#DSD14 Digital Summit Denver: Advanced SEO Case Study

#DSD14 Digital Summit Denver: Advanced SEO Case Study

Just finished speaking at the Digital Summit Denver on Advanced SEO Case Studies.   Having been a search marketer in Denver for over 15 years, it is great that we have a digital marketing conference here today in Denver.

For anyone looking for a copy of the the PowerPoint deck, here you go!  I also created a pre-recording of the presentation for anyone who could not make the conference.  There is also a transcript of the video recording further down in this blog post.  Here is some of the feedback, thanks to everyone that tweeted during the presentation!


Some feedback on Twitter:

twitter1 twitter2 twitter3

Transcription of Video Recording

This is Chuck Aikens and here is a recording of the Advanced SEO Case Study that is being presented at the Digital Summit Denver 2014. I’ve really been looking forward to doing this presentation as I have been a search marketer here in Denver for the last 15-plus years and it is not every day that we get to see a conference like this come through.

A couple quick things as we get started. First, we are an SEO company and while we’re supposed to make sure that we don’t try to sell you guys on what we do, I do have to let you know that we do work for clients and I’m going to have to show you here what we did for a client as we get into our advanced case study. Just know my only intention is to share with you what we have learned and help you have a few takeaways that you can do for advanced SEO.

If there are any questions on this presentation, feel free to shoot me a quick tweet as I am fairly active on Twitter and will get back to you by the end of the day and answer that question: or if you just have a comment, feel free to send that as well.

Let’s talk about what advanced SEO and the SEO fundamentals mean to SEOs, where we find that experts put them into three kinds of buckets. While you might use different words for these, we find that there are 3 different types of SEO. First, there is the technical aspect of SEO: the optimization of your site where you work on canonical tags, whether you use dashes or not in URLs, your directory structure and other things like 404s, XML site maps, and whole bunch of different things.

Then there is content where you think about how you structure your content, how you optimize that content from things like page titles, keyword targeting and a whole bunch of other good stuff like alt tags.

And then there is, of course, the links. Who wouldn’t want a good link? Raise your hand if you don’t want one. OK, I thought so. This is where you build that trust and authority in the eyes of Google.

And so these fundamental things you do for SEO whether it is for multiple sites as an in-house SEO or as an SEO company where you work for clients. It doesn’t mean that they’re easy as it can take quite a lot of time and energy to get these fundamentals right particularly if it is a large site or a new site.

No matter how large the project, we do find that these SEO techniques are a kind of a wash-and-rinse-and then repeat-type thing. These are known best practices that we know work for SEO and bring great value.

So what happens here in the beginning of the project is that we can just do no wrong; everything we do just leads to great results. And we hear things like, “You guys rock!”

Well, this is great except that eventually you will run out of easy things that knock it out of the park and these same things over time will give you a diminishing return.
You can see how that over time this leads from, “Hey, you guys rock,” to, “What are you working on?” to then, finally, “Hey, can we talk?” This graph was designed by Ian Lurie of Portent, a Seattle agency that put together an excellent blog post that talks about how important it is for SEO to be based on a overall digital marketing strategy to help to solve this.

When we talk about advanced SEO, it is not getting more technical on the SEO questions about something like faceted search, but rather it is really about going beyond the basic techniques and things that we’re doing everyday as SEOs.

When we are trying to move beyond the traditional SEO techniques, one of the first things we SEOs recommend is content marketing and this is because your website is in pretty good shape technically and your content is optimized. In addition, we have built some links. So our next recommendation is to do some content marketing to target those long-tailed search queries and earn you some links.

Content marketing usually shows up as a form of blogging and blogging also has that kind of same problem. In the beginning, there are some really good keywords you can go after, and you have some really good ideas. But after month goes by, these content calendars start looking very repetitious and don’t quite have as much bang as they did in the beginning.

We find that whether it is the SEO fundamentals or the content marketing initiative, something is just missing. And we use the term “the big idea” for what is missing and the the “big idea” for us is not something like Old Spice where it goes really viral; and it is not something where you have one big idea and then all of your SEO things are fixed.

SEO is about making small steps forward in the short-term where you set up big wins for big long-term momentum. So let’s focus on our case study starting with a little bit of background about the client that we’re going to talk about.

Mountain High is a ski resort that is within driving distance of Orange County and L.A. When we first met them a couple of seasons ago, we focused most of time on the SEO fundamentals and helped theme optimize their website, we worked on their content and we helped build some links from different people and industry partners.

In that first season, the SEO results were really good and they came back to us the following year and said, “We want to do that again. We want to see that same improvement in SEO that you brought us in that first year.” And since we understood the one-trick pony methodology – we already knew that, if we re-optimized the website, re-optimized the content, and won a couple of links for them via the same outlets, they weren’t going to see the same results.

But before we told them there was no hope, we revisited what they wanted and what is important is that they didn’t necessarily want more SEO, but what they really wanted was to sell more lift tickets and, of course, better rankings, more traffic, more tickets. But they were calling it SEO.

As we started talking with them, we also found out some other things that were very important to to them because now we were further along in the relationship, and it wasn’t just an audit where we optimize a bunch of things and make a lot of recommendations.

One of the first things they shared with us was that they wanted to also capture more local market share. Now, there are ski resorts that we work with here in Colorado that not only want to capture local market share but they want people to travel from New York and California with a lot of money to spend and they’ll also say that they want international travelers.”

While Vail and Beaver Creek were talking to us this way, Mountain High – they were talking to us a little differently and they were saying that they really wanted to market to L.A. and OC wanting these people to come up making that the focus on this year.

We also heard them brand and brand awareness to see if SEO could do anything to improve their brand online. Mountain High is an older property and even though it has been renovated of recent, historically some of the people grew up going to Mountain High that they kind of remember it as a rough place if they went there as a teenager or in early twenty-something.

Now that they are a family and they have these memories; so Mountain High wasn’t sure if the family was coming back.

Step one – discovery. We cannot stress enough how important this is. I need the digital marketers to explain to the SEOs how important discovery and brainstorm is, because us SEOs often just want to jump in and make things happen, showing that we are the smartest guy in the room. So, just take extra time really asking great questions without coming back with the answers so quickly.

As a SEO, once we learn to do this a little bit better, our strategies were a little bit more out of the box, they were a little bigger, and they had better results because we slowed down just a bit and did a really good job of discovery and getting to know the clients’ business and getting to know the target audience a little bit more.

And, in this case, the target audience – while it was that shredder that was going to come up from L.A. for the day, they really wanted to focus on having the family come up. They knew that the shredder was probably going to bring his own lunch and probably has a season while families go – and I can attest to this – you buy lessons; you go dining; you go to the events; you stay a couple of nights. There is a lot more money spent by the family.

Mountain High really wanted to see what they could do to attract the family and their premise was that the mom is probably planning the family getaway a couple of weeks out

After discovery, brainstorming is another thing that is a little more challenging for us. Many times as an SEO, I get asked a question and I have a half-hour to respond, or things are really pressing for a site launch or pressing for a product launch.

Even though I might already have some ideas in my head, let’s do some brainstorming together. Let’s talk to the social media team that wants to be involved or the marketing team. Let’s go out and look at what is going on in social media, check out the competitors, check out YouTube or Quora.

Just look at the industry a little bit more of maybe spend a little bit of time looking at what is going on online. And even in an more extreme case, find somebody in whatever target audience you’re trying to interact with here and talk to them with some of the ideas you have.

Let me just warn you before we go too much further, it is important for us, from an SEO perspective, to definitely stay relevant. There are a lot of ways that you could go viral or have something really cool, and that could help domain authority. But what we really focus on is building topical relevance to win rankings.

So just try to stay inside some type of box while you’re also getting outside of your comfort zone. Usually, we find that there are really good ideas that the team has, the sales guys have, or the CEO has. There are some ideas that we can run with that have just been percolating with some of the stakeholders. For you guys that can come up with an awesome, amazing idea without talking to anyone else, more power to you. You guys are awesome. Not ME!

As an SEO, I’m trying to be very relevant in my content and I am trying to build topical relevance. So, with all of that as a background – we did our discovery; we did our brainstorming; we’re thinking about our target audience; we’re trying to make sure that we stay relevant – here is a strategy that we developed.

The key is that you don’t have to have a super strategy; the key is the do something and to make sure that your SEO is focused on executing this big idea.

Our idea was that we wanted bloggers – specifically, more so than not, mommy bloggers – to visit the Mountain and write a review which we knew was going to be a blog post. To incent the bloggers to want to do this, we setup a giveaway where one of their readers would win a season pass for one person and we also gave coupon codes to everybody.” We’ll explain why this is an important part of the promotion here in just a little bit.

Our next stage is our planning and execution process, so let’s discuss our tools as we are big users of technology. Inkybee recently did a case study on Mtn High as well and we are big users of Canva for social media graphics and fun things. For all of the contest items, Woobox and Rafflecopter are two that we really use a lot. Majestic SEO is awesome as we even hook up to the API via our SEO dashboard which is a proprietary SEO Reporting and Analytics system that we’ve developed ourselves.

First off, we targeted 30 ski bloggers and from our tools, we were able to find bloggers that were very relevant to what we were trying to do that also had a big audience that were were also very engaged. It was important to us to not only find the right bloggers but to also find the right audiences through those bloggers. During discovery, we found out that Mtn High had this whole library of creative assets of really high quality photos and videos that we were able to pass onto the bloggers to really spruce up their blog posts.

The promo codes provided everyone a discount but also this is how we helped SEO?” By giving a promo code link to the bloggers – or, in this case, an industry outreach target that we found – it created the link from that property on a very highly relevant page over to Mountain High where the ticket purchasing took place.

Mountain High had a 60,000-plus follower community on Facebook that we were able to market to as well with this promotion. There are a lot of ways to amplify the social outreach to do promotion, whether we were using the boosting on Facebook, using e-mail marketing lists to get the word out or you can use also use paid social advertising.

Don’t forget about re-targeting. When you have a specific offer like this one and people are visiting the website, it is a great time to cookie and retarget them back into Facebook via FBX or out on the display networks. A tool like AdRoll can make this easy for you where you just kind of turn it over to them and let them do it as opposed to dealing with the complexity of getting in there and doing it yourself on the multiple platforms.

We have seen lots of successes using concepts like this, but let me show you what happened on this one specifically.

The bloggers’ wrote some awesome blog posts. This particular one is well over 1,000 words, had 66 comments from the readers and had great photos. Most of the photos were custom. As well as a couple from the library that was provided.

We we’re even able to achieve some of our brand goals. Check out what Cindy says, “Hey, it has been a long time since I went boarding at Mountain High. It’d be nice to visit again.” More great social signals show that worked — +1s, tweets, shares.

You can also see great interaction. With only ten blogs, we got over 2,000 entries and 24 high-quality links along with lots of other links.

So what did that do for SEO? Between the content, the topical relevance of the inbound links, and the engagement that occurred within two weeks of when this launched right at the end of November, we saw a big increase in keyword ranking which meant more visibility leading to traffic and conversions. And we saw it continually have uptick after that and all of it was quality traffic that came in resulting more than $10,000 in ticket sales!.

In recap when you’re looking at this case study, Do great discovery, develop your strategy, and go be awesome.” When you do this, good strategy needs good discovery. Be sure to get a little more creative. Get those social media and marketing types involved. SEO isn’t all about the computer.

And just know that, if you develop a big idea – and, remember, that is within our context – it really can drive big SEO results. It is not your typical way of doing SEO, where you win a link or you optimize content, but you can see that it works.

Remember that the basic SEO fundamentals and techniques will only take you so far. Whether it is six months or at three years, you’ve got to come up with something strategic that is going to take you to the next level. So don’t be afraid to say, “Let’s try this new idea.” which will take you from “Can we talk” to “Wow, this is great!”