Is SEO just a game?
Consider two chess players, Mike and Tom. Mike has never been able to win against Tom. Mike knows all the rules of the game: how to move every piece, when to capture, when to castle; he even knows all the tactical ideas like forks, pins, skewers and discovered attacks.
Mike's problem is that while he knows all the rules and has read a lot of chess books, he still looks only one or two moves in advance. It is very hard to prepare a winning plan looking so short-term. Tom on the other hand thinks at least five moves ahead and moves all his pieces so that they complete his master plan. Tom anticipates all of Mike's moves and prepares for them with a strong counterattack.
The world of search engine optimization is no different than this. As SEOs we need to think ahead of our competitors and, more importantly, we need to be on top of search engine advances. The world of search is moving so fast that any slacker will be left behind, with no time or opportunity to catch up. Check and mate.
Most of the time we think tactically.
As SEOs, we think about fixing duplicate content issues, supplemental results, meta robot tags, long tail, etc. All this is necessary, but at the end of the day these are just tactics. We attack specific problems with known solutions.
As a technical guy I enjoy the intricacies of SEO a lot, especially the coding aspects, but at the end of the day what really matters is whether or not I have the ability to think strategically, to see the big picture, to think in creative ways and find that golden search opportunity. That is what can give me the edge in the rankings.
How to think strategically
How about instead of just well worn tactics, we focus more on strategies that will give us (or our clients) the edge? How about these: applying guerrilla marketing strategies to our keyword research, creating keyword lists that reflect consumers’ problems instead of our company’s solutions, or looking for links where no other SEO is looking—in product review sites, viral PDF e-books, and so on.
This is my method to think strategically and brainstorm new ideas:
Fully understand the problem (and the customer if the work is for a client). This is a fundamental step. Failing to do so makes the remaining steps an exercise in futility.
Understand competitors and the competitive landscape. Pay special attention to competitors’ solutions to shared problems. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of such solutions.
Think long and hard about other potential solutions in comparison with those of competitors. Weigh the pros and cons of each and pick the winning ideas.
There are a lot of firms and individuals that sell SEO services, yet they command only the most basic knowledge. Learning such information is not difficult. There are plenty of books, training seminars and the good ol’ blogs that teach SEO—this relatively new one included 😉
If you are considering hiring an SEO company, ask them this fundamental question: What is your exact plan to improve my search engine referrals? If you plan to sell SEO services, ask yourself if you can answer this question before you take on a new client.
Do you think strategically or tactically?