In the 1990s and early 2000s, low-quality websites were everywhere, malware and viruses were difficult to avoid, and search engines had a hard time telling valuable content from fraudulent sites. Thus came Search Engine Optimization (SEO), wherein website creators tried to work the search engine system by packing websites full of keywords in a struggle to rise to the top of the search rankings. This practice often turned otherwise great websites into difficult, obnoxious to read, headache-inducing junk that damaged the company’s reputation and cost them business.
There were those with a love for language and good writing who refused to create literary garbage and instead insisted that great websites would rise to the top if they had great content. So in response to this Franken-content, many web content creators began what became the organic SEO movement. Organic SEO is basically using good writing to convey quality information that readers need. Keywords are used naturally and not forced into the content, though a certain keyword density helps the search engines know that the keyword is what the content is focused on and not just another word in a sentence. Organic SEO combines the art of writing with the science of analytics.
Lisa Weinberger was at the forefront of the organic SEO movement. Her company, PearlyWrites, hired skilled writers and trained them to understand keyword density. Perhaps the more difficult part of the job was convincing clients that Franken-content would hurt them in the long run. As search engines evolved, other Internet content creators saw their website rankings drop. PearlyWrites’ sites retained high search rankings because they did not participate in the bad practices that search engines learned to punish.
I am lucky to have been a PearlyWrites writer, from back in the day when we called it organic SEO — nowadays it’s just SEO best practices. I caught up with Lisa to ask about SEO and its new(ish) outlet, social media. (The definitions of SEO terms in parentheses were written by me.)
TechRepublic: You’ve been in SEO a long time — how did you get started in the field?
Lisa Weinberger: I got started in SEO in 1994 when my parents put a website up for their local housecleaning service, and they needed to be found in the first search engines like AOL, Netscape, and Ask. From there I found organic search interesting and approached it as if I was solving a puzzle. Since I was an English Writing major, using words to capture an online audience, as well as the search engines, was my natural inclination. I also created and ran pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns but always focused on the organic approach. I also had mentors in the technical side of SEO where we traded information and ideas.
TechRepublic: What are the most interesting and game-changing evolutions SEO has undergone?
Lisa Weinberger: Coming from the content side of SEO, the most interesting and game-changing evolutions I have experienced are in the past year with the Google Panda and Penguin updates. It gave me confirmation that the strategy I have been creating and executing for the past 19 years — which is to produce unique content which could be promoted, satisfy the user’s query and support onsite rankings — has been a strong approach. (Natural links occur when another website, blog, or social media post links to a site’s content because the person creating the link believes the linked content to be worthwhile and relevant to the topic.)
TechRepublic: What advice do you have for those integrating SEO with social media?
Lisa Weinberger: My approach has always been incorporating content while keeping SEO and social in mind. My advice is to decide on a target persona (problem, task, or goal) and research what is trending within your niche communities on the social networks and begin by creating content that answers the query. Then do a competition analysis in Google to see what other sites are ranking and analyze the competitor’s page prior to developing any of your own content. This will allow you to decide what content types may bring in authority links to your piece as well as focus on sharability since a significant part of the search algorithm is centered on social media and engagement.
(Authority links are natural links to your website from highly ranked, authoritative websites. For example, TechRepublic is recognized as an authority site by the search engines, in part because it is owned by CBS Interactive and in part because it has provided quality content for so long that it has earned the rank of authority site. So a link from TechRepublic to your site is an authority link. Authority links are given more weight in search engine algorithms than other natural links.)
TechRepublic: What are the most important analytics to track and why?
Lisa Weinberger: Tracking page views, traffic, engagement, and conversions creates a picture of how well received and effective the content is.
TechRepublic: What are your favorite analytics tools?
Lisa Weinberger: Google Analytics, Omniture, Raven, Track Social
TechRepublic: What are your favorite SEO tools?
Lisa Weinberger: Omniture and some self-created tools that give the targeted information I need to create strategies.
TechRepublic: What are your favorite social media tools?
Lisa Weinberger: HootSuite, Track Social, Raven Tools
TechRepublic: Should SEO and social media always be done in-house? When is it time to hire an agency?
Lisa Weinberger: Working as both an outside firm and as an in-house resource, I feel it depends on your situation, company, and budget. I also feel the two can work together if both parties know what they are responsible for through the creation of co-strategizing.
TechRepublic: What advice do you have for workers who are just starting out in SEO and social media?
Lisa Weinberger: My advice is to read and follow the veterans in the SEO and social media industry (like Annie Cushing or Avinash Kaushik), find a mentor, ask questions, and learn by doing. Putting up a basic WordPress site will allow you to learn hands-on of the things that work and the approaches that don’t work.
TechRepublic: SEO and social media are content marketing. What is your advice on Authorship and Authority?
Lisa Weinberger: Glad you asked. I pitched a panel to SMX East and was chosen to speak on this very topic at SMX East and West this past year. Authorship is a must if you are a content publisher. Between Google measuring rankings by being an authority source, you want to create an authorship page for yourself as an individual. If you are a business, then you want to create a business page for your site and verify it in Google. Both give visual cues for the user who is searching when a picture or logo appears in the search results. (Authorship is essentially the connection of online content to the person who created it. We will cover authorship best practices in a future article.)
TechRepublic: Where do you see the future of SEO and social media headed?
Lisa Weinberger: SEO and social media aren’t going anywhere. Businesses are online, people want to research online prior to purchasing anything, and we are all increasingly mobile, so digital marketing will just increase in growth. With the immediate response through social, this is where customer service is heading to maintain a strong reputation and to decrease any potential crisis situation that may arise.
The opportunities and additional ways to advertise and market online will increase. Finding tools that measure specific metrics, which can create new business modes of income for paid search and social, will increase as well.
TechRepublic: What are the best resources for workers who are new to search and social media analytics to learn quickly?
Lisa Weinberger: The best resources are reading sites like Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, and Mashable to start with and to give you a base of SEO. Follow the veterans on the social networks and stay up to date on the latest news. And remember to ask questions!
Thanks to Lisa for taking time out of her busy schedule for this interview.
More about Lisa Weinberger
Lisa is the owner of PearlyWrites and the Director of Content Promotion | SEO for Bankrate, Inc. She is also an expert in social and content strategy and a mentor to young adults interested in building their online businesses. Lisa has consulted with PBS/Annenberg Media, Laurel Tech, Taishan Sports, 1928 Jewelry, Howard Johnson hotels, McGraw Hill, and Wyndham Hotel Group.