SEO Advice: Learn to Walk Before You Run


It’s a magical time of year! In a few days, Rhea and Michelle will head down to NYC for SearchLove NY. Once they get back, I’ll fly to LA to speak at BlogWorld, before meeting up with the both of them and Danika in Vegas for Pubcon. When that ends, I’ll hop on a red eye and head back home to speak at TedxAlbany.

That smell in the air? Yep. It’s officially conference season.

Conference season is a little bittersweet. On one hand, we absolutely love it. It gives us the opportunity to catch up with friends, meet up with readers and clients, and we know we’re going to come home filled with new ideas and learnings.  Lots of ideas and new learnings.

But there’s a drawback to that. If you’ve ever attended one of the premier Internet marketing conferences you know they often cater to the industry’s ADHD.  Instead of staying the course, mastering the basics and doing what’s always worked – we run to the latest shiny tool, method or announcement that came from the conference. And then we obsess over it and making it work for our sites, forgetting everything else and potentially damaging our existing campaigns.  And that’s a serious problem.  Because even though we like to think otherwise, you have to learn to walk before you can run.

Yes, even in SEO.

To help ward SEOs from falling off the shiny ledge, below are a list of SEO basics to make sure you’ve mastered BEFORE you start acting on what you or others will hear at any of the upcoming search conferences. Because you can’t build a house by skipping over the foundation.

Build a Strong Site Architecture

What’s the current state of your site architecture? Have you made it as flat and easily spiderable as possible or are you in a contest with yourself to see just how far away you can get that page to sit from your root domain? Don’t laugh. You know sites like that. We all do. Sub domains and folders have their place, but the more distance you put between your page and that root domain, the more obstacles you’re throwing in front of both users and the engines. And they may have trouble keeping up.

What does your navigation system look like? Is it straight HTML or have you taken the Bruce Clay, Inc. approach to site navs and begun incorporating Flash and JavaScript [We love you, Bruce. We just hate your navigation.]? If it’s the latter, have you at least included an HTML version somewhere else so that blind, deaf and dumb search engines can access it? If not, put the fancy tools down. You’re not ready for those yet.

What does your linking look like? Are you linking appropriately from within your site and taking advantage of internal resources or are you leaving that traffic on the table? There are starving sites in Africa, you know?

What do your site URLs look like? Are they parameter-stuffed or are have you created static URLs for all of your pages?

Your site is nothing without proper site architecture. If you don’t have this squared away, then you have no business looking into advanced levels of search engine optimization. Start here.

Create A Link Building Strategy

It’s hard NOT to come back from a conference (or a trip through the blogosphere) without your mind swirling from all the new ways experts are now suggesting to get links. There are so many creative tactics to try out, types of personae to use, and ways to just walk the line without getting into trouble. But before you start on those – have you hit the basics?

Have you mastered the small business link building basics and figured out how to use your size and your relationships to build links? Have you taken steps to make your site a source for news and made it easy for visitors to share your content? Because those easy-to-scoop-up links (directories, chamber of commerce, local organizations, social media portals) will help you form the link building foundation that the more advanced link building tactics will be built upon. Without those, you’re starting below the curve.

Have you done the proper keyword research to understand what keyword phrases you want to build links for, instead of blinding collecting heavily branded links? Are you diversifying your anchor text so Google doesn’t ding you for being just “too perfect”?

Because of its inherent sexiness, it’s easy to want to run before you walk in link building. But in doing that you’ll neuter your efforts by ignoring all the opportunities for links that are staring you in the face.

Build Your Content Assets

Going back to keyword research, are you working those terms and phrases into your content in smart ways?

Have you taken inventory of the link-worthy assets you already have on your site before you invest in new ones? An average site may already be sitting on a goldmine of tools, white papers, blog posts, How To content, videos, eBooks, webinars, etc, without ever realizing it. Show off your assets; don’t hide them.

Then look for ways reskin and recycle your content so you’re not reinventing the wheel every day.

Are you analyzing what types of content your competitors are using and looking at their strategy and schedule of content creation? Knowing what schedule they’re on and how quickly they’re producing content can be invaluable when trying to come up with your own editorial calendar. It will also help you get insight in what’s working for them, what techniques you can rework for yourself, and where you can totally trump them.

Once you know what you have and what you need – are you going back and creating your own link-worthy assets? Whether that means whitepapers, blog posts, infographics, in-depth How Tos, video content, eBooks, or webinars – are you creating content that is designed to attract links?

Once you have the content, are you promoting them and asking for ReTweets?

Build Your Pesky Social Presence

Spend a few days attending BlogWorld or PubCon and you’re sure to come back with a head filled with ideas for how you can better use social media to drive leads and connect with customers. Hell, some presenters will even provide tips for how you can increase your revenue through social media by automating the whole thing! Before you fall totally down the rabbit hole, make sure you’ve set the groundwork for social interaction with your brand?

Is there a social media policy in place so that both yourself and your team has a game plan for interaction? One that will instruct them on to build a character, how to handle common situations, and what the goal of your interaction is?

Have you created a Linkerati List so you know whose radar it is you’re trying to get on? Are you using social media influence tools to help you figure it out?

When you’re building up your presence on the different channels, are you focusing on they why or are you just asking them to like your page and promising them nothing?

Focus On Real Site Value 

So here’s a question not too many people ask themselves – Does your site deserve #1? I mean, truly, do you deserve to be ranked higher than your competitor in a court of your peers? Why? Tell me?

And if you can’t give me a list of reasons, then the answer is probably no. And you need to fix that first.  The truth is the best SEO anyone can give you is to have a great product and to provide a great experience. Even when Joe Hall and I were bickering a few weeks ago, that’s something we both agreed on. If your site, your product and the experience you’re creating isn’t rock solid, then nothing else matters.

Everything listed above? Those are just the basics. It’s everything you should have in order to ensure that your site is functional, rankable, and has the ability to go higher.   If your site’s not at this level yet, then I’d work on getting it there before you go ahead and jump at whatever you may hear at the end-of-year conferences that are about to take place.

Just my two cents, of course.

Your Comments

  • yankeerudy

    Another great kick in the ass post, Lisa. We do tend towards ADHD behavior, and the attraction of the new and shiny can be overwhelming. But, as you said, without the foundational stuff none of the shiny will help.

    Thanks for the booster shot of reality before the conference season.

  • Ryan Hanley


    What I hear from this post is Link Building takes time and effort just like anything else and “Get Links Quick” strategy can be perilous if you are not prepared.

    Also the simple idea of deserving the #1 spot is excellent. We all want to have our site show #1 on Google. But have we done the things necessary to get there? Most probably have not.

    Great stuff,

    Ryan H.

  • Mike Feiman

    Great post Lisa. It’s refreshing to hear an SEOer talking basic blocking and tackling instead of chasing the latest theory. Hope to run into you at PUBCON (it was very nice meeting you last year).

  • Jon-Mikel Bailey

    Brilliant post, especially the last piece about your site’s value. I think this is something any online marketer should ask themselves on a daily basis, “do you deserve to be ranked higher than your competitor in a court of your peers? Why?” If the answer is no, then what needs to happen to make it so? Great post, thanks!

  • Joel

    Thanks for all those tips. I never really thought much about my site architecture.

  • NobelNerd

    I dont get to attend any of the Conferences as they are very far from my reach so my only source is useful articles thanks for great article.
    But what I am more curious about this article is some of the comments are follow while some are no follow.
    I would like to know that.

    • Lisa Barone

      Hey, a valid question. We like to reward active commenters and community members with a followed link. So after you’ve left a certain number of valuable comments (I’m honestly not sure what the exactly # is and we don’t want to encourage people to leave a specific number ;)), the nofollow is removed from your link. Hope that helps. :)

  • Jeffrey Romano

    I agree with Jon-Mikel. I have never really given much thought about whether my site ‘deserves’ to be number 1, mostly I would just see how to get there. Very useful post. Will be saving it for future reference.

  • Conor MacEvilly

    Hi Lisa
    Great post especially for a non-SEO type like me who has a shiny new website and obviously I want to be a the top of page 1 for every keyword known to man kind that relates to my industry. There is a lot of SEO snake oil out there and your post is an important reminder for me to have the basics in place first otherwise I’m doomed to page 25.
    In regards to “does your site deserve to be # 1?” I sometimes look at competing sites and wonder how did that useless site get to the top of the pile, they don’t deserve to be there! There’s no accounting for Google’s taste sometimes!

  • nobelnerd

    Wow awesome..good helpful article+follow link.

    yeah ok i would love to be your permanent reader wish i could find more ones like you.

  • Darren

    Nice point in this article. I think most people would have a hard time answering the question “does your site deserve to be number one?” objectively. If you put a lot of work into your website, you undoubtedly feel you deserve a high ranking.

  • Chad

    I find it amazing how many local companies I work with don’t include local keywords or at least their business address on the homepage. This is definitely a first step before launching an in depth seo campaign.

  • Lannon

    Good point on the social presence – are you focusing on “the why”!? I remember reading that post a while ago too “why your customers hate you on facebook”, lately I despise it when I’m asked to “like” a page for no reason. I also quickly changed my game plan recently and included more rewards and interaction for our users from our social pages. It really has helped, thanks to you guys by the way! :)

  • Jordan J. Caron

    I’ve really found that it really comes down to linkbuilding. Of course all of the other things you have listed shouldn’t be overlooked. But linkbuilding on the local seo world is the biggest difference maker.