Dan’s years of experience has definitely taught him the INS and OUTS of digital marketing and everything in between. His acquired skill sets, combined with great analytical responses to every SEO challenge that comes along the way has made him the go-to consultant for business owners. Need a strategy that’s proven and works well? Dan is the expert to ask. How did he earn his expertise? There are so many things we can learn from him.
Dan Lawrence is one of the first generation of Search Engine Optimisation specialists (since 1998) & Inbound Marketing consultants in the UK & EU, Dan has helped numerous clients to seriously improve their ROI from their digital marketing spend. He is currently on the go, providing top SEO services to those who would like to continually increase their ROI.
Online retail shop startup, selling high end IT products for media & high tech business clients, originally (B2B), then consumer digital lifestyle products (B2C) later on
WHAT YOU DID
I was working with a very basic shopping cart software that in retrospect was highly unsuitable for SEO. It included many aspects to its system that are now on the top ten list of what to avoid (such as dynamically generated URLs etc). However this was the very early days of e-commerce and SEO, so it was still possible to succeed targeting high volume and high value primary and secondary keywords, despite the platform’s many drawbacks. This included many head terms you wouldn’t even think of trying to target these days (well not without big SEO budgets anyway), such as ‘Data Storage’, ‘WiFi’, etc. etc.
My SEO strategy prioritised on-page work since that’s all I had control over, initially at least anyway, and this is still the most important place to start your SEO in my opinion, since it forces you into the all important keyword research stage that can quickly alert you to any misconceptions or inaccurate presumptions that you may have made in regard to your market research. It’s a great way to methodologically criticise your research and plans so far, and provide an opportunity to review and almost certainly amend your plans. I based the entire topography of my site’s structure and architecture based upon my keyword research (and this was the single greatest factor that contributed to its future SEO success I think).
Although, depending upon your competitive landscape and how new/old and authoritative or not your site is compared to your competitors, then you can and should also kick off your best practice and high quality link building campaigns asap, to start building authority safely and effectively over time. But this wasn’t necessary back in 2002, although it still would have helped. This approach, concentrating on the foundations first, resulted in the site being structured in a way that mirrored the search intent and behaviour of my specific target market/s since it was directly aligned with ‘how’ and ‘what’ they were searching for.
So in conjunction with some quality links (I never consciously ‘Built Links’ in the old days, always focusing on ‘link earning’ instead), the shop achieved first field of view positions for all keywords targeted, however competitive they were, and hence lots of sales. By 2007, almost every major UK company, educational establishment and music studio had bought at least once, but most became repeat customers (including the Beatles, George Michael, BAE, Northern Ireland Police Forensics Dept., every money press (Mint) in the world, The BBC, etc. etc.). I was happy and considered it all a decent success 🙂 !
I’ve probably worked my way through most of the SEO software platforms on offer over the years, including the ‘shadier’ ones from the early days. The most valuable were the keyword research tools, since no marketing plan can be considered ‘a plan’ if its not based on market research.
KW research tools help to accurately identify keywords with high volume and commercial intent but low competition (the golden ratio for identifying niche keywords to target). First off was fellow North Londoners; Wordtracker, which has been going since 1999, and I think it was them that came up with the Keyword Effectiveness Index metric (KEI), which became one of keyword research most ubiquitous metrics, due to how useful it was. This is now pretty much defunct as the web has grown in size (to cut a very long story short) to then be replaced by new metrics such as Market Samurais (i think) SEOTC & SEOTCR etc.
However, as I understand it, these are also little used metrics now as the web/search engines and hence SEO, further evolve. These days, I’m likely to use one of the few SEO software platforms that combine what’s required ‘under one hood’, for my own projects anyway, such as SEMRush, primarily for cost reasons. For bigger client projects, I would use a platform in conjunction with other more specific service areas, such as for links, Ahrefs & Majestic etc.
Search metrics is also great apparently but I haven’t used it yet, primarily because when they approached me to start using it when I was head of SEO for a London based agency that focused on gaming clients, we were doing a lot of pioneering social media work, acquiring first time depositors (FTD’s) from Facebook etc. for our Gaming clients (some famous online Bingo brands) and SM didn’t have social media reporting modules within its platform, so we used Raven instead.
However, I only ever hear good things about Search Metrics and have enjoyed the CEO’s conference talks at BrightonSEO etc. so will start using them at some point I’m sure.
- Market Samurai Platforms for General SEO
SearchMetrics Link Focused:
- Search Metrics
None of the above existed re the time the case study refers to so i didn’t use them for that but would do now absolutely.
My 1990’s SEO tools inc:
- Web Position Gold
- Misc Online Forums (Webmaster World etc)
- A lot of head scratching & sleepless nights
The main difficulties I encountered were of course invoking the wrath of various Google penalties over the years. These days there’s no excuse for doing so, since by following generally accepted best practice guidelines in regard to web development and SEO processes, they are (or at least should be) easily avoided (touch wood). However in the early days, there were much fewer SEO’s to cross reference ideas with, and even if you did, you wouldn’t know whether they were correct or not. Only by spending hours on forums and cross referencing the issues and general chit chat could you whittle it down to a ‘crowd sourced’ opinion of what’s most likely going on and what needs to done to fix it.
My store’s SERPS were first affected negatively by Google’s first big and highly destructive filter (algorithmic update with a penalising aspect widely deployed), called Florida, targeting spammy practices, which my site was not guilty of but there must have been something about it that attracted Florida’s negative attention. I nearly went out of business and spent days, if not weeks, trying to find out what was the best course of action to take until one day after doing absolutely nothing, my SERPS came back and I was back in the game, but it was a very close call.
Due to the nature of my shop (a reseller and dropshipper) and time it took to populate the product listings, I used to just copy and paste the product descriptions, along with pretty much every other reseller out there. I did carry out tweaks to optimise it but it was still over 80% same as the original. For the first few years, this was fine and for the most part I even outranked the brands I was a reseller for, own websites (that was fun), and frequently outranked Amazon too (even funnier).
However, as most of you I’m sure you are all too aware that duplicate content is one of the biggest SEO ‘no no’s’ out there. In e-commerce, this is most often caused by copying manufacturer’s descriptions but back then I had no idea it could be an issue since it seemed so illogical. Surely a manufacturer’s description is the most logical one to use since it is the authority description and it is what searchers will also be looking for to assure them that they have found the same product that they saw on the manufacturer’s site, so it is crucial for imbuing trust.
But Google didn’t like it and increased its prejudice against sites with dupes from about 2005 onwards (I think the Bourbon algo update was the first to address it but seemed to get continually more important from then on) but by 2006, my SERPS were starting to fall and hence my sales. So in conclusion I did encounter a few issues over the years, and via updating content or indeed ‘toughing it out’ and doing nothing to respond to the algo changes, things usually worked themselves out over time.
Initially, well for the first 6 years or so, the project was an outstanding success culminating in an objective valuation by an established and respected accountant & VC, based upon widely accepted valuation criteria (such as industry standard Price Earning (PE) ratios at the time), of £2Million. Given that all revenue was generated by SEO alone, and built on an ‘off the shelf’ shopping cart software on a Windows 95 desktop machine from my one bed flat in London, it was a great success :).
However, my mistake at this point (approx 2007) was either not selling the business post valuation or not arranging for professional funding and business team involvement and I carried on trying to do everything myself. At this point, my product lines were much more b2c than b2b focused and with the additional admin workload for many more, but less value orders, I was swamped and distracted from my core skills by other requirements of the business, that were taking up more time per order but for less revenue generated per order.
The lesson from that is that I should have focused on my core skills and outsourced the rest (via VC/Angel investor involvement taking over or by having the confidence to take the risk and hire some people or outsource to specialist service suppliers).
In conclusion, though I considered it all a success in that I made a living out of it for 6+ years, achieved a good valuation that could have been realised if I had sold. Most importantly though was the experience, which left me well qualified as an SEO (and I have been helping brands with this ever since as a consultant) as well as teaching me lots of lessons re running an online business generally and digital marketing specifically.
I should have:
- Re-Written product descriptions earlier and sooner
- Invested in a better e-commerce platform sooner that gave me more control over the SEO
- Either sold the business soon after it was professionally valued at £2 million OR
- Taken on investors (VC/Angels etc.)
I shouldn’t have:
- Trusted in so called friends as business partners without having it in writing 🙂
- Played it so safe (trying to do all myself whilst not taking on help or investors)
- Your intuition is usually ‘bang on the button’ so follow your heart to set your direction and rationalism only to help you get there. In other words, follow your heart not your head.
- If you ever hear anyone say ‘SEO is dead’, remind them that so long as there are organic/unpaid search listing results in some form or another, then SEO remains very much alive.