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Monday, February 11, 2008

The SEO Success Pyramid

John Wooden, the greatest basketball coach ever, never talked to his teams about winning. He talked to them about preparation and about the process of becoming a great team.

Wooden’s philosophy on coaching (and life) is summed up in the “Pyramid of Success,” which beats the tail off all that Self-Help Guru junk you see peddled in books, on blogs, on daytime chat shows, and on late night TV. I was lucky to hear Coach Wooden speak about the Pyramid of Success while I was a student at Pepperdine University; to this day, it’s one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. (Seriously, if you don’t know what his Pyramid of Success is, visit

What’s all this have to do with SEO and online marketing? Well, the best SEOs don’t talk to their clients about rankings; they talk about the process of making great web sites that earn traffic and convert visitors into customers. They talk about the process of creating great content that attracts links like bees to honey.

I would never compare myself to John Wooden, but I do like teaching others about online marketing. So, with that in mind, and inspired by the great coach, here is the….

SEO Success Pyramid

What’s It All Mean?


Every successful project I’ve ever worked on has involved a client whose team is enthusiastic and engaged. Whether you’re big or small, one uninterested department or person can sabotage everything.


Success in any pursuit begins with setting goals and developing a plan to achieve them — detailing the strategies and tactics you’ll use, the people and resources needed, and so forth. Search marketing is no different.


Although you can fool some people into buying crap for a while, real long-term success involves a product or service that people want or need. There’s no substitute for quality.


You’re a business owner; you don’t need to become an SEO expert. But you’ll succeed faster if you have access to great information. And as fast as the search marketing industry changes, ongoing access to intelligent information is critical.


True, there are exceptions every now and then, but for the vast majority of companies big or small, search marketing is a process that takes time to implement correctly. There are no short cuts, no quick fixes. Success almost always takes many months, if not a year or more.

Design & Usability:

Yes, there are some ugly sites that make lots of money; but there are more that don’t. Your best bet is to have a web site that’s attractive and easy to use. Get out of your customers’ way and let them do what they came to your site to do.

Keyword Research:

If you target the wrong keywords, you’re doomed to fail. You’ve heard that a million times, I hope. More than that, you also need to know what to do with your keywords.


How will you know you’re successful if you have no way of measuring what you’ve done? Measure, analyze, adjust strategies and tactics as needed.


Having access to appropriate SEO tools can give you an advantage over the competition. Of course, more important than the tools is knowing how to interpret the data they provide.


A search engine cannot index pages that its spider cannot crawl. Be careful with the Flash movies, the complicated DHTML and javascript, the robots.txt file, etc.


This can take many forms: a blog, articles, videos, a FAQ page, or even user-generated content like product/service reviews. When you get this one right, you’ll have an easier time getting…


Your great content isn’t going to rank well without links, preferably from relevant, quality sites. I brain-dumped (almost) everything I know about links early last year.

Social/Local Findability:

Let me explain this since I might be inventing a new term. Social Media Marketing and Local Search are musts. The size and scope of your company may dictate which you emphasize more, but neither should be ignored. Local SEO is a must for most small businesses, but social media can work, too. Bigger companies that target an audience more than a location will find social media offers a lot of opportunities. In either case, the goal is findability. You want customers to be able to find you as easily as possible.

Reputation Management:

It’s imperative to know what people are saying about your company. This isn’t just for Big Business, either: An old client of mine runs the only roller skating rink in our area, yet is probably losing business because they have a couple negative reviews on a certain Local Search site. Given the growing influence of user reviews, knowing how to manage your reputation is a must.


In my first post of 2007, I said trust is the No. 1 factor, and nothing has changed since then. Trusted domains are powerful domains. When you have trust, from users and search engines, you’re on the way to search marketing success.

As you climb the pyramid, you’ll find buzz/word-of-mouth marketing or maybe community helping you along. To a large degree, these are two sides of the same coin. It’s the people factor, the human element that often separates the winners and losers in search marketing. Get people talking positively about you, whether it be one-to-one conversation among friends or in the larger setting of an online community, and you’ll climb the pyramid that much faster.


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