You need to know SEO

I’ll admit it, I was real lazy getting on the SEO train. It took starting my own company for me to finally start paying attention. SEO for my previous major site work was handled for me. ClassicWines had other staff dedicated to the issue, and Destination ImagiNation had such a huge network of affiliate sites that the SEO literally handled itself. Even this blog went unattended in the SEO category. I had posts tagged, I submitted the site to the search engines and Technorati, I installed Platinum SEO Pack, I figured that was good enough. It came to me shortly after the early soft launch of Fwd:Vault. I had dutifully installed Google Analytics to monitor traffic. I logged into the service for the first time a few weeks after things were rolling, and my search results sucked. I showed up for one term: “fwd”. I used their keyword tool to see what they were primarily pulling off the site, and most of it was the legalese from the policy pages. That’s when I knew this would require some serious attention. If you find yourself in the same position, you owe it to yourself to get educated. The benefits for a startup are obvious, and I don’t know an existing company that wouldn’t like more traffic. Plus SEO knowledge/ability is a great resume booster. On board? Great! Here’s how to get started. First some reading. These are all SEO-related blogs that currently reside in my Google Reader setup. * Awesome intro article from NETTUTS * Google Webmaster Central Blog * Google Webmaster Grab Bag videos * chrisbrogan.com * Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO * SEOmoz Blog * SEOBook.com Blog

Now that you’ve got the info, let’s get our hands on some utility sites. I’m not going to explain how you use these sites, that should be obvious from your self-education outlined above. * Google Webmaster * Bing Webmaster * Yahoo Webmaster (you’ll need a Yahoo account first) * SEOmoz tools * Google Analytics * Google Trends * Google search-based keyword tool * Google Website Optimizer * SEM Rush * SEOBook Tools * SpyFu * Website Grader (part of a group of tools, this is by the far the most useful) * HotWords.com

So there you go. Take all that stuff, add a few weeks of study, and you’ll know all you need to do a decent SEO job. Sidebar: hiring outside help

I really do mean “decent.” SEO specialists can claim they know the voodoo better than you, but most of that is smoke these days. SEO is not quite the wild west it was in the late 90’s and early zeros; effective practices have become more standardized and the tools to maximize that effectiveness more available. Speaking practically, most will provide access to network relationships you can leverage for link sharing, subscriptions to the more expensive SEO tools (the Enterprise version of SEM Rush costs $500/month), and their own cocktail of page optimizations. Nonetheless, they definitely bring a wealth of experience to the table, just as any other expert would. So you should look at hiring an SEO specialist just as would any other position. Just as small businesses keep their own books until they’re big enough to warrant an accountant, you owe it to yourself (and your wallet) to give it a shot. Look for outside help if your own efforts prove fruitless. If nothing else, you’ll be more educated and ready to negotiate with your SEO specialist.