’t get a lot of say in the requirements and are just expected to code to the specs. That typically leaves them feeling very anxious because if something breaks, developers are then expected to fix it and clean up the mess.

One of the really fantastic things about developers is that they’re always learning. As new technologies emerge, they’re just expected to keep up and many put in extra hours at home working on personal projects or reading to maintain their proficiency and knowledge.

When working with developers, the best ways to get them on your side (apart from beer), is to write requirements with helpful explanations of what the code does, why it works and even cite 3rd party resources. Big hint: They tend to specifically like it when you cite Google’s help pages.

Once the project launches, make sure you give them a shout out and follow up with the success story. People like to be rewarded for their work, and a little recognition will go a long way, especially when that next project is just around the corner. Below is a 20 minute TED talk about the work/reward relationship that describes this very well.

4) Content

Yes, people say “Content is King”. I’m not sure I 100% agree with that, but generating good quality, authentic, trustworthy content will go a long way into improving traffic, business and the company’s reputation or credibility. My friend Alan did a good job explaining this with his QUART concept. Unfortunately, this is usually one of the hardest nuts to crack because when companies bring on an SEO company, they usually don’t understand they also need to make internal changes to fully realize the SEO investment. SEO is not about waving a magic wand, it needs to be a true partnership.

When companies start working with an SEO agency, they often don’t realize that they may need to hire writers and leverage other resources to generate content. They typically rely on existing staff and tack on content creation as a secondary job function. Be careful with this approach as it can easily lead to frustration and failure. Depending on the size of the commitment and investment in SEO, the company is going to need help hiring writers, or outsource it. SEO companies and agencies will often be very willing partners to do the heavy lifting but will still need to lean heavily on the company to provide them with the necessary stats and facts.

The client will need to work very closely with the agency to ensure that the right content is being produced, published and marketed. Establishing a content strategy is the fundamental first step. This is not just “oh, we’ll create a blog.” There are many ways to create a content strategy. A good start might be to answer these four basic questions:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What are they looking for?
  3. What content do you have right now?
  4. What content does the competition have?

sales-funnel
Once you’ve answered these, you can start to delve into more details around what messages you need to produce, how the audience breaks down, and building a content/funnel matrix. This is a way to map existing content into the phases of the sales funnel. It’s a really useful tool to help understand strengths and gaps.

OK, so once you’ve gotten to that point, you will also need to think about the content delivery. In that stage, you will start to think about issues such as content format, life-cycle, media types, voice, and measurement. Ultimately, we’re doing this to generate business, but it’s not realistic to paint a broad brush stroke and measure all content equally. Top of the funnel content is not going to generate immediate conversions, so comparing it to lower funnel content, such as technical specifications or demos will tend to skew perceptions. This is an important concept for the company to understand, because similarly we just as we don’t judge all vehicles the same–each have different load capacities, fuel efficiencies, capabilities, and designs for specific audiences to fit specific needs–the same should be true of the content that’s produced.

Conclusion

The four Cs framework is one way to boil down how integrating SEO into an organization can take place. I recognize this is not the only way and obviously each company and SEO agency or consultant works differently. However, having done SEO over the last 15 years for various companies, from Fortune 100s to mom and pop businesses, these four Cs represent the most common areas that need to be addressed.

You may have picked up on one thing about these – a lot of the work needed to be successful is not actually traditional SEO. For example, you can’t meet with leadership and start talking about canonical tags. You have to adapt your language and help them appreciate the why and what it means to them in dollars and cents. There are a few simple techniques that can be used to foster and maintain curiosity – this is one of the key Cs, because getting, and keeping, people curious will grease the wheel when it comes to getting the important, but tricky little things implemented. Very often, the asks we have fall outside of our contact’s immediate line of power.

The code part is relatively simple. There’s documentation about how to do SEO all over the web, and as time goes by, the search engines are providing more tools, information and better algorithms. The search engine that is the 6yr old child is now perhaps 8 or 9 :)

Content strategies and content marketing have been written about a lot over the last 3-5 years, and rightly so. Once you have the first three Cs locked into place, you have to get that content out there for search engines and users to find. Doing it properly is not just a matter of firing up your favorite keyword research tool; there’s a lot of planning and preparation that needs to take place before you start putting pen to paper.

I hope you enjoyed this rather lengthy post, I haven’t written much on my blog in a long while, but hopefully this is going to be the start of a comeback for me–although I promise not every post will be quite as long :) If you enjoyed this, or have a difference of opinion, please leave a comment below.

Hacking the algorithm

When I try to explain the work I do to non technical people, their eyes glaze over very quickly. It’s totally understandable, there’s a lot of jargon and things get complicated very quickly.

However, here’s a really great video by Amy Webb, talking about how she hacked the algorithm for a dating site. It has a lot of parallels with what I do, and I’m sure my fellow SEO people will also enjoy it :)

Toyota FT1 Photos

Photos of the new Toyota FT1 sports car, which was displayed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit MI. I don’t know if my photos will do it justice, but the car really does look good up close and in the flesh. This is supposed to be the replacement for the legendary Toyota Supra. Enjoy the photos, while I continue testing this theme :)

2014-01-21 Detroit Car Show-8667

2014-01-21 Detroit Car Show-8665

2014-01-21 Detroit Car Show-8664

2014-01-21 Detroit Car Show-8663

2014-01-21 Detroit Car Show-8659

2014-01-21 Detroit Car Show-8655

Sunrise Photos

I love photographing the sunrise, the serenity before the day begins and watching the wildlife wake up and get moving is always magical. There are so many colors and moods that can be found during that short window of time. Last weekend I went to Hoover Reservoir in central Ohio to capture some sunrise photos. I got there around 6.15am because I wanted to capture the scene well before the sun came up. A few minutes before sunrise the light changes really quickly and the drama and moodiness fades away within perhaps 5 or 10 minutes. I’ve shot photos at Hoover Reservoir before, but never at this location. When I arrived it was still quite dark so I needed a flashlight to navigate through the terrain.

This shot was taken at 6.36am, 45 minutes before sunrise and required a 30 second exposure at f/16, ISO 200
Before sunrise

When photographing water, a long a exposure will smooth out the waves and ripples into a lovely, soft, smooth surface, reflecting the colors in the sky.

As the sun starts to get close to the horizon, the clouds are alight with yellows, oranges and reds, making the trees on the skyline look like they’re on fire. There’s a lot more light now, so this only required an exposure of 0.8s at f/16 and ISO 200.

trees on fire

This is the time when animals start stirring and moving around, looking for their breakfast. By now the light levels are rising rapidly and the colors are changing as the sunlight takes a more tangential path through the atmosphere. Capturing this gaggle of geese only required 1/80s at f/16 and ISO200.

gaggle of geese

We’re still seeing highly diffused reflected light as it’s bouncing off the clouds, but once the sun breaks the horizon, the direct sunlight casts warm, strong beams providing a lot more contrast between the highlights and deep shadows. This makes metering the scene a bit more difficult for the camera and really starts to stretch its EV range. Fortunately with combination of modern image processing software and recording images in the uncompressed RAW format, the highlights can be tamed and details brought out from the shadows. None of these images were processed using HDR techniques. To be honest I did try with a couple out of curiosity, but wasn’t thrilled with the results for these images.

warm tones, harder light source

This last shot was taken at 1/60s at f/16 and ISO200.

Only one hour passed from the first to the last photo, but it’s such an interesting time of day as there’s such a huge transformation in not only the light but the wildlife and photographic opportunities. Composition is also very different depending on whether the sun is above or below the horizon. If the sun is visible in the sky, shooting towards it will usually create lens flare, which can be used artistically, but most photographers try to avoid it.

If you get the chance, head out to a location before sunrise with your camera, the range of photos you can capture within one hour is amazing. Be sure to head over to my flickr stream as there are a few more photos from this shoot that I didn’t post here.

Vectren Dayton Air Show 2012

Misty Blues Skydiving Team at the Vectren Dayton Air Show 2012
Misty Blues Skydiving Team at the Vectren Dayton Air Show 2012
The weather forecast before I left said it was going to feel like 112 degrees. I don’t think I’ve ever felt 112, but it was certainly a lot of degrees, I can tell you. Despite the searing heat I was able to take in some fantastic aviation showmanship at the Vectren Dayton Air Show and even capture some of it with my camera gear. I rented a Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 lens which, coupled with my Nikon, can zoom in and count the barnacles off a sperm whale from the other side of the Atlantic. I also had a monopod with me but found it was better hand holding the big green monster and letting it hang off my black rapid strap between flyovers. A sore back and shoulders were a small price to pay for the enhanced handling.

I had brought enough water and salty snacks to carry me through to September, but I didn’t want to take a chance, since I still had to drive home alone. I’m quite sure I drank enough water that, if I were a camel I would have grown a third hump on my back.

Twin F-16 Fighting Falcons at the Vectren Dayton Air Show 2012
Twin F-16 Fighting Falcons at the Vectren Dayton Air Show 2012

The first fast movers to roar by were a pair of F-16 Fighting Falcons, driven by some immensely talented gentlemen, then there was the customary barnstorming biplane, piloted by Gene Soucy and another more modern, the Porsche 911 version if you will, flown by Mike Goulian, in his German Extra 330C.

When I was there two years ago I witnessed a mock D-Day attack with B-17s gracefully strolling by, but this year they had something a little more animated for us. In their place were eight Japanese fighters and bombers from the movie Tora Tora Tora. They swooped, circled and dived down for what felt like half the afternoon, while chest pounding pyros were set off sending great plumes of thick chewy smoke into the air. The wind direction ensured that the crowd got a mouthful of it.

Japanese Zeros at the Vectren Dayton Air Show 2012
Japanese Zeros at the Vectren Dayton Air Show 2012

There was even a British Sea Harrier flown by Art Nalls, an ex Marine aviator and Harrier test pilot. After success in real estate ended up buying his own, which he keeps in Maryland, near the sea I presume. If you think Land Rover parts are expensive, I can’t imagine the cost of maintaining a Sea Harrier. Perhaps he keeps it in Maryland so he can fly over for an oil change and check up.

What airshow is not complete without the skydiving team? The Misty Blues were to fulfill that obligation, an all women team lead by Cindy Irish who has over 2,100 jumps under her belt. Then as Gene Soucy flew his Grumman Showcat, a perfectly good bi-plane I might add, Theresa Stokes decided to climb out and stand on the top wing and pose. She has to be stark raving mad especially since she wasn’t even wearing a parachute.

More historic aircraft were shown to us, by way of the A-4B Skyhawk, the same plane that John McCain was shot down in, the P-51 mustang and two F-4 Phantoms. The mustang named “Quick Silver” was privately owned and had a special paint job commemorating veterans and paying tribute to various branches of the military. The two Phantoms were actually QF-4s, named so because they were fitted with remote control devices turning them into multi-million dollar RC toys. During the weekends they’re used as part of the Air Combat Command’s Heritage Flight, while during the not weekend days they’re used for target practice. We were told, eventually they’d be shot down, probably a fitting end for a fighter aircraft, like a ship’s captain I presume.

Blue Angels Diamond Formation at the Vectren Dayton Air Show 2012
Blue Angels Diamond Formation at the Vectren Dayton Air Show 2012

Last but not least were the Blue Angels and their amazing precision flying. These guys were so cool I’m sure they could text and fly while eating Klondike with one hand hanging out the window. In close formation there’s a mere 18 inches between the tip of a wing and the canopy of the next guy. If you’re reading this on a laptop, the size of your screen diagonally might be 17 inches, just add one more, then imagine hurtling through the air at over 400 miles an hour trying to maintain that distance, while not getting bonked on the head by the wing on the other side, simply unbelievable.

It was a very hot day, but I was glad to make it back in one piece with no major sunburn or heat stroke, which is probably a first for me. Viewing the photos online really doesn’t do the air show justice because you don’t get to smell the smoke, get deafened by the afterburners, or end up with a crick on your neck, but if you want to see more of my photos, head on over to my Vectren Dayton Air Show 2012 set on flickr.

Videos

I’m helping Manta by giving tips and advice to their audience by way of a series of short videos. In the first one I talk about utilizing the keywords that are available for Manta customers who have a Premium Business Listing.

This one was posted to Youtube on Valentines Day, so free to Like the video, leave a comment and show me some love ;-)

While we already have some ideas for other videos, feel free to leave a comment here and request other topics. I can’t promise they’ll make the cut but they’ll definitely be considered.

Polar Bear Plunge

Reuben Yau - Polar Bear Plunge 2012
This year I’m participating in a fund raiser to support Special Olympics Ohio (donations welcome). On February 18th, I will be doing the Polar Bear Plunge at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. I’m told it’s going to be in a open air pool near the Polar Bear Exhibit and not actually in it! While I like Polar Bears, I don’t particularly want to get that close to one, especially since I’ll probably look like an injured albino seal.

This is my first time raising money for Special Olympics Ohio, a great cause helping people with intellectual disabilities train and compete. According to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission about 2.5 million people in the US, or around 1% of the population are affected and of those only 31% are employed.

I have no idea how cold the water will be or how long I’ll be in it. It doesn’t really matter to me, this is not about me, it’s about supporting this great organization. I’m going to jump into a pool in the middle of winter, I know you won’t, but you could could offer some support by donating. Check the change in your pocket, perhaps hold off on one latte for this week, you know any contribution is going to be greatly appreciated.

If you visit my donation page, you can also enter a short message which will appear in the scrolling Honor Roll.

UPDATE:
Our group raised over $5000 for Special Olympics Ohio! It was 45 degrees with a light breeze and the water temperature was, well, cold! Our team was the first up on stage, the first three team members went in, then it was our turn. After a short intro by the emcee, we were given the countdown and off we went. Hitting the water was fine, it was when I surfaced that I experienced the full body shudder of OMG it’s cold. I got out and got changed into some dry clothes feeling quite refreshed.

Maps and QR codes

When I need to go to a new place, I will research it on my desktop using one of the typical map sites to get an idea of travel time and where it is. I have a Motorola Atrix which has a nice map app which offers turn by turn directions. I use it a lot, but the problem is that I’ve just performed the search on my desktop and there’s no fast and convenient way to repeat that search on my phone, or even better yet, just transfer the result to my phone.

Google Maps offers print, email and a nice “Link” feature which generates a HTML link which you can copy and paste, unfortunately the clipboard doesn’t span from my desktop to my phone.

Bing Maps has a share button which allows me to share on Facebook, twitter, or email it to myself. Hmm, still not as quick as I’d like and I’d rather not broadcast my map locations to my social connections.

Yahoo Maps also has a Send via email, but again, it’s not convenient enough.

Mapquest has the same options as the search engines, but also two more interesting ones: Send to Mobile and send to Garmin GPS. The first uses SMS messaging, the other is great if you have a Garmin GPS device, but I don’t. So this is a bit better, but I’m not sure I trust the SMS option. I’ve had messages be delayed and as with the other options, it puts me in a position where I’m waiting and relying on an external service.

What I really need is the ability to be in control and initiate the transfer of the map result immediately to my phone.

What I think would be ideal, is if the mapping sites could add another option to print a QR code for that location. That would allow me to instantly transfer it to my smartphone, hopefully the phone would also recognize the URL and automatically open the map app.

What do you think?

RIP Remington

RIP Remington

About a week ago my puppy Remington was diagnosed with cancer. It all started when we noticed he had blood in his urine. He had a course of antibiotics for a UTI but that didn’t do anything. After that was another type of antibiotic for possible prostate infection. When neither worked, we took him in for an ultrasound and a needle biopsy. A couple of days later we learned he had cancer, that was a week ago.

We were referred to the OSU oncology center who performed another ultrasound. The tumors were adjacent to his ureter and around his spleen, which was more than likely the source of the bleeding.

We spoke to the doctors several times over the last few days trying to figure out the next best course of action for him. We spoke to them again this morning and had scheduled a cat scan to get a much better idea of the location of the tumors, prior to a surgical procedure to remove them.

We were out this afternoon and had dinner, when we returned home it was obvious that something was very wrong with Remy. He didn’t come and greet us in his usual goofy way, he just lay in the kitchen, he couldn’t even stand. It was quite clear that the tumors in his abdomen had further attacked his body leaving him unable to function. He was very lethargic, had white gums and was somewhat cool to the touch, he was bleeding inside and we knew he wasn’t going to last the night.

We hung out with him in the kitchen for a while trying to postpone the inevitable. We knew there was nothing we could do to save him.

It was obvious he was in pain and we didn’t want him to suffer any more. We took him to medvet. I wept the entire way there.

It was hard signing the paperwork, very hard. We thought we were going to have many more months with this sweet puppy before this day would arrive.

We spent our last moments with him comforting him as best we could.

Now he is no longer in pain. Very soon he will be running through a forest being goofy, playing with lots of other dogs and his favorite toy.

I will miss you puppy.

RIP Remington 10/22/2009 – 7/1/2011