A Case Study In Keyword Strategy… and Execution

How one of my students took on the "Coolest Guy On The Planet" and won

A couple years ago, I did a "site workshop" class with a group of about a dozen students. This was an online class, slow paced – a week of instruction and a week off for implementation and coaching. We walked through every step of the SEO process, spent time with each student looking at their site and their strategy, and managed to make a great impact thanks to the small group format.

One student in particular stood out in that group. Her name is Shirley Tan, and her company is American Bridal Accessories. Shirley wasn’t outstanding because she knew any more than anyone else, but because she took immediate action when we identified an opportunity. The first opportunity we found was in the area of keyword strategy, and the way she handled that step took her site from an also-ran to a market leader.

Obsessing About The Most Popular Search Terms Is A Trap

I know how easy it is to identify the most popular search terms… and to believe that the less popular terms don’t add up to a "hill of beans." My student had this problem – in fact she believed that success or failure came down to a single search term.

Shirley sells bridal accessories and wedding favors, and her #1 competitor (My Wedding Favors) had an absolute stranglehold on the top position in every major search engine for the most popular search term (wedding favors). Brad Fallon*, owner of My Wedding Favors, is no slouch when it comes to SEO skills… in fact, he’s one of the few people I can find to bounce ideas off. A direct attack was going to be difficult, if not impossible.

But Shirley wanted to find a way to compete, and she was willing to change her mind about keyword strategy. When we did the keyword research, we found out that the most popular term (wedding favors) did in fact account for a lot of searches… but as we looked at the related terms, less popular variations, and started to add it all up, it became obvious that the less popular terms might actually add up to a bigger share of the pie than that single term.

Implementation Is Critical!

Once we identified the search terms and variations we wanted to target, Shirley mapped them out onto her site – 2 pages for every search term, just like I teach in SEO Fast Start. She optimized the pages a bit (basic stuff, adding copy and improving headings and page titles), and added some internal links for each page to help boost her reputation for each search term.

We started with a couple dozen terms, but Shirley took the time to research modifiers and work those into her copy as well. She could have tried to take a shortcut here and there, but she didn’t. She worked the process all the way through.

Don’t Forget Steps 5 & 6!

After a couple weeks, we started to measure increases in traffic, and observe improvements in ranking, on all of the search terms we targeted. Shirley was still "buried" on page 2 for the "wedding favors" search term, but she hadn’t done anything to target that search term yet. All of her effort was focused on the "secondary" search terms that her competitors weren’t putting as much into.

When Shirley saw her site jump move up for a search term we were targeting (measuring results), she added more internal links to help out further (refining strategy). Even after the class ended, Shirley continued to measure her results and refine her strategy… and her business results continued to improve.

I have no doubt that some of you are skipping these steps. I’ve noticed that we have almost no questions posted in the portal about the "measuring" and "refining" steps of the SEO Fast Start process. If you’re not measuring and refining your strategy, you’re missing out… big time.

Within less than 2 months, Shirley’s Google referrals actually exceeded the volume of her #1 competitor, while she was still "buried" on the second page for the most popular search term. (Note: We didn’t know this at the time – we found out later. Brad and Shirley are actually good friends**, and they spent some time comparing numbers last year. We were all shocked by this discovery, but we shouldn’t have been.)

Success in SEO comes from following a process, and consistently doing the right things. Even the boring stuff. :D

That Was Two Years Ago… What’s Happening Now?

Once Shirley saw that she could actually improve her rankings and make more sales, she started working on a link building and promotion campaign, which added more fuel to the fire. Today, you can find American Bridal Accessories at or near the top of search results for just about any search term in her market… including the most popular one, wedding favors.

It took time for Shirley Tan to understand the SEO process. It took a real effort for her to put the right processes to work in her business. It’s not easy to do this stuff right, and avoid taking shortcuts. But she is reaping the benefits today.

You can do it… but you have to actually do it. This stuff really does work.

* Google "coolest guy on the planet" if you want to find Brad’s blog, and if you want to have some fun with your SEO, just try to knock him off that spot.
** One of the reasons why they are such good friends is that Brad’s company is also a wholesaler of wedding favors, and Shirley is now their #1 customer.

26 thoughts on “A Case Study In Keyword Strategy… and Execution

  1. Search Engines are “Stupid” Only program, only catalog data. Once you learn how to present the data, then you will begin to understand how Seo’s work.. Congrats Shirley learning and seeing the importance of presenting your data and the importance of inbound links as well..

  2. I can vouch for SuperDan’s expertise because I follow his every move in the Stomper programme and that produced $21,000 in my first month online (May) and £43,000 in the second – honest, true figures – from his AdWords and linking advice.

    Dan is obviously the man to listen too as his advice is long-term, not internet guru quick-fix.

    Thanks Dan


  3. I’m friends with Shirley and also another one of Dan’s students and can attest to the fact that the information/guidance/teaching that Dan is providing has helped take their businesses to levels that most could only dream about.

  4. Great story Dan! If it weren’t for you, Shirley’s site would
    probably still be under water. You deserve alot of credit.

    I know it takes desire, dedication and a strong commitment to follow the path, but…I have never seen a teacher quite as good as you.


    P.S. I better get on the measuring and refining categories (:

  5. This is a great article. The theme of execution is one that we should hear more often. It doesn’t matter how much you know about SEO if you don’t execute. Shirley is really to be commended for the work she’s done.

  6. I just want to thank Dan for all his help and wisdom. It’s been quite challenging to get to where we are today, we have made much progress due to Dan’s guidance and steadfast principals. Most of the time, it would be easier to take short cuts, but thru Dan’s coaching program, and having to be accountable for my actions/executions I have been able to stay on course.

    Besides learning the methodology for SEO, one of the best lessons that I’ve learned is to be patience, which is not easy in this day of instant gratification. (I’m the most impatient person I know.)

    I also want to thank the many friends I’ve made thru Dan’s coaching program, like Scott, Rick, Bill Q., Diane, I’m probably going to miss a few, you know who you are…thanks for putting up with me…and for all your suport.

    ps: Much thanks as To Brad Fallon, who’s made it a fun challenge and given a whole new meaning to Coopetition!

  7. Making the decision to be one of Dan’s students is one that has proven to be a great decision. The things Dan has taught me have not only increased traffic, but brought me targeted traffic that are ready to buy what I am selling. Dan has a unique way of keeping you focused on whats important and keeping your eye on the goal.

  8. Beautiful case study.

    Congratulations to both Dan and Shirley.

    We’ve done similar things with similar success – pick some tangential keywords and build from there, getting some traffic and business right away, before going after the competitive high traffic keywords later.

  9. WOW, great story and great information. I’ve been mired in keywords, going brain-dead thinking about what to do with them all, trying to follow the process, and going to bed at night feeling discouraged that i’m not fully ‘getting it’.

    This article, and story, is an inspiration. Thank you Dan for posting it, and for the assistance this portal provides.

    I’ll have to keep re-reading (and reading between the lines) until I get the process down. How to deal with the data seems to be an especially hard part.

  10. I’m into financial education and coaching.
    Dan’s right. To “know” is to “do”.
    We can know what to do, i.e., saving money, but until we take action — actually put the money in the account — the balance is still zero, zip, nada.
    As Yoda says, “Try? There is no ‘try’…..either we ‘do’ or we ‘don’t'”….

    ~ pj

  11. Seeing everyone coming out of the woodwork gives me goose bumps! Thanks Jon, Scott, Alec, Rick & Shirley.

    Shirley, thank you for the lessons. You are an inspiration to all of us!

    Happy 4th Of July!


  12. PeeJ, I’m gonna remember that the next time you ask me to get your spaceship out of the swamp for ya. I think Yoda was just being dramatic there. If Yoda were a Texan, he’d say “fixin’ to? There is no ‘fixin to’… you either get off your butt or you don’t.”

  13. Dan can you give more info on how to do the keyword part of seo.

    It would be a real help to me if you can take any topic you want and show me a step by step process of keyword strategy of Seo Fast Start.


  14. Congratulations on your success Shirley. Clearly it took hard work and dedication to get there. Not to mention having a great coach.

    I don’t know Dan personally but after reading his SEO Fast Start 2004 I got a little insight into the type of SEO practitioneer he is. His e-book is arguably the most practical and effective SEO advice and guidance that anyone can get.

    I haven’t got around to reading SEO Fast Start 2007 but it’s definitely on my high priority list.


  15. Ant, maybe Shirley will make it back and tell us – I think that’s from one of the major Y! store developers, just a plug in thing. It’s in an IFRAME (that’s why it scrolls) so it’s not actually part of the content that a search engine sees on the page.

  16. Hi Dan,

    I hope Shirley does drop by to share what she’s doing there. I’m suspecting (like Jeff) that Shirley is using the links in the mentioned sections for internal linking and indexing purposes.

    I’ve checked the backlinks of the pages in the “You may be interested in these products:” sections and they have many internal links and the only place she appears to be doing internal linking for the product pages is in the “You may be interested in these products:” sections.

    Not to menioned she has really good rankings for the pages included in the “You may be interested in these products:” sections.

    Well I’ll keep my fingers crossed that she comes round soon.


  17. hi Everyone and Ant:

    Just got back from a trip. We use this you may also like as a cross sell feature, not for internal linking purpose,although its probably does help for SEO purpose, but first and foremost is what would be relevant to the user, our goal is to have them add the cross sell item to the cart in addition to the page they’re already looking at…a true cross sell instead of offering product substitute (that the new goal – so we have to change out some of the old you may be interested )

    regarding the iframe – we use to have these related products show up in massive links on the bottom of the pages.. and they looked really ugly so we contained them into the i frame box… now… because they are in iframe, I’m not sure if we’re getting any SEO value for them…Dan could probably answer this question.

    Again, thanks everyone for your kind words and support.

  18. Hi Shirley,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing that information. I have a content site and I’m considering using something similar to your cross-selling strategy to encourage site visitors to stick around the site longer and read more info.

    I just ran one your urls through the iWebTools Search Engine simulator ( http://www.iwebtool.com/spider_view )and based on that, it appears that Seeach Engines can indeed see the content in the iFrame.

    Hope everything continues to go well for you in your venture.

    All the best.

  19. Great to hear that Shirley did so well, and I only hope that I can learn something too!
    Reading SEO Fast Start will be my weekend task, and hopefully I can start implementing on Monday, at least a little bit! Thank you Dan :)

  20. Great article, at first, I was confused about the distribution of core terms and clusters. After examining American Bridal and comparing it with your teachings in chapter 3 of SEO Fast Start Book, it all made sense. I would highly suggest providing a case study with your chapter 3 lesson. The technical process became clear having a production website to compare and contrast your suggestions.

    Viewing the source code for http://www.americanbridal.com, was very helpful. http://www.seofaststart.com has been the greatest resource
    for SEO techniques.


    Paul Clark

  21. Hi Dan,
    I downloaded your SEOFASTSTART 2007 two weeks ago and have been studying and referring to it a lot. I’ve also learned a great deal from your site, blog and comments. Thank you!! Sounds like a broken record, but you are the most knowledgable seo/sem expert I’ve encountered…and definitely the most articulate and understandable. Again, thanks!

    In this post you mentioned keyword tracking and measuring results. Are there any particular methods or tools you recommend? I sometimes find myself preferring to do it by keeping a list and checking by hand (seeing is believing), but it’s tedious and time consuming for multiple sites. Any suggestions?


  22. I wanted to have the “coolest guy on the planet title” I guess I will find something else. I enjoyed what you have shown and I am going to check out more. But it is true hard work, refinement, and patience will get you success. Hopefully, you get a little commission from Shirley Tan. Thanks for the post.

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