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We’ve all heard about search engine optimization and for the most part we all know some of the basic tips and tricks on how to get noticed by search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. But now with the introduction of social media as the darling of web marketing, businesses might find that they don’t need to worry about SEO campaigns. On the contrary, businesses DO need to worry about their search presence because it’s not limited to optimizing your webpage, but you need to optimize your BRAND. This is the power of having a strong search strategy because you want all your pages to be found not only by search engines but by the people you want to reach out to.

But what’s the best way to do a search strategy? I’ve spoken with Tony Adam, an experienced search marketer, formerly of Yahoo!, BillShrink and now with MySpace, about the search engine industry and some things you might want to know about it.

Network Solutions: What’s your background in search engine optimization?

Tony Adam: I’ve been doing some form of Search Marketing since 2002. I actually started by throwing money at Overture back in the day for Yahoo! Search terms like “computer leasing.” I was trying to bring in leads for our business. Then I tried to understand  SEO and I remember searching for something like “how to get web traffic.” I stumbled onto WebmasterWorld.com and learned a TON there. I did a lot more reading than actual participating; I was a bad forum user. After that, I  had our company ranked #1 for every technology leasing term under the sun. Since then I’ve been doing in-house SEO for companies like PayPal, Yahoo!, and BillShrink. I now head up SEO at MySpace.

Network Solutions: What is SEO and how have you used it to benefit your company (past and present)?

Tony Adam: SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the practice of building search engine-friendly websites with great content that people will link to. That is how I define SEO. I’m a big believer that if you create a website that is search-friendly (i.e. crawlable and indexable), has some search relevance, and is either informative or has great content, you will be able to rank in search. Of course, it’s not JUST that simple. There is more to it with “link bait” and whatnot, but I view SEO as fundamentally about  creating a great product.If you create a great product, people will link to you.

Network Solutions: What’s the difference between SEO and Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

Tony Adam: The difference between SEO and SEM is that SEO is a very holistic process that requires someone to touch everything and can take a long time. For instance, on a daily basis I may work with engineering, product, marketing, PR, and who knows who else at an organization, to push SEO initiatives forward. With SEM, if you have a good converting page, you can start the keyword buying immediately and get traction right away, but you have to have money to spend. There are definite similarities between the two, though. For instance, both practices require keyword research and some sort of content relevance.

Network Solutions: Do you see an advantage of companies using SEO versus SEM?

Tony Adam: Honestly, I think the advantage of using one or the other depends on a company’s business model. Many times, an organization needs to gain traction on something IMMEDIATELY. If that is the case, SEM is a much better spend of dollars. But keep in mind those dollars can add up very quickly in competitive marketplaces.

I’m very much biased towards organic search over paid search because it is a practice that I know and love. But at the end of the day it just makes sense to do SEO because if you do it right and spend your dollars wisely, you can build a very successful and cost-effective marketing channel for your business. Also, SEM can’t capture long tail search, while SEO can. This is especially important for publishers, as long tail search can make up about 50% of their site traffic.

Network Solutions: Is it easy to do SEO? How costly can it be?

Tony Adam: Actually, SEO is not easy in the slightest possible way. It is definitely difficult, takes a lot of hard work, and most importantly, takes a lot of patience. There are a lot of very competitive verticals online and for some of the main search terms it can take months, if not an entire year, to rank in the top 10, let alone top three.

SEO requires the experience of knowing what works and what doesn’t, and as I mentioned, it is a VERY holistic process that requires you to work with many different teams and types of personalities. I can’t join a company and just do SEO on my own. I have to be able to work with everyone, know each and every one of their practices inside and out, and finally, deal with all the politics and resource constraints.

In regards to the cost of SEO, it truly depends on the vertical you are in and how competitive it is. In a vertical like credit, it can cost big bucks because of the amount of resources that it would require. One of the biggest mistakes a company can make is thinking they are going to undertake SEO and expecting it is completely free. SEO is not free. It requires time, money, and resources. However, the benefits and ROI greatly offset those costs in the long run.

Network Solutions: What are some signs that companies need to have a SEO campaign? How can they improve their position?

Tony Adam: It’s hard to say that there are any general signs that a company needs an SEO campaign. I think it’s more about finding out if people are actually looking for your product or service online. If they are, then you should be doing SEO, no questions asked. If not, it might not make sense, but it might be worth talking to people to see if there are any angles. I personally think any business with a website has a need for some sort of SEO.

But there is always the flip side of that coin. I’ve dealt with a real-life example of this in Los Angeles with an executive recruiter that consistently asks me about SEO. That person, who will remain nameless, mentioned that all of his/her business comes through word of mouth and/or referral. In that case, SEO doesn’t make sense because that’s a business about personal connections.

Network Solutions: Can social media and SEO co-exist? What’s the benefit of using these two programs together?

Tony Adam: Most. Definitely! Social Media has become an integral part of the SEO mix. I think that rather than “Can they co-exist?” the question now becomes “Can you do SEO without Social Media?”

One of my favorite topics right now is the intersection of SEO and Social Media. I’ve spoken about this at some of the leading conferences in the Search Industry. For me, Social Media is a must with every SEO campaign nowadays. Leveraging communities like Digg, StumbleUpon, etc. and even online forums (the unsexy of social media) can be extremely beneficial for SEO. It is all about getting visibility into an audience that might not know you exist. Then, who knows, maybe a journalist or a blogger is a member and might want to cover you. One of my favorite companies, 10e20, has a great post on niche social media sites.

Network Solutions: What are some pitfalls that companies should avoid when using SEO?

Tony Adam: It is not uncommon for a company to hire an SEO firm because the firm is cheap and guarantees results. Those two statements just don’t make sense together – you get what you pay for at the end of the day. Look out for companies that guarantee results or top rankings, because they typically can’t do the work you are paying them to do and/or they will get it done with extremely shady techniques that could, quite possibly, get you banned from the index all together. Also, it is important to remember that SEO isn’t just meta-tags anymore. SEO is a holistic process that involves many processes and patience. Not prepping yourself for this or understanding it can lead you to a lot of frustration.

Finally, in my opinion, the biggest SEO mistake you can make is not thinking about SEO until several months after your product is launched. Would you launch your site and forget about PR/press/publicity? Definitely not. Think of SEO in the same way and have a plan from the get go.

It is very crucial to build SEO in from the conceptualization or as part of your launch/go-to-market of your site. Thinking about it after the fact can cost you even more money than it would have initially and slow down the growth of your organization. I’ve witnessed this firsthand and all too often. It is very sad and painful to watch a company struggle through that.

Network Solutions: How important is it for new businesses to include SEO in their promotional campaigns?

Tony Adam: Integrating SEO into any type of promotion is only going to help you. For example, if you are building a Social Media campaign, creating content around search terms related to your campaign might get people to link to you with those terms. For example, if you are a website that focuses on basketball, writing a post like “Greatest NBA Playoff Moments” would be very smart, because then you can seed that content into sites like Digg and StumbleUpon. This helps you not only gain traffic, but possible links that help your SEO efforts.

Network Solutions: Are there any hidden secrets to implementing SEO that people would not normally find online that are commonly stated?

Tony Adam: I honestly don’t believe there is anything hidden or secretive about implementing SEO. I know I constantly use the term “holistic”, but it is so true and so important to be that way. I’m big on having a plan of attack and a go-to-market strategy for a new website and/or product.

Your typical SEO process should start with identifying your opportunities through keyword research and competitive research. From there, you should build out your website content for people, not search engines, but be conscious of having good link architecture so a search engine can crawl your site. Finally, I am all about Social Media for Visibility as I mentioned before, and leveraging that to get links and build relevance and authority via search.

At the end of the day though, it is all about being relevant to a specific topic within your vertical and becoming an authority on that topic. If you become an authority on a topic, you will start to see rankings climb. Just make sure that you have the main SEO principles built in. A good read for this is the “Beginner’s Guide to SEO” by SEOMoz CEO and Co-Founder Rand Fishkin.

You can find more insights and thoughts by Tony Adam on his blog here. Network Solutions also has some resources available to new and existing customers relating to search engine optimization that can be found by clicking here.

Image Credit: SEO – svilen / sxc.hu

Photo Credit: Tony Adam – by Brian Solis

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