Are You in the Organic Search Game?

Successful organic SEO programs are in many ways like winning basketball teams. The players must know how to execute the fundamentals. They must be willing to make rapid changes of direction and evaluate the risk accompanying every shot taken.

the search game is like basketballSuccessful organic SEO programs are in many ways like winning basketball teams. The players must know how to execute the fundamentals. They must be willing to make rapid changes of direction and evaluate the risk accompanying every shot taken.

I refereed high school basketball for about 15 years and can assure you that the very best teams, even those with tremendous talent on the floor, don’t just roll the ball out and play. That type of game is reserved for playground pick-up games. The best teams protect the ball as they move it down the court, work the ball on the offensive end, and look for the open shot. They have scripted offenses and clear defensive schemes. Today’s game has placed a lot of emphasis on the three-point shot, but even the best three-point shooters are more likely to miss at that range than the player making an at-the-rim slam dunk.

SEOs don’t get many open rim shots, so we must constantly look for the best shot.

Game Plan

The best search teams focus on the making sure that the fundamental elements of organic search are properly executed.

  • Are all key pages optimized?
  • Is there a consistent formula for stress-free optimization?
  • Can new pages be added seamlessly?
  • Is there a clearly articulated content creation scheme?

That is the equivalent of good ball-handling. Nimble SEO teams have in place the processes that let them move the SEO ball, their site optimization, down the court without dribbling it off of their foot.

With the complexity of today’s sites, making sure that the procedures are in place to ensure consistent high-quality initial optimization is an essential and complex task. As an SEO consultant, I have encountered a number of organizations where the essential routines for optimization are not codified and the processes are ad hoc. These organizations are playing the equivalent of pick-up ball with their SEO.

Execution

Just like today’s basketball defenses, search engines have evolved from easy-to-manipulate to very complex multi-layered technologies. Every successful search marketer has to be able to evaluate the impact each new change will have on their site and then adjust.

  • Is it worth the cost and effort to make the site secure?
  • How deep should the commitment be to mobile optimization?
  • What about making improvements to site speed?

Making the decisions that go into these are analogous to working the ball on offense. Not every team can run-and-gun. Each must work to their own strengths. It is easy to be driven off-track by the newest shiny object and lose sight of the overall goal: more qualified traffic.

Post-Game Review

College basketball uses a shot clock, and teams on offense sometimes let valuable seconds on the clock tick away while they seem to aimlessly move the ball around. With no time left, they either turn the ball over or put up a bad shot. They either had no real plan or could not adjust to the defense.

Google, in particular, usually signals major changes with enough time to allow site owners to react. The search marketing team must read the defense and adjust. When a major change is hinted, you and your search team are on the clock. Plan your offense early and know that the clock is ticking. If you do, then you will get your shot off with plenty of time left on the clock.

Evaluating, revisiting and tweaking your optimization will ensure more open shots and slam dunks. Your evaluation should be holistic, the site audit process is broadly used. This will uncover weaknesses and areas that may need immediate attention. Highly specific actions should focus on areas where minimal effort will yield large gains.

Creation of optimized content and re-optimization of individual pages can be very specific and result in almost immediate traffic boosts. These are your slam dunks. They only come from using your analytical tools in concert with a well thought-out game plan.

Just like basketball, search is competitive. Don’t just roll the ball out. Build a team and a plan that makes your search team a winner.

Beyond Data: Why ‘Grit’ May Matter More

This past month, I was reminded how vital it is to have grit to achieve success, that is “true grit.” The sports world gave us an improbable U.S. Men’s College Basketball champion in the UConn (University of Connecticut) Huskies. Only one lower-seeded team in the history of the NCAA men’s tournament—Villanova in 1985—has reached the March Madness pinnacle. UConn achieved this success against all odds

This past month, I was reminded how vital it is to have grit to achieve success, that is “true grit.”

The sports world gave us an improbable U.S. Men’s College Basketball champion in the UConn (University of Connecticut) Huskies. Only one lower-seeded team in the history of the NCAA men’s tournament—Villanova in 1985—has reached the March Madness pinnacle. (Ironically, UConn also produced a most probable champion, too, in women’s college basketball this year.)

UConn achieved this success against all odds—well 100:1 odds anyway.

Statistically, UConn didn’t have a chance … the team was 144th in the country in points scored, 146th in offensive rebounds, 179th in assists and 142nd in field goal percentage. Defensively, they fared better—31st in points allowed, 75th in defensive rebounds, 8th in blocks and 80th in steals. Of the six games it played in the tourney, it was an underdog in the last five. Collectively, the data revealed a team that was hardly top-tier basketball.

After two years of tumult, its Hall of Fame coach was gone, its big stars had bolted under a one-year tournament ban issued by the NCAA—and nearly every power conference in the country said “no, we’ll pass” on UConn membership. The team was stuck in a conference no one wants or respects (well, maybe, now they do). Its last game of the regular season, UConn was beaten by more than 30 points.

No wonder only 0.3 percent of the tournament brackets filled out by fans picked UConn to win it all—and you have to wonder if any of the UConn picks were from outside the state of Connecticut.

But the data lied.

Or, more accurately, the data—the available data—could not tell the whole story or even produce insight that would predict success.

Something magical and intangible—something that cannot be measured in data—”caused” the Huskies to prevail. I call it grit. A young coach, a senior-led team, capable basketball play, a sense for the game and a steadfast faith that they would achieve the summit against all expectations (except their own)—all these intangibles willed UConn to the height of success. It wasn’t fundamentally pretty basketball, but it was a beautiful result—leveraging the “madness” of March Madness.

So perhaps Denny Hatch has a point in his beef with the term data-driven marketing, which deserves amplification, even as I embrace that term.

Yes, today’s integrated marketing is increasingly data- and analytics-driven, but it also needs the coaches, mentors, teamwork, vision and creative execution that makes for marketing genius—and breakthrough results. Data and analytics can’t do it alone—and sometimes the data tell stories that just aren’t true. Beyond the marketing dashboards and analytics prowess, you also have to have believers who know how to prepare for the game, no matter who or what the competition, or the daunting circumstances. In fact, having the latter (grit) may mean more than the former (data and insight).

Just look at the Huskies, the reigning national champions.

P.S. Speaking of marketing genius and championships, it’s that time of year where each brand, each agency, gets to put forward its own measure of success—its reach for the ultimate team award, showcasing innovative strategy, brilliant creative and the measurable results that exemplifies delight in clients and customers. The Direct Marketing Association International ECHO Awards has announced its call for entries—and the deadline is May 23. Win one, two, three or more, and show us your grit!

Signed,

Chet Dalzell
Alumnus
University of Connecticut
College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Journalism

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: How to Enjoy March Madness at Work (Thanks, Web Technology!)

As a die-hard sports fan, not to mention college basketball junkie, March is gluttony at its finest. I’m not alone in my revelry. Round-the-clock action serves as a rite of spring for sports fans across the nation, who are rooting on their alma maters, local universities and, of course, whomever they’ve penciled in to their brackets. But with the “madness” comes a real dilemma: How do you watch the games when they’re being played in the middle of the day during the workweek?

This week we have a guest post in my spot: Joe Keenan, senior editor of All About ROI and eM+C … and sports fan.

As a die-hard sports fan, not to mention college basketball junkie, March is gluttony at its finest. I’m not alone in my revelry. Round-the-clock action serves as a rite of spring for sports fans across the nation, who are rooting on their alma maters, local universities and, of course, whomever they’ve penciled in to their brackets. But with the “madness” comes a real dilemma: How do you watch the games when they’re being played in the middle of the day during the workweek?

Worry no more. CBSSports.com has got you covered — and without the risk of getting caught. (CBS is the official broadcast network of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.) While the site has broadcast live streaming video of NCAA tournament games since 2004, helping stranded office workers like me keep track of the action, the threat of getting caught by the boss was always a deterrent hanging out there.

Enter the “Boss Button,” a tool that when clicked hides the live video action on the screen and silences the audio, replacing it with a “business-like” image. Slacking off at work has never been made so easy.

Designed by cartoonist Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic, the boss button was first rolled out in 2009 to more than 2.77 million clicks. The functionality has been redesigned for this year’s tournament, and sneaky office workers have taken notice: The button was clicked more than 1.7 million times on the tournament’s first day alone, more than 60 percent of the total clicks of the boss button for the entire 2009 tournament.

And there’s an entire contingent of fans out there who are watching the action apparently without repercussions. Consider the following traffic statistics released last week from CBSSports.com:

  • 3.4 million hours of live streaming video and audio were consumed by 3 million unique visitors to the NCAA March Madness on Demand video players on the first day of the tournament last Thursday, a 20 percent growth versus 2009 — both numbers represent the largest single day of traffic for a live sporting event on the internet;
  • 2 p.m. to 2:59 p.m. ET was the most watched hour last Thursday with 533,000 streaming hours (16 percent of the total for the day), peaking at 2:45 p.m. with 147,000 streaming hours; and
  • the most watched game from last Thursday was the double-overtime Florida vs. BYU game with 521,000 hours of streaming video and audio, a 50-plus percent increase over 2009’s most watched game from the first day of the first round (Washington vs. Mississippi State).

“The continuing evolution of NCAA March Madness on Demand gives our fans even more reasons to stay connected to the tournament on a daily basis,” said NCAA Senior Vice President for Basketball and Business Strategies Greg Shaheen in a CBSSports.com press release. “Tremendous first round games, enhanced features in the MMOD player and solid early traffic numbers all point towards an exciting few weeks to come.”

Has your company found success streaming video online? How about implementing a special functionality on your site such as a boss button? Tell us about your experiences by posting a comment below.