I’ve been enamored with SEO as of late. And like sex, it’s sometimes a subject cloaked in lots of ickiness somewhere in the backwaters of the internet. But, SEO investing is an incredibly good example of value investing.
Before we begin talking about investing with SEO, you need to understand how it works. Two great places to start; both worth reading.
Beginner’s Guide to SEO by SEOMoz – SEOMoz is kind of like the Apple of the SEO world. They have the shiny, beautiful products, but they make you pay for it. However, in this case, they have some really nice free info to draw you into their wonderful, expensive web of SEO tools. So yes, the intro is good. And has monkeys. And if you become a pro, their tools actually are worth it.
Also, for more detail, but with less monkeys, Search Engine Optimization For Dummies ( Kindle Version ) – Dummies books… can be hit or miss, but this one does a great job of being written for everyone and can even give you the nitty-gritty details that most free guides will gloss over, but you still need to understand. This is where I gained a great deal of my SEO knowledge.
So, now that I can assume you’ve had a few trysts with keywords, PageRank, and backlinks, time for actually learning how to date a keyword.
Holy Cow, it’s a Market!
The web, from the perspective on a value investor, can be thought of as one large market, where the assets are keywords, the income stream is the amount and quality of the traffic the keyword generates (as good, relevant traffic can be readily convertible to dollars with products or ads), and the amount of effort and time it takes to get your page to rank highly for a keyword is the price. Value investing bells should be ringing. Look for low cost (easy to rank for keywords with something valuable to sell) with high, stable income streams (high traffic, relevant people who may buy something). The best part is that there are likely, millions of opportunities, but that’s not to say it’s easy. Like any real investment opportunity, this isn’t lather, rinse, repeat, profit.
SEO is a Long Term Investors Market
What makes me enjoy it even more is you have to think like a long term investor when dealing with SEO. While many marketing teams and hyperactive companies enamored with quarterly earnings focus on pay per click advertising with SEO riding second, SEO once built and hardened after a few months is a true passive income stream requiring little investment assuming your original value proposition remains intact. How often do you click on a Google search ad vs. the first result of your search? Exactly. This is a long term investment, the better investment, and one with years of income.
Match.com for Keywords
So, where can I find a list of keywords relevant to my niche? The first and free place to start is the Google Keyword Tool. It’s a wonderful tool as you can get a rough idea of the relative values of what people are actually searching for. I won’t go into all the details, as most guides hit this pretty clearly, but be sure to pay attention to broad vs. exact phrases and the fact that the data in it isn’t accurate. It does give you a good idea of which keywords generate more traffic relative to other keywords, allowing you to find the best ones to use on your site. Also remember competition listed is AdWords competition, not SEO competition. What you really want to know is SEO competition; how likely will your page rank for this keyword. We’ll get to figuring that out in a bit.
Next up on the list are the keyword search tools, an area I really wish would clean up its marketing. I use Market Samurai, though some people swear by Micro Niche Finder or SEO Cockpit. All of these tools annoy me, even though I still use Market Samurai. They all are marketed like get-rich-quick, late night TV schlock, but they do work. Market Samurai works by scraping Google’s keyword tool, mashing it up with some data from Majestic SEO, and generally making keyword research go a lot faster. The others do something similar. You can get a really good idea of what people want to know in a particular search niche and whether you can offer something better than what is currently available.
Finally, SEOMoz wins again with tools that make searching and tracking keywords relatively easy, though for my initial research, I still prefer using one of the previous tools and following up with SEOMoz (back when I had a subscription).
How Do I Know If A Keyword Is The One?
Keyword Analysis used to be easier. See how many sites were using the keyword in anchor text, in the title, and in the URL using Google’s search modifiers inanchor, intitle, and inurl, and if it came back with a low value (especially single digit) for the keyword using all of them, then you’re likely to rank well pretty easily once Google indexes your site after you’ve done a little optimization (i.e. what you just searched for). It’s still a useful metric to look at (both MNF and Market Samurai give this sort of data in one form or another). I like places with only single digit numbers of pages with the usual SEO optimization, but you have to hunt to find ones with significant, relevant traffic. However, you’ll also find areas where it can be tough to rank even if the basic optimizations are low as you could be going up against sites with high PageRanks or authority.
If you find one of these low competition niches that you’ve determined has relevant traffic as well, you’ve found one of Warren Buffett’s “Cigar Butts,” i.e. overlooked yet still worthwhile assets that actually have some value left. These aren’t going to make you rich, but with only a modest bit of effort, you can rank for the keyword.
But sometimes, you do have to enter the fray, in which case, new rules apply. Google’s job is to help searchers find the highest value content possible and in 2011 and 2012, they made huge strides with numerous updates in cutting down on the amount of keyword stuffed, paid for backlink, black hat spam that used to pop up. (I’m noticing eHow isn’t as prominent as it used to be when I search, THANK GOD!) So if you’ve determined that the value of the keyword is worth it, how do you go about showing Google that you’re to be number one it it’s heart?
Don’t Pay for Love from Keywords; Give Love to Get Love
This really is “Can’t Buy Me Love.” You can simulate being cool to get Google to like you, buying backlinks from less than reputable places, throwing the same smelly keyword anchor text all over the web, but you’ll end up throwing poo all over your friend’s house, and Google will smack you down after all the abuse. Like I said, this is a long haul. Put your energy into building relationships with expert sites/bloggers in the field, really understand what you’re talking about, and make sure you deserve the number one spot. Spending all your time trying to look cool (and it’s often hard work as well) is likely a fool’s errand. Google continues to refine their Rube Goldberg contraption of machine learning and Bayesian filters into a finely honed BS detector that though not perfect, keeps improving.
And that’s the main point. Google will continue to improve. Tricks that work now, may not later. The nice thing about good SEO practices is that they don’t go out of style. By providing something truly useful, becoming a contributing member of the community of experts around you, and actually trying to help people who are searching better than anyone else, things will fall into place. You should ask for links from the expert’s sites, but to do so, you have to have the goods, too.
Once again, this is long term relationship building, not one night stands, so if a keyword has the traffic you’re looking for, and cigar butts won’t work for you, you have to put in the effort. It’s kind of wonderful to see an area where the principles of value investing apply so nicely. Then again, I’ve come to believe value investing applies pretty much everywhere.
If you have any questions on SEO, leave a comment or send me a note Twitter or FB. I’d love to do some more SEO article follow up on places many folks would find useful. There’s a lot to the subject of SEO. Let me know where I can help out.
Photo Credit: uli franke / photocase.com