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.
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.