Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a full day seminar presented by SEO Seminars Los Angeles. The seminar took participants beyond the fundamentals of search engine optimization, and gave us a taste of how deep a business can dig in the quest to acquire more web search traffic. I was particularly interested in learning more about website design and SEO.

Website Design and SEO: Open for Business

What’s SEO?

Search engine optimization is passive Marketing. Example: You set up your [online] shoe shop, hang your Open sign and be ready for folks who are looking for shoes. That doesn’t mean you should sit back and wait until they find you. Not only do you need to let search engines know you’re there, you also need to convince them to put you on the first page of a shoe shopper’s search results. That’s plenty active. It’s also unending, because Google, Yahoo et al are constantly adjusting exactly how they deliver user-valued results.

The Seminar

There were a broad range of attendees: besides a few web designers, there were also marketers (probably the biggest group), small business people and at least one or two considering SEO as a career.

The presenters, Chad Rutt and Danilo Lee, started by spelling out the impact and value of SEO to business. This, they did with a bang:

SEO Seminar: What this web designer saw

Let’s just pause for a moment to let that sink in:

88% of clicks are via Search
Cost: $1.5 billion

12% of clicks are paid online advertising
Cost: $18 billion

Now that they had our attention, they walked us through the process they had developed as consultants to optimize a site for Search.

They showed us gobs and gobs and gobs of tools. There were measurement tools for checking a site’s traffic, engagement and ranking; content creation tools that help site owners improve their findability; and content analysis tools to assess the results of optimization steps and compare rankings with others in the same industry. There were so many tools that by early afternoon many of us were overwhelmed. Just in time, Chad and Dan scaled back and called for questions.

This gave participants a chance to begin mentally applying the material to their specific needs. Answers were frank and practical. Dan enjoys gaming the system (within the rules) while Chad has a marketer’s passion for systematically delivered and timed processes, so it was a good balance of perspectives.

Website Design and SEO

Having produced a great deal of website design for SEO-focused properties such as loan.com, doityourself.com and gardens.com, I’ve had lots of hands-on experience making websites search engine friendly. With thoughtful design, there is also a balance between attracting the right users to a site with smart searchability tactics and converting users into customers once they arrive.

Website Design and SEO: Getting found by more customers

Again, there’s a point at which the potential value from search is big enough—it’s complex, its variables change often—that optimization must become its own full time job. When clients ask for more intensive help, I point them to online resources, and because it’s an industry rife with bluffers and blusterers, I do my best to point them to the truly smart consultants and services. I know Chad and Dan of SEO Seminars Los Angeles personally from having worked together on some of the sites I mentioned. Since then (and they’re not paying me to say this), their skills have gotten sharper and their processes leaner.

Even so, from a designer’s perspective, there are still plenty of important SEO factors to keep current with. For small projects, website design and SEO are often a single job, with the designer setting up the first foundations by laying out copy, calling for more findable copy and discussing the need for copy that users can’t see (but search bots can). For bigger projects, a designer consults heavily with SEO experts (as well as other specialists) to inform decisions from website architecture to layout to user experience.

Website architecture in particular must be influenced by SEO requirements. Both presenters emphasized how Search bots find and index sites based on their architecture—in practice, how many times a user must click to find information. As a publications expert going back to the days of print, the idea of being able to push content down so it’s only discoverable when it’s relevant to the reader is exciting. But if that buried content is valuable for conversion, it must be identified and placed higher up in the hierarchy of the site. Search has made every page a potential “home page” or “store front” but sophisticated search engine algorithms mean each page is no longer equally weighted: more than two or three clicks and your valuable content may never be found.

Rules of Thumb for Deciding How Much to Invest in SEO

Identify stuff to do on your own
First, educate yourself about the relevance of Search traffic to your business and decide on the top two SEO tools you want to invest time in. I’m hoping one of the guys at SEO Seminars Los Angeles will comment about this, but I think they are:
1. Something to check site traffic, like Google Analytics
2. Something to help you create SEO-optimized content (I installed Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin on this blog: so far, so good)

Identify when it’s time to hire a consultant
Understanding the relevance of Search traffic to your business, take a look at your present conversion rate and calculate what level of traffic you need to meet your revenue goals. Knowing your conversion rate means you can pretty safely project your revenue by bringing in the same types of users in bigger numbers. Now you can set an SEO budget and know when to bring someone in.

Identify when it’s time to hire an inhouse team
An inhouse team makes sense when your business is large enough and critically dependent enough on Search traffic.

Conclusion

I brought home a number of takeaways from this seminar, including ways I can be smarter about producing content (which will stay eclectic, I promise) for this blog. There were a number of things I’d just gotten lazy about: easy to fix items that are now on my to-do list.

More importantly, the value I can bring to the table for marketing and brand building, and for website design and SEO, has been turbo charged. I’m excited to tap into and share the tools that will enhance current projects, radically grow our user base and help many, many more customers find us.

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