The Basics of Search Engine Optimization

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The Basics of Search Engine Optimization

This morning, I presented at the Direct Marketing Association’s ACCM conference (for catalog retailers.) I always enjoy these specialized conferences because we can talk specifically about selling products online and how SEO can increase business, simply from changes in how one approaches the website.

This presentation was inspired from a question asked from a prior conference. The question asked what is the top 3 things that businesses do wrong? It took me a while to distill it to three things, but I think I can summarize that most problems come from these problems in large companies.

Top Three Mistakes:

1. Branding comes before marketing tactics. Many times, a company’s branding policies will conflict with the necessary elements of an optimization campaign. I see this many times when a company name is the only information that can be placed in the page title. Of course, the page title is one of the most critical elements of on-page optimization, so the conflict is obvious. Unfortunately, some companies think this is a debatable issue, but it is not.

2. Call things what they are. Related to this, many companies try to define their markets by creating fancy branded product names, rather than simply calling stuff what it is. This is one of the primary problems I see, and the simplest of keyword research will show that customers do not search for these branded terms, they search for what they know and they use their words to define products, not the company’s terms.

3. The basis of optimization is the customer experience. (Yes, I know that isn’t a mistake, but to think otherwise might get you in trouble.) The search engines are trying to evaluate web pages on the basis of what a human would think is the most relevant, so optimizing your content and your presentation for users, using basic SEO principles, will help you rank well in the search engines. This is one of those phenomena that have been part of search since the early days. Do what is best for your users, and the search engine success will follow.

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About the Author:

Matt has taught Google employees how to understand and use Google Analytics, consulted with Experian on how to present data, developed online marketing training for both Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson and presented analytics methodologies to Disney, ABC & ESPN. As founder of SiteLogic, Matt teaches marketers how to create measurable and profitable strategic marketing plans.


  1. Jason May 23, 2007 at 8:38 am - Reply

    I need to disagree with you on number 1. White you can’t sacrifice your entire campaign for branded keywords, branding absolutely has to come before the rest of the campaign.

    Especially for large businesses, brand is everything – from an seo perspective, brand-related keyphrases will always be significant traffic drivers, people searching on branded keyphrases are often in the buy portion of the buying cycle, and branding is the only thing that ties offline and online marketing together.

    as an seo, its your job to preserve online branding while reaching out and penetrating other areas of the search market

  2. Jim Hobson May 23, 2007 at 10:40 am - Reply

    I have to agree fully with the three points. In summation it equals having the client check their ego at the door and focus on practicality. We tactfully remind or clients that “it’s about them, not about you”. Most clients seem to understand, especially when the results are positive . . . and then there are those that learn the hard way.

  3. Matt Bailey May 23, 2007 at 10:50 am - Reply

    Jason, thank you very much for your comments. I apreciate your time in providing your opinion.

    Jim, great points – it is ALL about the customer. This is a different medium, and the customer is in control.

    While branding is important, comparitively few people search by brand until they are in the final stages of a purchase. Someone like Geico can rely on their brand, but the amount of people searching for ‘car insurance’ is far more than the number of people that search for Geico. It’s like this in every category i have ever researched. In that case, branding has to be hand in hand with the keyword strategy.

    Branding is even more fruitless when you try to define a product with a branded name that no one has ever heard of. The example I gave in the powerpoint deck is a company that sells ‘muti-layer fibrous impact fasteners’, while their customers search for ‘nails.’ It’s pointless to try to define the market. The customers will call it what they will and the only means of reaching them is to listen and use their language.

    I don’t disagree with branding. It has it’s place. But placing branding above all else will cause you to be MIA when people search for your actual “stuff”.

  4. Kim Krause Berg (cre8pc) May 23, 2007 at 11:39 am - Reply

    And then there’s oddball cases such as my own, where I had no brand whatsoever in the 1990’s, but I did provide a service. That service fell under a weird business name that nobody could spell or pronounce.

    When I learned more about marketing, I wasn’t comfortable pushing my company name, (which was chosen without any idea that it would someday actually matter…the work I did was freelance and labor of love back then). I did focus on keywords and SEO efforts related to the industry I was in because that’s what people were looking for.

    Now, with over 10 years behind me, that paid off so that I’m searched for by my name, business name and keywords and all of them provide results. Had I solely focused on just “Cre8pc” 10 years ago, I would have needed something like the Geico cavemen to make my service look interesting.

    Even more interesting is that now you can mis-spell “Cre8pc” and Google will still return my site(s). That wasn’t accomplished by any branding efforts.

  5. Darwin Hall May 24, 2007 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    I totally agree with all 3 points, but I have a special relationship with your second point, calling things what they are.

    It almost seems that a client without any knowledge of web marketing could totally submit to the idea of “web-speak” in relation to keyword selection. But at times companies with just enough web marketing understanding can many times handicap themselves by force there company-speak to their online audience. Which of course happens because they don’t know, what they don’t know.

    So many companies shoot themselves in the foot everyday by doing just what you are advising against.

  6. Denver Web Design May 25, 2007 at 8:28 am - Reply

    I agree wholeheartedly that so much of it boils down to customer experience. It doesn’t matter how many eyeballs you can bring to the site(along with their shiny wallets), if they aren’t converted into buyers.

  7. Aditya May 29, 2007 at 5:58 am - Reply

    I disagree with point 1. Branding is vital to any business offline or online. First page title is the place which gets maiximum eyeballs. One needs to place the company name over there for maximum branding effect.

  8. Keely May 29, 2007 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    I agree totally. re Point 1: I had the company as the title tag, and as soon as I optimised this tag (added keywords) we were first page Google.

    I was wrapt.

    Thanks for all your good advice.

  9. DaveO May 30, 2007 at 3:40 am - Reply

    I think you have hit the nail on the head with your point about branding. As an in-house SEO, I have been at loggerheads with our marketing dept for ages. “It’s got to be purple, you can’t put a big phone number on the site it makes us look cheap etc etc”. I often think that they would prefer to look amazing and be poor, rather than look great and be rich!

    Business generated from the website stood at about 60K/pa only. It was very much seen as an informational website.

    Since I have been given more autonomy by the MD to create ad-specific and demographic-specific landing site/pages with optimised titles, headers and content, that has increased in just 3 months to a projected annual figure of over £1m.

    Nuff said!

  10. Reg Charie May 31, 2007 at 1:00 am - Reply

    What comes first, the cart or the horse?

    If a new company/product, then focusing on branding will result in poor SEO as nobody will be searching for the term.

    If an older company with an established or semi established brand, I would be certain to include it in the primary page’s content and code.

  11. Matt Bailey May 31, 2007 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    Thank you for all of your perspectives on the issue of branding. I think this really strikes many people, as it is a pain point for many search marketers.

    Keely – isn’t it amazing how simple and easy it is?

    DaveO – Fantastic! I love hearing about people’s success. Especially the in-house guys that hold out and finally get results.

    Traditional agencies have made a living out of branding, and unfortunately, it just doesn’t work the same way in search.

  12. Code June 18, 2007 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    Yeah I absolutely agree with those points.
    IMO, the first point is the most important thing to do.

  13. DarkMatter January 15, 2008 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    I’ve worked for 2 companies so far that have blown their PPC budget on high-cost, low conversion branded keywords. In both cases, they concluded that PPC had no value for their company.

    A well branded page that doesn’t rank for relevant terms that convert is worthless.

    A poorly branded page that ranks for many valuable keywords will sell products. (I know, I have a bunch of these)

    I go where the money is.

  14. Internet Marketing Agency June 25, 2008 at 11:06 pm - Reply

    Hi Matt

    On point 1, I certainly agree that the brand/company name shouldnt be the only thing in the title tag, however I do believe brand/company name does need to be displayed. Placement of the brand in the title tag can also be debated, in the front or at the end. My view is that it all depends on the power of the brand. If you have a powerful brand, place it at the front. If you have a week brand, place it at the end.

    Point 2, Call it how it is? In this day and age a strategic approach to SEO is a must. With increasing competition for high rankings on high trafficked keywords it can be almost impossible for small companies with limited budgets to rank for competitive keywords. Thus there are occasions when developing your own keywords for products or services are appropriate. Using your sites content and your other marketing communications to brand these keywords can often payoff over the long term with targeted traffic.

  15. USA Credit Union May 26, 2009 at 1:43 am - Reply

    I totally agree with all 3 points, but I have a special relationship with your second point, calling things what they are.

    It almost seems that a client without any knowledge of web marketing could totally submit to the idea of “web-speak” in relation to keyword selection. But at times companies with just enough web marketing understanding can many times handicap themselves by force there company-speak to their online audience. Which of course happens because they don’t know, what they don’t know.

    So many companies shoot themselves in the foot everyday by doing just what you are advising against.

  16. Rudiawan Lukman August 22, 2009 at 8:22 am - Reply

    Thank you Matt for providing great advice in this blog. I really enjoy reading your blog and learn a lot from you and other contributors here.

    – Rudi

  17. cristian December 5, 2009 at 9:51 am - Reply

    I think there is enough room both for branding and solid keyword optimization.

    A good method of leveraging these assets and reap the overall benefit, namely high rankings, is to organically embed one within the other, thus creating a comprehensive image of the company, built on the offer it presents and easily diggested by the customers.

    As Matt pointed out, there are companies that just want their name poping up all over the web when their niche market is mentioned. Dealing with this expectation is really a matter of logic and common sense. For SEOs things are cristal clear.

    Thanks, Matt for this solid entry.

  18. Coupons March 7, 2010 at 1:21 am - Reply

    I found this post via one of your more recent posts. I truly am impressed by this post. It is very usefull for me explaining SEO importance to my clients.

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