SEO Strategy Guide


I know the title of this search engine optimization guide is contradictory, and you could not be more right. While this guide explains strategic SEO steps for ecommerce websites and brands to leverage organic conversion channels, it also explains on why a SEO strategy needs to leave behind "no" SEO footprints.

Elementary My Dear Watson

Let's take a look at what Google has been upto:


  1. Slow death for communities like web directories, forums, article submissions, bookmarking, online pr, link wheels, blog networks, link exchange, reciprocal links, paid links etc, and most recently on radar is the guest blogging community. Check Matt's video here on the demise of Guest Blogging.
  2. Getting better at understanding keywords, content and its thematic relationships. Google is also getting better at rewarding unique content creators faster. If your content is worthy, Google will show your content prominently in search rankings. Getting better at identifying manipulative SEO techniques (see point 1). Google launches war to remove bad quality sites or sites using manipulative techniques i.e Panda, Penguin, HummingBird, Pigeon.
  3. Penguin 3.0 and Panda 4.1 was released as I write this article. Did you lose your rankings? Does it not feel like we are all playing Catch the Tail?
  4. Focusing on ecommerce sites with thin or duplicate content. We all know that most ecommerce sites use the same title, product descriptions and images as given by manufacturers. Do a simple search and you will find that same product details and images across hundreds of sites. So do e-com sites with something unique (content) to offer get rewarded? Definitely!
  5. Focus is moving away from Keywords. All along SEO Companies have been focusing on selecting the best keywords and then building a search engine strategy to start ranking well for those keywords. The game changed when Google started hiding 90 % plus of the keywords as ?not provided? in Google Analytics. Further the Hummingbird Update enhanced Google understanding of search intent VS keyword match. So what can you do? Instead of focusing on keywords you should start focusing on content themes around related keyword buckets i.e. great content themes that matches user intent.
  6. One of the intent of the Penguin updates was to penalize websites where the anchor text was over optimized i.e. manipulation. This means we need to be building the anchor links as naturally as possible without trying to get the keyword into the linked text. I foresee that Google may not be relying as heavily on anchor text as a metric. Hint: Try using your brand name with keyword Eg Spott One SEO Company where 'Spott One' is my brand and "SEO Company" is my keyword.
  7. Seemingly favoring big brands VS the smaller players. Bigger brands create more value and have budgets to make that value more visible to right audiences. So should they rank better? Yes I think so. Does that mean it the end of the smaller online businesses? No. It just means that smaller businesses will now have to figure out on how to differentiate themselves VS the big daddy brands.
  8. Google will reward good websites. A good website had few common features - proper architecture, easy navigation, quality content, high engagement with right audiences and industry experts, and the hygiene is in place (no duplicate meta?s or broken links etc). A good website also loads fast and can be accessed from various devices like Mobile, Tablets etc. Make a good quality website which provides high value and Google will eventually find you!
  9. Getting better at understanding user social signals, citations, mentions, conversations and references. Is your content visible or talked about? Have the "right" users commented, liked or engaged in any way with your content.
  10. Google relying on Schema Markups. Schema mark-up can be used to add star ratings, number of reviews, pricing and more to a search results page listing. It's estimated that only 0.3 % of the websites use Schema making it the most underutilized SEO tactic.
  11. Google is making changes daily to create a better search ecosystem. Is your brand a part of this story of creating a better ecosystem around your business?

Gazing into the Crystal Ball

So we can draw some clear inferences:

  1. Google wants to reward good quality websites that create differential value that engages with the right audiences. 
  2. Google wants to reward unique, fresh and popular content that matches closest with the search intent of the user.
  3. Google WILL continue to penalize or devalue links if they find a manipulative pattern.


Note on what Google might see as a Manipulation

It's very easy for Google to understand the type of links pointing back to a landing page on your website. I assume by now you have figured out what types of links and communities are a big NO i.e. any type links built for the purpose of acquiring a link without providing any tangible value.

Guest Posting is a favorite link building strategy for many SEO?s where some value is supposedly created for the readers of those blogs. However as you plan a scalable SEO strategy and have 20 or 30 guest posts pointing back to a landing page, won?t Google see that 20 guest bloggers are linking back to your promotional page? Does that seem manipulative? Ofcourse it does; you know you (or your SEO company) build those links just to increase the number of links pointing back to your landing page in the hope of better rankings for your keywords.

If you have been using Guest Posting as a Strategy for a while, think about the number of easily identifiable patterns you have left behind for Google to pick and devalue when they see fit. Just because your website is safe now does not mean it will remain safe tomorrow.


SEO Methods that can Invite Devaluation or Penalty

Methods used previously like mass generic directory submissions, article submissions, social bookmarking, PR submissions, social profile creation with nill participation, forum postings, and other forms of link wheels, paid links etc can get your website into trouble.

If you are lucky you will only loose rankings, but if you are unlucky then you can get penalized. Getting out of a Google penalty is a time consuming process which can take months, and the damage to your website, brand, business and reputation is irrecoverable. Many website owners see their competitors ranking high using all the wrong methods and feel there is no risk, but how long do you feel you (or your competitor) can outsmart Google. Google is committed to removing all spam links, low value content pages from their index and we see them get better at it each day.

Even if your past SEO Company has build irrelevant, low value or mass links then the first step is to clean up the link profile. Google especially created the Disavow tool in Webmaster tools to help website owners/ SEO clean-up bad quality links from their link profile.


Some Major Google Algorithm Updates

Panda Update, Feb 23, 2011 (Panda 4.1 was released Sep 23, 2014)

Panda was the first major update intended to weed out websites that have thin content and other website quality issues like architecture, load time, duplicate meta tags (or missing meta tags), broken links etc.

Penguin Update, Apr 24, 2012 (Penguin 3.0 was released Oct 20, 2014)

Penguin update was intended to weed out sites that have low quality backlinks and were over optimized.

EMD Update, Sep 27, 2012

EMD or the exact match domains update was intended to weed out domains with exact match to keywords targeted.

Hummingbird Update, Aug 20, 2103

A core algorithm update (like Caffeine) intended to improve conversational and semantic searches changing the way the content is created and keywords are targeted.

Pigeon Update, July 24, 2014

The Pigeon update was intended to make local search listings better. If local listings are a big part of your business then it time to sit up and smell the coffee.

The conclusion we can draw is that Google is not going to slow down its pace to ensure that websites of poor quality, with weak content, poor quality backlinks and using manipulative techniques are not shown in search listings.


So what is the Big Fuss about?
  1. Ranking well on Google can be insanely profitable
  2. Organic search is still the best channel for conversions which give you the best return on investment (ROI).
  3. A customer who finds you when they are in need of a product or service your company provides. This is your best customer!
  4. Unless you are ready to spend heavily on paid social campaign or pay per click ads (more often than not, the ROI does not justify the expense), the best chance your business has is to rank well in organic search on Google.
  5. Only SEO gives an opportunity to a smaller player to compete with the big industry players.


Redefining the SEO Strategy

Having read so far, we now know what can constitute a manipulation by Google and you have enough sense to ensure that the SEO Company or your SEO in-house team is aware of the damage such tactics can cause. So how does one go about building a Search Engine Strategy that is:

  1. Scalable - The issue with many SEO strategies is that they cannot be scaled up. If you start to scale up incorrectly, the chances are very high of Google devaluation or penalty in the near future.
  2. Value Driven - Coming up with differential value is a whole lot of work. Many SEO strategies fail because that cannot create value that?s well received by the right influencers.
  3. Fast & Effective - What are the chances a new business will be able to overtake an older competitor in 1 year? Can the right SEO strategy help you beat your competitors?
  4. Google Proof - A strategy that leaves behind ?no? SEO footprint means that now we can move ahead with no fear of Google devaluation or penalty.

Clues to the Right SEO Strategy

 Redefining Keywords, On Page Optimization & Content

  1. We still start with building a list of potential keywords that your customers are using to find your company or brand. The influence of keywords targeting is diminishing, but still it?s a great place to start your research.
  2. Google now looks at multiple pages from your website and frames the context of your keywords rather than looking at a single page. So rather than creating content around specific keywords try building a content theme or pyramid around what your customers will love.
  3. Google understanding of semantic relationships between different words and phrases has become better over time. Plan to leverage the use of synonyms or natural variants into your keyword and content plan. Eg SEO, Matt Cutt (A Google Engineer), Link Building, On Page, Meta Tagging, Moz (SEO Community), Paid Traffic, SEO Company etc could be grouped under a topic for SEO.
  4. Research on co-occurrences. Using the concept of co-occurrence, search engines know that certain phrases tend to predict other phrases. If your main topic targets "Jonny Depp," this phrase often co-occurs with other phrases like "Actor," "Pirates of Caribbean," and "Movies." A page that contains these related terms is more likely to be about "Jonny Depp" than a page that doesn't contain these related terms.
  5. Research on entities involved with your keyword themes. Eg Marvel Comics is an entity and keywords like Iron Man, X Men, Stan Lee can be co-related to the entity Marvel Comics.
  6. Leverage on Schema ( or rich snippets which is a collaboration by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to improve the web. On-page markup helps search engines understand the information on webpages and provide richer search results. Eg of a movie review site the schema could contain name of actors, director, composer, duration of movie etc. The best part is that Google may pick up some of these micro data formats to showcase on Google search results page.
  7. Ensure that various On-Page elements like your Title, Description, Heading & Image tags etc are in place and in accordance with the Google guidelines. Other than obvious factors like ensuring that each page of the website has unique and relevant tags, it?s also important to create titles and descriptions that are customer friendly (great copy) and not just keyword friendly. How many times have you clicked on the 5th listing and not the 1st listing in search results? This was because the title and description was more attractive and in alignment with your search intent.
  8. We spoke on creating valuable content that matches the search intent of the user. Here I want to speak about the concept of big content. Big content is comprehensive and well researched content that covers all possible user intents within one article of 3500 + words. This should include original images, infographics, industry stats, graphs and related videos to support the article.
  9. Big content, especially if it receives positive user signals and earns links can be a great addition to your on-going SEO activities. But ensure that there is a strong outreach plan (content marketing) for your big content so that it can reach the right influencers. Use all possible mediums like emails, newsletters, paid ads, social campaigns etc to promote your big content to your customers and the influencers.
  10. Another tip on writing content is to include the close variants of the keywords (synonyms, co-occurrences, related terms and entities) grouped within the same paragraph. So the distance the close variants are to each other the better Google understands of your content theme.
  11. Diversity is Key. While creating big content and blog posts do not miss out on opportunities to present your content in other forms. Eg YouTube videos, Slideshare, Images, Downloadable PDF?s, Infographics, White Papers etc.


Redefining Link Building to Earning your Links


  1. Link building has been under negative spot light for a long time now. However quality and relevant links are still very much needed to build on the domain authority and page authority of the website.
  2. Many brands are more reluctant to build any type of links (see the stories online about big brands loosing rankings or worse getting penalized) and it does not help that many SEO companies do not have clear answers or the strategy to tackle the situation.
  3. Matt Cutts web spam team is hitting hard communities like web directories, forums, article submissions, bookmarking, free online pr, link wheels, blog networks, link exchange, blog commenting, competitor backlinks, reciprocal links, paid links etc. This adds to the woes of un-experienced SEO companies.
  4. The type of links Google may penalize can be defined by these characteristics: You control the anchor text. You can scale up using semi automated methods or with poor content. You create patterns in link building that Google can easily detect. 
  5. In contrast high value links are those where you do not control the anchor text, are difficult to acquire (like editorial links) and cannot be scaled with ease. These types of links are preferred and rewarded by Google.
  6. Don't manipulate or deal with bloggers who accept your links as part of a business. A more natural way is link baiting, where you create a high value content piece and use outreach channels (there are many like social, ads, stumble paid, reddit, etc) to connect the right audiences with your content. The idea here is to ?earn? your links. If your content is great, webmasters will link back to your content.
  7. Don't ask for Anchor Text. This is a strategy advised by Eric Ward who is the most sought after link builder since past decade. What Eric says if you do not request for a specific anchor text, then the webmaster will link back on their own accord. This will ensure your anchor text profile is natural and there is no manipulative pattern occurring.
  8. Don't create all your backlinks to your promotions pages. I know this goes against everything you know about SEO, but it?s an important factor to be considered. Say for example why multiple bloggers will choose to point (link out to) to a promotional page in a natural online world. Well they don?t. Rethink your search engine strategy to build links to high value and worthy informational pages and then pass on the link juice indirectly to the promotional pages.
  9. Don't email when you can call. Seems simple in real world, but its weird how SEO?s dread calling up a blogger or a webmaster. I agree a well written email is also effective, but you miss out on the opportunity to build some real relationships. End of the day your business is about building relationships and not getting links.
  10. Don't focus on increasing the number of backlinks. We look at competitors (who are rank well) and they have a large number of links. Naturally we tend to scale our link building campaigns in hope to catch up with the competitors. While you could succeed to reaching the big numbers it will not necessarily reflect in good stable Google rankings. I have seen many websites with a few quality links beating sites with thousands of backlinks. Quality before Quantity should be your Motto.
  11. Don't rely only on search engines and Google. While I love Google, it?s best to have a strategy that also includes non-search channels as well. This can include personal emails, newsletters, RSS syndication, social outreach, editorial releases etc.
  12. Don't go after only Do Follow links. While it?s the Do Follow links that contribute to your domain and page authority, it?s best not to ignore the No Follow links. These links are more powerful than you think and can send quality traffic and lead to more links (Do Follow). Keep in mind it?s the high authority sites that usually give a No Follow link. To Google, it would mean you have done something without wanting a link in return.
  13. There are many other methods which can assist with link building like running contests on other blogs, conducting interviews with industry experts, social links, certain forum links, broken links, education resource links, editorial links and more. However I would advise to move ahead with caution especially if you know your Link Building strategy leaves behind easily found patterns.

In Conclusion

"For those who say SEO is dead, I say the Game has just begun?"

-Arvind Kukreti