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..:: Starting The Seo Process ::..

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(Kim's note, Oct. 9, 2007 - This thread was pinned because we felt it was so educational. The thread's originator later took the time to compile the posts into an article-like version, which you can find here.)


Im relatively new to this game but have a fairly good understanding of SEO. I lack some good hard practical experience which would lead onto my questions:


When you guys start on a SEO strategy for a website what are the initial stages that you go through to ready the site.


> Build the site using CSS and preferable DIV based.

> W3C standard compliant

> Keep main navigation to the top and stay away from JS menus

> Title tags relevant to page and other SEO semantics

> Linking structure - Make things easy for Google to access.

> Create areas for dynamic content and try keep it up adding content.

> XML Site Map

> Robot.txt

> Linking - (not so easy part)


Well im asking more then telling... I know SEO is an ongoing process of adjusting and tweaking but what are the bases you cover to get the site started on a good SEO path?

Edited by cre8pc

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Start by deciding what search engine space you want to occupy... then build a site (or new area of a site) to accomplish that. If I want to sell widgets or get traffic for that theme, I decide what turf I want to own, then decide if I can create highly linkable content for that theme, then build mutiple pages of that content to compete for brass widgets, wooden widgets, red widgets, green widgets. Many pages about widgets, all linking to one another. This creates content depth, authority in the theme and helps you get ranks for many widgets terms.

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Guest Autocrat



Document URL

Page Address - http://

Domain Name

Page Name / File Name




Document Head


Title - <title></title>

  • I place it at the very top of the section.
  • I try to make it "sementic" = PageTitle + SectionTitle + Company/Site Name
    <title>Brass Widgets - Widgets - Widgetting Engineering Ltd</title>



Meta-Description - <meta name="description" content="" />

  • I place it near the top of the section, (after Title, before CSS etc.).
  • I try to make it "useful" = PageTitle, +brief detail inc. several key words/phrases, +Company/Site Name, + Contact details(Tel., Add.)
    <meta name="description" content="Brass Widgets - A sample of our wide range of hand crafted and machine milled brass widgets, Widgetting Engineering Ltd, Hampshire, Southampton, SO15 4PP, 02380 123123" />



Meta-Keywords - <meta name="keywords" content="" />

  • I place it near the top of the section, (after Description, before CSS etc.).
  • I try to make it "useful" = Single Word and Dual Words from the PageTitle/Brief +Company/SiteName
    <meta name="keywords" content="Widgets, Brass, Brass Widgets, Hand Crafted, Hand Made, Machine Milled, Widgetting Engineering Ltd" />

(NOTE: They may not be used by SE's any more - but they sure as hell help Clients to remember what the content is meant to be about - I make them right out Keywords first, then build the content around those focus points) ((How I used to right Essays too ;) ))



Also, Put JS last - preferable in external files!





Document Body


Header Tag - <h1></h1>

  • I place it as the first "content" if I can help it.
  • I tend to apply bold to it as well.
  • Even if the client has a logo in the design - I hide it with CSS negative positioning.
  • You could make it a link if the Text is visible
  • I try to make it "Meaningful" = Company/Site Name ( you may want to inc. SectionTitle + PageTitle)
    : <h1>Widgetting Engineering Ltd</h1>
    : <h1>Widgetting Engineering Ltd - Widgets - Brass Widgets </h1>



Header Tag - <h2></h2>

These are used in conjunction with the HeaderRule <hr /> and ID for splitting the site into sections and enabling certain user types to jump around the site.

(Header / Nav / Content / Footer)



Header Tag - <h3></h3>

  • I tend to apply bold to it as well.
  • I try to make it "Meaningful" = PageTitle (alternatively, PageTitle + Section Title)
    : <h3>Brass Widgets</h3>
    : <h3>Brass Widgets - Widgets</h3>




Header Tag - <h4></h4> <h5></h5>

  • I tend to apply bold or underline to it as well.
  • I use these to indicate sub-sections of pages
    : <h4>Hand Crafted Brass Widgets</h3>
    : <h3>Machine Milled Brass Widgets</h3>




Links - <a></a>


  • Do my best to keep them as Text.
  • keep them in Lists.
  • Main/Parent/Section Head Links I try to make Bold.



  • Always supply Title Attribute.
  • Always try to seperate them from standard text (Bold + diff. Colour etc.).
  • Try to include "in-page" Links to other pages within the copy (sort of intro's to sub/child pages)
    : <p>We also provide <a class="bold" href="#" title="details on our custom, hand crafted widgets">hand crafted widgets</a>for those unique, custom or lovingly crafted projects.</p>




Page Copy - <p></p> <img>etc.

  • Try to make the 1st Paragraph a general sumamtion of the Page/Section.
  • Try to get at least 3 keywords/phrases/terms in the 1st Paragraph.
  • Try to get at least 1 keywords/phrases/terms within the 6 words in the 1st Sentence of the 1st Paragraph.
    : <p>The widget you need, the way you want it - it doesn't matter whether you need them by the hundred or jsut those few unique ones, Widgetting Engineering Ltd can make the Widget work!<p>
  • Follow similar patterns for other Paragraphs.
  • in-page Images should have Alt Attributes, with a keyword/phrase in.
  • in-page Images should have File Names that match (rather than img1003dd.jpg).
  • Emphasis bits of text - don't over do it... but apply a diff. colour + Bold (Italic if the font is big enough/readable).







  • Visitor Sitemap (try to follow the Navigation example!).
  • XML Sitemap (Make the bots life easier :) ).
  • robots.txt file (inc. location of XML Sitemap).
  • link in the <head> section pointing to the Visitor Sitemap
  • link in the <head> section pointing to the XML Sitemap




Well - I think that's Just about everything I do... :)

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Wow, brave Autocrat jumps right in!


If the Name consists of multiple words, consider the primary domain using hyphens.
I'd tread lightly on that one, because it assumes that the usability problem of hyphens will trump the word stemming boost of hyphens. Hyphens are not a nice thing for word of mouth or anti typo friendliness.


Also - my opinion - if the domain is made up of words that Google recognizes and separates in searches, I'd be surprised if there is still a SEO advantage to the hyphens. You'll need to get in there play with some searches. As a semi related aside, I have seen Google maps be a little less aware of some words - one example is a title containing [businessname keyword servicename.] Normally I like to experiment with putting the least common word first in a title. In this case, until I put [servicename] before [keyword] the site was not showing up on Google maps under [servicename]. The keyword in question was a niche-specific adjective. Title tags still pack a hefty wallop in ye olde algorithmic sorting and filing system. I'm sure other things came into play in this case, too.


Some of the other things you mention worked better a few years ago, from a SEO perspective but are still a good practice overall.


Though headings aren't the big bang they used to be, from an accessibility perspective you're still in good shape by thinking of headings as an outline and using them to signpost user orientation within page structure. I never get tired of pointing out that spiders and screen readers are both text-aware browser devices that end users can use to "see" a page. :)

Edited by AbleReach

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When you guys start on a SEO strategy for a website what are the initial stages that you go through to ready the site.


Here's one thing that a lot of people don't quite get - there's strategy, and then there's tactics. I appreciate Autocrat's list of tactics, because they are helpful to lay out in front of others who might not know how to go about different parts of preparing a site for ranking well in search engines. A strategy or a set of strategies are the bigger picture, and they have broader implications than the tactics that you might use to achieve them.


What are the business objectives of the site owners?

What is the marketing plan that they've developed, and how does the online aspect of it fit into that plan?

Who are the different audiences that the site can appeal to, and provide goods or services or information for?

What are the best ways to get those audiences to come to the site through online tactics, including placement in search rankings?

What words will those people use to search for what the site offers, what tasks or actions can they take once on the site, how does the site engage them, and keep their interest?

How might conversions be defined for the site? Purchases? Leads generated? Newsletter or service subscriptions? Downloading of specific whitepapers or pages or software?


A copy of the business plan and marketing plan, interviews or discussions with the site owners and employees and others, analysis of the market, competitive analysis of other participants within the market, indentification of gaps within the market, and an understanding of relevant trends may provide some other ideas for a strategy.


Once you have created one or more strategies, then you can start deciding upon some specific tactics. Then you know whether you want to create articles for the site, or add a blog, or rearrange the site structure, or add tools or build widgets or make it more interactive, or focus upon some offerings more and others less, and so on.

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Well said, Bill. I have always admired your gracious and firm way of infusing detail-oriented discussions with a practical and interesting frame of reference. That kind of perspective is one of the reasons I kept coming back to Cre8. :)

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Sorry I can't contribute as well as Bill, but I'd say that you need to create the website for the people, not for Google.


A domain name should preferrably be:

- short

- memorable

- an action word (a verb, call to action)


It can also be a new, coined word, but don't have to be (if you can find the right unregistered domain name).



You need to link to other pages on your site using the words that are relevant to the page. If you have plenty of pages, then consider using internal linking more intensively.



One thing that I rarely see is a site that is easy to use. If you can make it so people can find what they want and do anything on your site easily, you've done half a job.


You can do that by using the words your people are looking for in links, page titles, pages, call to actions, etc.

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I wrote an answer and took a break and found Bill answering for me - intelligent and psychic :) But you get my 2-cents worth anyhow:


I have always looked first at the project 'strategy': creating the RFP/Q (Request for Proposal/Quotation). Companies who would automatically have one for an offline project seem to go 'blank' when it comes to the web.


Back when I had clients my very first question was:

"Do you have a formal RFP/RFQ (Request for Proposal/Quotation) for me to review or shall I develop one with you?"


My follow-up questions were:

* May I review your formal business model, i.e. revenue streams and cost centres?

* May I review your formal strategic plans, i.e. implementation of the business model?

* How do you visualise your webpresence implementing the model and plans?


The penny-pinchers and tire-kickers had now run out the door :D


Without a clear understanding of the company and its goals, its suppliers and customers, products and services, there is no foundation upon which to build. Without a clear vision of a domain's purpose neither the owner, the designer, the SEM, nor all the King's men can determine requirements. Without a reasonable knowledge of the business's current and potential customers and services you can not create reasons for them to come or to return.


There are what I call the ?standard! best practices for site accessability and usability, traffic acquisition, retention and conversion. Then there are the extras targeting your client's desired audience. Arty or techy, young or old, male or female, business or play, local or international, etc. in whatever probable combinations.


Small and medium companies often have a poor vision of what they do or what they expect to accomplish online. Until they are clear on those basics it is impractical to expect them to grasp the tactical requirements of a domain.


There are two other absolutely critical important reasons to start any website (including SEO) project strategically:

1. it brings the company's owners/management into the conversation. They become part of the solution rather than obstacles.

2. it defines the scope and boundaries of the project. The tactical milestones are easier to set, the contract easier to write, expectations easier to manage, and billing costs easier to swallow.


Oh, and writing RFPs can become another revenue stream. :D

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Bill and I sing proudly from the same songsheet. In the opening list of things you thought would matter, Saschaeh, you'd gone straight into the building stage without having the architectural drawing, or even a building plan.


I don't know if you've ever been directed to the Marketing 101 thread, but it is a very important read, so if you skipped it, don't miss it.


Then remember that many of the guys in that thread are SEOs. Marketing is vital. You must know what you are to market, what the market conditions are, and firmly understand how your market buys before you even think of how to code or promote a site.


Otherwise you build a site that may be doomed to total failure simply because it didn't understand the specific shopping process of the customers, or didn't know who the customers were at all. A site that tries to sell the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time.


You need to know who the market are, and how they buy. You need to know if this is an impulse purchase or a carefully considered decision that will involve recommendations from others, or have to convince multiple decision makers. You need to know how long the shopping process is, how much comparison shopping is done, and map out all of the touchpoints that a smart marketer could use to address these potential customers (or their advisors) and help sway them for the mutual benefit of both business and customer.


If you skip any of that, you may as well not bother with anything else, because you'll have already missed the money, and be relying on pure luck to have the site make a dime.


The fundamentals of marketing are that it is far more profitable to produce what you can sell, than to sell what you can produce. That goes for the website just as firmly as for the product. Make what will sell, rather than sell from what you make.


As for the initial list, perhaps it will surprise you how meaningless in SEO terms most of those things are (though they may mean a lot in Usability and Marketing terms beyond SEO).

> Build the site using CSS and preferable DIV based. - Largely Irrelevent

> W3C standard compliant - Completely Irrelevant

> Keep main navigation to the top and stay away from JS menus - Helpful

> Title tags relevant to page and other SEO semantics - Important, and often misunderstood

> Linking structure - Make things easy for Google to access. - Vital

> Create areas for dynamic content and try keep it up adding content. - Largely Irrelevant

> XML Site Map - Where this isn't irrelevant, you have other problems

> Robot.txt - this is the brake, it never acts as an accellerator

> Linking - (not so easy part) - Most Vital



edited to fix link

Edited by Black_Knight

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Reply in true Cre8 spirit! Excellent Response! - (ready to buy a crea8 t-shirts and mouse pads! :) )


Well I guess I had tactical in mind, thank you very much autocrat ill be keeping that as a good reference. Admittedly I had not really given thorough thought to strategy.


On reflection perhaps it is more strategy that i'm needing to understand. When I place myself at the beginning of SEO i find it hard to visualise my path simply because i have not yet got to a worth while end result.


Like anything you dont understand it seems hugely daunting but as you understand bits an pieces it starts to whittle down. hmmm i just need some more teething!



What would be great is an example/case-study of SEO strategy document/process?


iamlost - RFP/RFQ i have not heard of this perhaps i do but call it something different?




Black_Knight - thank you! i post shortly after you i did not see your response ill have a look at Marketing 101!

Edited by saschaeh

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Though not entirely a checklist or a strategy, "A Quick Kick Start Guide to SEO" has plenty of info.


Though, I should say, Marketing 101 is more vital, than the SEO stuff (which only comes when you get to work on the site). So I'd suggest reading Marketing 101 first, then working on your business model and marketing plan and only then read the SEO guide.

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Guest Autocrat

Brave? No dear maiden... that is not bravery... merely the gift of ignorance makes me impervious to fear :D



Well, as we seem to be using some martial terms...



I never suggest for strategy, as all battles are different, (thus the standard battle routines and unit formations for site based improvments => tactics).



I tend to apply the same business principals as for warfare though (as lets face, you are to conquor the market and win the wealth of visistors and their money :D).





Know they enemies - Thats right - you have multiples...

* The initial/obvious are the competitors. Look at the successfull ones, and then the less successfull ones - mark down the differences.

This will give you valuable intelligence on how they work and how they respond to a given situation.

* The less obvious yet potentially more fatal enemies are lack of resources, lack of food and lack of will (client based information, user based information and money).

Make sure that your army (site) will march with leadership, not march blind and won't starve before/during or after the battle!


Know where the battle is to take place...

* The "lay of the land" is highly important - the highground has many advantages, but so do swamps and rocky fields!

So, you need to know what market sector you are tacklingand how it has behaved in the past/recently.

This will give you a good idea as to what units to deploy and how best to use them (advertising methods, contacts, associations, link-building etc.).


Know when to make war - Timming is important...

* It doesn't all have to happen at the same time. Deployment of scouts and skirmishers can greatly improve chaces of a success, (using certain marketing techniques in advance can get more support and remove a few ofthe enemy).

* Knowing when to make the major push and when to regroup will be more efficient and save your army unnecessary losses, (know when to really push PPC and Link Adverts, and when not too!).




So, not particularly "Strategies", but standards and methods to conduct a more successful "campaign" in general :)




Sorry - I couldn't resist.

Edited by Autocrat

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I can't offer any more on strategy advice, only that you should always start with the big picture.


But if you're wondering which order to go about your 'tactics' i would recommend leaving the hardcore code optimisation i.e. CSS design and W3C compliancy until later on in the project if it's a small budget, unless it's an absolute must.


It's a nice have and should be done but sometimes small clients budgets don't permit. As long as the code validates at the block level then I would leave it if budget is tight and focus on getting the keywords, content, internal link structure right, building high quality links , building trust and meshing the site into the topical community.


This will get you traffic much earlier on in the campaign and your client will see a return on their investment sooner.


In many cases, clients get a more than satisfactory ROI without a CSS design. I'm not saying it doesn't help or shouldn't be done, but you don't want to scare your clients off with a hefty fee either.


Consider waiting until you've made them some profit first before redesigning in CSS.



Edited by kestrel

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Guest Autocrat

That raises a question (:hijack:)...


Do people make a distinction between coding a site, coding it for validation, coding it for usability/accessibility, coding it for SE optimisation etc.?

(I am not incuding page content, merely the structure.)



To me, it's all part of the same thing... do others do it differently then?

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If you take all the aspects of coding at once, then it is one thing. If there are numerous people working on the code or it takes iterations to implement the differences between validation, usability and accessibility (and SEO), then the things are different.


It depends on the developer and time at hand, I guess.

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I guess they are different and they are the same.


By that I mean, accessibility and SEO overlap, but you might not need to make the code fully accessibile to acheive your seo goals.


Active and over states of hyperlinks are required for accessibility purposes but don't impact on SEO for instance.


But it's likely you'll want to make use of header tags and the alt attribute from as early on as possible.



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Guest Autocrat

I jsut find it odd that these things are not all done at the same - surely it is more efficient time wise to implement such things from the outset?


I can see the point of different contributors making a difference, but I would have thought that it was common practice to validate as you do thigns, and apply what ever "standard structure" you may use from the ground up... going back over things to make the adjesutments would only requirem ore time... but could also result in much needed revisions of code if the original was not vlaid/structured as required?


Even my designers know what to do when creating a design... I spent a week going over things with them and explaining what is doable/feasable and how I work - so I get designs that I know I can replicate without too much fuss - another time saver.


So others don't necessarily do this from the offset... interesting.

Amazing how there can be such diversity (I tend to think that people go through the same steps... that will teach me :) )

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Sas I don't have the 3 hours it would take to read all this thread, all I will add is you are well on track with your fundamentals in regards to SEO.


Try not to get too lost in the weeds at your stage. I am sure the advice here is well intended but you stated yourself you are new to this game.


Having a system on a website that enables the user to adds unique content is a good idea as is finding ways to generate high scoring inbound links.


Go with your own system, reading your post you will not go far wrong. My only other advice would be to avoid the use of hyphens in your domain. Incorporating a keyword is a good idea but not crucial, it will certainly not be the defining matter if yours or any site is successful.

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I agree it may take more time in the long run. But i'm talking about cases where you're working on a project where budget is limited, which is highly likely if you're starting out.


If the client was after keywords such as Computer Repairs Norwich (very low competition) and they had a 5 page HTML site, i wouldn't recommend the additional cost of rebuilding the entire site in CSS.


Which is likely to be the kind of keyword weight you will be working with if you are starting out.


Yes 'ideally' you would want to do it all in one go, but with small budget projects, where the keyword is usually low competition, you don't need to go to that extent to get the desired results.


Get the right keywords in the right places, wack some header tags in, optimise the internal link structure and build a few quality links.


This usually gets my small budget clients the desired results in a month or so, which means they are earning from the website sooner.


When they've generated some revenue and want to know what else they can do it is at this stage i'd probbly suggest a CSS redesign.


If they are small budget then it may well be the case that they are starting out too and need the sales, leads or enquiries sooner rather than later to keep them afloat.


Of course if they have all the money up front then do it all first.



Edited by kestrel

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I love clean CSS based websites, we do very well in this area by providing clients good quality SEO compliant CSS sites with a full database functionality for around $1000.


Some people however prefer to pay $100 so they are limited

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Sas I don't have the 3 hours it would take to read all this thread, all I will add is you are well on track with your fundamentals in regards to SEO.

But if you had read the posts you would have seen most of the 'fundamentals' are irrelevant. The approach suggested by saseach misses the most important aspect which it have a business plan in place before you start so that you know where you want you SEO to go.

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Guest Autocrat

... kestrel ...

Ah... my bad - I was thinkig of "new" from scratch... not doing the work on an existing and possibly not compliant site (should have thought of that).



Regarding the "hyphen"...

I use it to make certain domains easier for the users...

- http:// london-irish-rfc.net

is much more readable than

- http:// londonirishrfc.net

It also has the benefit of "keying" on the right words.

What's more, it is proven to be more memorable for the majority, as it is broken down (people are more easily able to assimilate short bits than a long bit).


Yes, it can make it more difficult to get over to some people... then again, if they cannot uderstand what you mean by saying hyphen or dash, chances are they wouldn't spell the url properly in the first place :)

(yes, I have a dim view of the GP, almost as dim as that of certain clients.)


It may not make much difference in the SE world... but every little counts... lots of little contributions make a difference, sometimes the difference being above your main competitor!



Of course... I'm going by pure heresay... if yours is different and proven, please let me know so I can correct my view :)

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I was thinkig of "new" from scratch...


Ah... then yes I agree. Work from the ground up... once the business plan is in place of course :)


I would still expect to see a review of accessibility and usability after 3-4 months of monitoring. It usually takes this long to gather enough user data.


Keywords and internal link structure would also require a major review at this stage. It's highly unlikely for anyone to stumble upon the optimal link structure first time round.


Joking aside, i agree that the business plan is critical. However i'd be cautious of the terminology you use.


Many small businesses/startups don;t even know what a Request For Proposal is, let alone have one. Maybe that's a UK thing.


And the kind of clients who have a RFP are unlikely to approach someone who is just starting out.


Sure you want to fend off the tyre kickers and penny pinchers but in the early days you're going to be subjected to plenty of this.


It's a learning curve you've just got to go through.


Make sure you understand the business strategy side of things so you know what information you need from the client to be able to make the right proposal.


And try (very delicately) to find out what the budget is if you can. I got asked lots "how much is it?" spent hours researching keywords and competition and then gave the client a figure that was way off what it turned out they had to spend.


Turn the onus on them. Find out where they want their business to be in 12 months time and how much they can afford to invest. Then you can tell them if you think you can do it for that budget.



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Guest Autocrat



It amazes me how many differing start poitns there are... all looking at the same ting though.

I must admit that I'm impressed - not only do I see valid info... I get lots of nice new things to play with and think of.



For the "plan"side of things... I wouldn't expect any sole/independant trader, small business, startup or even some moderate size busiesses to have anything like that in their company, let alone for a website.


Most won't even want to hear about it as soon as they realise it will cost money.


For most of those businesses, they don't want to pay anything if they can avoid it ,(in fact, thats most businesses ;)).

So isntead, they will state things like (2we want to be top for words like X Y and Z" ... "we want to be higher than our evil counterparts, qwerty.ext" ... "we want 50 customers a day" and my favourite "I don't care how you do it, just make the others go away" :)



For cases such as that... I'd advise going to the library/bookshop and learning about business models, successful restructing, efficiency and production improvements, general marketing strategies, advertising campaigns, self promotion and personel developement.


It seems that in this sort of field, you need to know a lot about other peoples businesses to do well, as i the main case, the companies don't have a clue.



Of course... if it's a chain/franchise/corporation, national or international... make them give it to you.

There are companies that for a reasonable feewill spend 2 weeks analysing a company... andwill tell them where they were, where they are and where they can go... alog with how they got there and how to get there... (note, reasonable starts at around £5000 GBP).

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One last point before I hit the pub :cheers:


If you didn't notice, just about every point Autocrat made helps the human as well as the search engine.


You may have heard people say optimise for humans first and search engines second.


It just so happens that if you follow this principle you will naturally acquire a search engine friendly site.


For instance, placing your most relevant keywords early on in the sentence helps SEO.


Well it also helps humans because they skim read online and get bored quickly. Placing the most relevant keywords early on in the sentence increases your chances of gaining your visitors interest.


Placing them in your title tag helps humans because the title is the first thing they see in the SERPs. That also helps SEO.


Handy huh?


For an overview of a typical SEO strategy check this.

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An RFP/Q is a (somewhat to extremely) detailed document describing what is to be done and asking for a price. Much like handing a building (sub)contractor a set of blueprints for a house or prints and spec book for an apartment building and requesting a price. The smaller or simpler the structure the less that needs be detailed. It is the same building or renovating a domain.


As I mentioned many small/medium businesses won't have one. Your business model is yours but I never offered more than a half hour free consult. You want to plan your finances you pay the advisor's time, get legal advice you pay by the tenth-hour rounded up. The 'free' consult is not to do work, just to decide if you agree to do the work. The more you do for nothing the more the client will want done for nothing. Do as you will.


By expecting the client to either provide a proposal or pay for one, much like an accountant expects the accounts, it becomes a simple business requirement. If that client was planning to renovate their B&M store or build a new one there would be proposals in writing and contracts and communication all over the place. Why should renovating or building a web presence be any different? Only if you treat it differently. Don't.


Most of us started with the little jobs. That couple of hundred dollars for a half-days effort. Which far too often stretched to a weeks nitpicking and below minimum wage final return. A lot of the bad rep that web designers generally and SEOs particularly get tarred with is due to bad business behaviour - by client and contractor both.


If, as is often the case, the client really doesn't know what they need (and their wants may be ludicrously unrealistic) by requiring they pay your time to plan the project it focuses their attention, educates their expectations, and determines the contract price. Note: Always include a change order clause. Always.


Any SEO who says one-size-fits-all sign here and let's get going should be ashamed. First you plan for that client's specific needs, then you price it, and then you fulfill the contract. Note that tactics are third and last.

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let's get going


Depends in what context.


One should never suggest diving straight in without prior knowledge.


But if an opportunity for the client to get a head start has been indentified then they should be made aware.


If a core, clearly defined client objective can easily be realised early on, why not get the ball rolling.


This would require an element of pre-established trust.


As I mentioned many small/medium businesses won't have one.


Missed that point...



Edited by kestrel

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Autocrat, if you or the person you advise to plan to build a long term business, a matter of branding will crop up sooner or later. That's when having a domain with one or more words or even hyphens will become a problem for you.


The easier your name is to read and remember, the more efficient your branding will be. And brand is what helps you in the long run to drive conversions.


Brand is an often used word that few understand, so you can replace brand with trust and authority, assigned to a recognized identity.


Identifying trust and authority with 'buy-cheap-widgets.com' is a lot harder than with 'widgetize.com', in my opinion.


So if you want to make a long-lasting domain, you may want to go with a:

- short

- memorable

- verb/call to action


to build an effective, recognizable and trusted authority.


If you read SEO book once in a while, you'll know that Aaron published at search-marketing.info and switched to SEObook.

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Guest Autocrat

[Okay - Ive gone over this several times - rewritting as I go so it doesn't sound wrong]


Well, I'm going to state I disagree,



The whole arguemet for "hyphens" being hard to use aurally is so old it's unbelievable.

Additionally, they can manage "colon", "slash" and "dot" as well as the double sounding of "double u"... so adding in "hyphen" isn't really a major problem, is it?



Applying Marketing ideals for a "Brand Name" is good practice, but not a necessity. Some of the most world known "names" are just that... names! CocaCola was made up by the accountant (I think), Hoover is pretty obvious, Ford is well recognised etc.


You do not need something "snappy", "flash", "sharp" or "punchy" - what you need is good advertising in the first place - the name helps somewhat, but it never hurt companies like MicroStar, MicroSoft, Thesselar and Krup etc... and those are international companies that have been going for over 10 years each... the reason being is their products/service are good, reliable and noteworthy - or they had excessively aggressive marketing and business practices.


They made their Brand, with time and effort.




I can see you point - and it isn't the point I disagree with... it is the reasoning behind it :)


Look at "Liquorice with a twist" - thats the company name, motiff and slogan.

look at the urls (with and without hyphens).

do you know which one people use the most and which one people remember the most?


Why? Because it is breaking it up into two smaller chunks - an item and an image.

Should it have been






(actually, I like the sound of that!).




What about the once highly thought of option of naming something for it's purpose/function. Admittedly it seems to have died out - yet was once a marketing ideal!

Basically, things change, and different situations require different things.


There was no way LWAT was going to go for anything different - no matter what was said (as I didn't want to type that name in!).

They also lacked a major marketing budget.

Yet their branding has worked.

They are level competition with their main competitor - they get a fair bit of work with no real effort and lots of repeat custom.



Just to clarify again - I'm not saying you are wrong - merely that I think it is a general approach that may not be feasible/advisable/wanted in some situations.




A Little more back on topic...


The general point seems correct though... you should know where you are going and what you want to achieve... and plan for that goal.

My suggestiosn were generic for the site and for business in general.

The majority of other points were to handle the "iamge" and how inportant it is to push that (no matter how it's named/branded etc.), the fact remains that it needs to be spoon-fed to people so often that when ever they think of ABC - they think of company XYZ.


If the company has a brand image, different to the company, try to get that in the URL... maybe haeva few DNs for the CompanyName and the SiteNAme - they don't have to be limited (LWAT have 4... w-w/o hyphen... .co.uk+.com), and have considered LWAT as well.

So cover all the bases as best you can... keep track of things,

(which I must admit I've never done, but shallsoon start :)), and see what needs a nudge.

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Well - that has less than what we've already covered :)


As for Google thinking it spam - it apparently takes a fair few hyphens before google is concerned (apaprently they look for 3+ ?).


Then again - as I've found with some/most of the SEO stuff... at it's best it's all guestimates and heresay anyway. AS the SE's aren't telling us, we go by what appears to work (not always an actuality)... plus I haven't seen any f the "big guns" on this topic... and I have lokoed a couple of times.



So I'm mooting it :)

Edited by Autocrat

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If, as is often the case, the client really doesn't know what they need (and their wants may be ludicrously unrealistic) by requiring they pay your time to plan the project it focuses their attention, educates their expectations, and determines the contract price. Note: Always include a change order clause. Always.


Any SEO who says one-size-fits-all sign here and let's get going should be ashamed. First you plan for that client's specific needs, then you price it, and then you fulfill the contract. Note that tactics are third and last.


I think those are all really very good points.


I know that we've been writiing a lot about all the stuff that happens before you ever get to the nuts and bolts of optimizing the pages of a site, but starting out on the right foot can make all the difference.


There's a moment that may be slightly different for everyone who offers SEO services, where the sales process turns into the contract creation process. It can really be helpful if you can do some scoping of a project before you are committed to providing services, and learn whether or not you can even get to that nuts and bolts stage.


Coming up with a set of questions that you can ask your prospective clients can make the difference between an ineffective relationship, and a very successful one. Doing some initial analysis of their site and their market can also help.


There are people who will come to you with a request for you to perform SEO on their site without wanting to make changes to the code or content of their site. Or they may not have the ability to make those changes because of the platform that they are on, or possess the knowledge to make those changes themselves and not have the budget to hire someone to make changes.


It might be helpful for us to come up with some of the questions that an SEO or SEO firm should ask of a prospective client before getting too deeply into those questions about business objectives of a site, or who the audiences are, or the competitors.


These kinds of questions might be the first round of a pre-qualification process. They are intended to help you know if you can even provide services to a potential client. Some of them might be:

  • If you are using a content management system (CMS) or ecommerce platform for your site, which one is it?

  • Would you be willing to change the CMS or ecommerce platform you are using if we determine that there are others that will be more effective?

  • How open are you to changing the content and HTML for your pages?

  • Do you have a designer or developer or both working with you on the site (either inhouse or hired) who can put recommended changes into effect?

  • What is the development or change process like, when you want to make changes, including the time that it typically takes to make changes?

  • Have you worked with other SEO service providers in the past on your site?

  • Do you have related sites that might contain some of the same content or cover some of the same areas?

  • If the client has pages that use flash, or are planning on using flash in the future, how willing are they to implement the flash aspects of their site in a search engine frinedly manner?

It can really make your life easier as an SEO if you come up with a set of questions like this, and probably a little more detailed, to use when talking with someone who has expressed an interest in having you do SEO on their site.


Some clients may just want you to do linkbuilding or linkbaiting or other services that don't involve changes to their sites. But if they express an interest in having their pages rank well in search engines, it can really help if they have the ability to implement changes that you suggest involving the content and code of their pages, and knowing the answers to questions like these can really help you.


Any other questions that I didn't include that should be part of this process?

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Autocrat, I don't think I have mentioned the complexity of pronouncing, comprehending or typing in hyphens.


The question of branding is that a shorter, remarkable name is more easily remembered and thus, branded. You want people to remember your company as Liquorice (even at that, it is a bit complicated), than Liquorice-withatwist. In fact, I'd make it "Liquorize" so it could be easily understood and related to.


Here's what makes a domain name harder to remember:

- an unknown word

- a long word

- more than one word

- a punctuation mark (two, or more)


The easier your name is to remember, the stronger the brand will be.


Of course, if the word is new, you'll make some effort for people to remember it, for exceptional value of the offer, for example.


A longer name can be branded, too (heck, my own site is improvetheweb.com), but it'll take more effort and will pose some issues in the long run.


But if you are starting out, you'd rather start with:

- a short name with a call to action (Liquorize.com, Improve.com, etc)

- a new word (Boako)

- create a derivative: Liquorize is a derivative from liquor (Liquor+ize)


But as you said, if you don't create a brandable name, it won't punch you in the face. It'll slow you down years after you have started the business. So, the pronunciation/comprehension issues are the least important here, they are only a part of the branding problem.


Here are a couple of links from Aaron Wall about domain names:






Bill, other questions I'd include would be:

- who will be creating the content? Will I be hiring the copywriters?

- will you (your company, including your developer) be changing the site after I optimize it?

- do you have any tracking system install to follow results and ROI?

- do you have anyone more or less knowledgeable in SEO on your side?

- is your budget fixed or you are ready to pay for absolutely required work?


While clients generally don't like talking about their budget, it might help to identify, whether they are willing to accept more ideas and ways to improve their website and strategies and if they are willing to invest money in it.


If they only have a fixed (and a limited) budget, then you should probably do the absolutely required stuff, maybe skipping the 20% of the high-end improvements.

Edited by A.N.Onym

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Guest Autocrat


Good poitns - I'm jsut not sure if the "market" is the same as 10/20/30 years ago when most of these "rules" evolved... though I must admit it seems some are "durable"... (odd numbers of letters work better, double letters work better - statements gain more interest than labels etc.).


Is there a way to check - a real "test" .... two sites with the same content, simply substituting the URL/names in the right place ... would that enable us to see whether it really makes a difference (would be fun to perform such tests... as tjhen we can actually add some sort of metrice to thigns and "know" what it does (at least for a short time till the bleeders change things :infinite-banana: ).






*General, Short term and Long term goals.


*If there are particular companies to best.


*Do they already have an "image" or "brand" in place that can be pushed. (see - I do agree with it somewhat :) )


* What type of campaign are they wanting - viral, advertising etc.


Do those count?

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I like to ask the following questions (some may be duplicated):


• What are your business objectives i.e. increased traffic, sales, enquiries

or brand visibility?

• What are your short term and long term goals?

• What marketing strategies do you currently have in place?

• Who is your target audience?

• What are your core products or services?

• What are your primary & secondary key phrases?

• How do you currently measure performance and what are the results?

• Have you calculated how much an online lead or sale is worth to you?

• What skills do you already have in-house?

• Are there any design, infrastructure or development considerations?

• Is there any other advertising & when are the flight dates?

• Have there been any SEO efforts recently or in the past?

• Who do you consider to be your competitors?

• Are you equipped to handle an increase in business?

• How are you driving traffic to your site now?

• Is the landing page that appears in the SERP’s the one you want to appear?

• Do you know what percentage of your Share of Traffic is for your Keywords?

• Have you conducted a Keyword Analysis?

• How much traffic are you getting now? Organic vs. Paid?

• What are your highest traffic keywords?

• Do you use Web Analytics?

• What’s the budget?


It's a fine balancing act and you have to be very sensitive, especially with the the last one.


And while it does seem daunting and requires confidence to ask such questions, it really does pay dividends to cover this ground before making a proposal.


Without at least a good picture of the above, it's questionable as to whether your proposal can be considered realistic.


And asking such questions helps the sales process.


The client appreciates that you are taking so much interest in their project. Remember they are as enthusiastic about their business as you are yours.


Would you take someones advice about something you had invested so much in, both financially and emotionally, when they hadn't bothered to fully understand what your hopes and aspirations are?





Edited by kestrel

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As far as I'm concerned if people don't ask questions... they either have no real interest - or more fatal in some regards, believe they know what you wat automatically (as as I've never knowingly met a mind reader or pre-cognitive...).



So ask ad ask and ask.


Do not worry about asking for a budget.

Simply state that it helps define what can be done and help prioritise some of the events.

Also state that it's company policy to try to come in under budget whenever possible.

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We really should have better things to do on a Sunday :cheers:


Do not worry about asking for a budget.

Simply state that it helps define what can be done and help prioritise some of the events.

Also state that it's company policy to try to come in under budget whenever possible.


That sounds like a very good way of handling the subject.


I no longer worry about asking about the budget because it is difficult to create a proposal that meets the clients expectations without knowing what their aspirations are.


Many a time I have proposed the all singing, all dancing solution, only to find that the budget would not permit.


Had I have known the budget prior then I would have been better placed to suggest a realsitic solution.




Edited by kestrel

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Good thing is nowadays using a proven cms system like wordpress or drupal does all that things for you. About using hyphens in domain name I posted about a little trick about choosing a subdomain name that many are not aware of.

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CMS only do so much... and most of the templates/themes I've seen are rather bad in many respects... missing some ofthe more obvious "tricks" and then you ahve the issue of the actual content... if the clients/admin do not make good copy... the tags won't be of much help.


Not to sure about the trick - but if it's verified - damn well done that man!

(quite a novel trick).

Edited by Autocrat

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It is not verified, I was using common sense. If google is using an algorithm to split words, it will sure use the same (or a very similar one) for Did you mean? help. No reason not to. And the guess is good as any other. Sometimes you need to be on the edge, to be on the edge :)

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