SEO and Inbound Marketing Questions


What Are the Most Important Factors in SEO?

There are hundreds of factors that determine if you’ll rank well in search results. But the most important include:

  • Content – your website can’t rank without content. Content is a general term for articles, pages, blog posts, videos, graphics, everything on your site that is on a page. SEO is the process of optimizing and amplifying your best content to drive traffic that meets your goals.
  • Backlinks and publicity – these go hand in hand. Backlinks are links from other sites to your website. You want to focus on quality links rather than pure volume. It’s better to have 10 links from 10 different top newspaper websites than 1,000 links from random Blogspot blogs of little substance. Publicity efforts generate mentions and links to your brand. There are many other tactics to get backlinks from a traditional SEO practitioners perspective as well.
  • Technical SEO – the foundation for your site. Technical SEO is important from the beginning, and can make and break any site (ex: broken robots.txt), but it has the most substantial impact on large, important websites with tons of traffic and pages.

These are broad categories, but it’s important to think of SEO as a subset of your overall marketing plan. It’s not an isolated field, but rather part of a larger strategy. In order to get the best scalability on SEO, you’ll want to create a flywheel effect that’s depending on other marketing best practices.

How Much Should You Spend on SEO?

There’s no clear answer for this, as every site, company, and industry is different. The short answer is to keep spending until the ROI doesn’t make sense. If you’ve worked out your customer lifetime value (CLV) and also your cost per customer acquisition from SEO, then you’ll have a very clear picture of your ROI. If you’re not at this level of detail, you should aim to get here in the future.

If you haven’t worked out the above, then it becomes a bit harder to determine, but still possible. As a company, you should have a set overall marketing budget, often 5-10% or more of revenue, depending on industry. You should have a certain percentage dedicated to your digital marketing overall, and then break that down even further to a certain percentage dedicated to organic traffic (SEO).

Let’s say you’re dedicated 10% of your company’s revenue to marketing. Let’s say you do some traditional offline marketing that consumes half of that budget. You now have 5% of your revenue dedicated towards digital. Then you should take a look at other successful brands in your industry that you’re trying to emulate. Using SimilarWeb you can get a rough estimate of where they get their website traffic from. Let’s also say that your competitors are getting 50% of their website traffic from organic search. It would then make sense to assume that you should dedicate half of your digital budget to organic search, or 2.5% of your overall company’s revenue.

These numbers will vary for every company, but this is one example of how to arrive at a reasonable number.

Who Needs SEO?

Almost every website can benefit from SEO, and there are few who can’t. Before you ask if you need SEO, first you need to know what the whole purpose of your website is, and what the primary goal of your website is. Common goals are leads, transactions, engagement, or sometimes just pure traffic.

Once you know your goal, you should work backwards and thing about where you’ll get the initial traffic from and what the best sources might be. Traffic to your site should come from a blend of sources and should rely on just one channel. Just like you wouldn’t choose just one stock to put all your money in, you shouldn’t depend on just one channel.

Besides SEO, other channels include social media, direct traffic, referral traffic, email marketing, display ads, and pay-per-click (PPC).

What Industries Does SEO Work Best For?

Industries where SEO works best for are often industries where people use search engines as their primary source. For example, if you’re looking for a car part for your 2009 VW Jetta, you’d most likely start with a search engine. Conversely, if you’re looking for a local auto mechanic, you might value your friends’ opinions more highly and ask around or on social media.

There are some things where SEO just doesn’t need to be a focus for. If you’re an up and coming indie band, you’ll have a website for you band but you’re not going to try to focus on SEO at all as a practice. A music lover will hear about new bands from friends or from Spotify lists and searches, not from Googling “best indie band”. Although a music lover could search for something like “best new indie bands in Austin”, they’re most likely looking for a list from a magazine, not from your band’s website.

The important thing to remember is that web users may visit your site from a blend of different channels, and it’s often only after a few visits that they’ll convert on your website to your goal.

How Long Does SEO Take to Work

SEO can be frustrating for companies new to the field since it’s not an on/off switch like paid advertising might be. You can theoretically spend $100,000 on Google AdWords in a week and get a flood of traffic immediately (of varying degrees of quality). With SEO, you can spend $100,000 on building out your site’s content, building backlinks, and making technical changes, and the return will vary depending on the size, strength, and quality of your site when you begin.

If you’re a multi-national brand that’s had a website for 20 years but never optimized it, then yes you can see changes almost overnight after you implement massive fixes. Conversely, if you are starting from scratch as a brand new company, it can take 3-6 months of concerted effort to see some traction.

SEO is a long game, so you have to measure it differently from advertising. The upside of SEO taking so long to work in some cases is that it’s a more permanent source. Once you get to a good place, you’ll likely stay there for a while. Paid ads will turn off the flood of traffic the second your credit card is maxed out. Well-done SEO can last for years even after you stop making improvements.

What’s the Best Metric to Measure the Quality of a Site?

If you want a simple measure, Moz’s Domain Authority is probably the best way to measure the quality of a site. That being said there are many other ways to measure, with many measurements. There’s also MozTrust and MozRank from Moz. There’s Trust Flow and Citation Flow from Majestic.

How do I Relaunch My Website and Not Lose Organic Traffic?

A website relaunch is an umbrella term for either redesigning, rebranding, replatforming, or changing your website’s domain name. In an ill-advised situation, you might do all of these at once.

The most important thing from the beginning is to really be clear that you need to be relaunching in the first place and clearly mark what your goals are. Too many companies thing a website redesign will solve their revenue problems, when they should instead invest in better landing pages, website copy, and traffic quality.

Then you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time, often 90 days or more to plan the transition. You’ll want to start by planning out the content transition of the site, what will stay and what will be eliminated or added. Then there’s a whole host of technical things to think about, such as the URL changes, 301 redirects, robots.txt, and other technical SEO elements.

The main thing is to isolate all of the variables in a website transition and take an iterative approach rather than a grand website relaunch approach.

How Does SEO Change for WordPress vs Magento vs Shopify?

Google and other search engines don’t care what platform you use, as long as you follow SEO best practices. But some platforms make SEO best practices easier than others.

The SEO principles apply to every platform no matter what. Essentially, Google and other search engines are interpreting the HTML code and front-end content of the page that is output. All the search engines can read is the code and content that is output from your website, not the underlying platform, no matter if it’s WordPress, Magento, Shopify or any other platform.

In practice, however, the platform does actually have a big influence on SEO. The the marketer, developer, or entrepreneur in charge of the platform is the one who has the real influence on the quality of search engine optimization for the site. Each of the above platforms is just a tool for publishing and managing the site content, the humans are the ones who do it.

Some of the most common elements of what differentiates one platform from the next include the following:

  • Ease of editing primary SEO elements on any page of the site you want
  • Scalability for implementing SEO best practices across pages you don’t have time to individually edit
  • Simplicity of adding and publishing content frequently
  • Tagging and categorization of blog posts and products
  • Categorization structure for product pages
  • Ability to add unique content to product pages and product category pages
  • Ability to edit URL structures at scale and individually
  • Native 301 redirect tools or ability to add redirect plugins easily
  • Ability to add in new plugins that make content creation or SEO easier and faster
  • Speed and quality of updates to platform to minimize website hacking

There’s not one perfect platform out there that’s the silver bullet for every company. In a nutshell, Magento is best for content and lead focused businesses, Shopify is great for ecommerce companies with simpler products, and Magento is best for complex or a high volume of products.

Each of these platforms have the basics of SEO best practices, and as for the more advanced best practices, some of them handle certain areas better than others. I’ve personally worked with all three and so it’s my opinion that the best platform for SEO depends on your industry, company, team, and skill set of those who will publish and promote the brand.

Can I Disavow Links to my Site if I don’t have a Penalty?

Generally, yes. Matt Cutts states, “So if you’ve done the work to keep an active look on your backlinks and you see something strange going on, you don’t have to wait around. Feel free to just go ahead and preemptively say, ‘You know what; this is a weird domain. I have nothing to do with it, and no idea what this particular bot is doing in terms of making links,’ so go ahead and do disavows even on a domain level.”

This is somewhat of a change in a stance for Google. Originally the tool was created for penalty problems, but as shown in this video it’s perfectly fine to be proactive and disavow links that are spam or bot created links that you’ve had nothing to do with.


  1. Matt Cutts on Google Webmasters Youtube (Youtube)
  2. When and How to Use the Google Disavow Tool (Quicksprout)
  3. Matt Cutts: Use the Link Disavow Tool Even if Your Site Hasn’t Been Penalized (Search Engine Watch)
  4. Your Start-to-Finish Guide to Using Google’s Disavow Tool (Moz)

How Many Backlinks Does My Website Need?

The short answer is at least 50 linking root domains to your website. This is a completely arbitrary and inaccurate answer, but it’s actually a good number to aim for. If you can get 50 other websites that are not spammy or low-quality websites to link back to you, you’ll be in a good spot.

The thing is, it all depends on your search engine results page (SERP) neighborhood. If you only want to rank for the keyword “best window washer in Kalamazoo” and there’s only one other company that competes with you in that town, you probably just need a few links to get on the map. Conversely, if you’re trying to rank for “auto insurance”, well I hope that your company name rhymes with “psycho”.

Small, local businesses need a handful of good links to rank for the keywords and get for the traffic that they can realistically ever hope for. Multi-national brands in the most competitive industries will need to sink millions into content and backlinks, along with the PR and advertising efforts they’ve been honing for years.

If you’re starting from scratch, make it your aim to get 10 websites to link to you in the next 3 months, and you’ll see some improvements across your organic traffic. If you’re a fairly successful ecommerce company, create 3 really amazing pieces of content in the next 3 months and promote it as much as possible within your budget and measure the before and after results.

Once you’ve spent the time earning and understanding links from other sites, you’ll know how to justify the ROI.

How do I Check my SEO Score?

There is no “SEO quality score” like Google’s AdWords quality score. There is also no overall “SEO score” that you can easily look at, but we do have a lot of really good 3rd party tools to help us determine what we may refer to as an SEO score.

There are lots of ways to determine the overall health of your site’s SEO. There are hundreds of factors that play into the SEO score of your site, including quality of your overall domain, quality of individual pages, on-site optimization of your site, site speed, keyword targeting, backlink quality, and more.

The best overall SEO score for your site would be Moz’s Domain Authority metric.  This metric compiles hundreds of data points to determine the overall authority of a domain. For example, Twitter’s Domain Authority (DA) is 100, while your website might only be 20.

Other 3rd party tools (not provided by Google) to check your website’s SEO score include Ahref’s Domain Rating metric, Majestic’s Citation Flow and Trust Flow, and SEMrush’s Traffic Cost metric. The important thing is to just get started choosing one, and comparing your site against your competitors to know where to focus.

Do I need an SEO Specialist if my Developer knows SEO?

Q: I’m working with a website developer to create a new website, and he says he already knows SEO and we don’t need to hire someone specifically for it. I’m not sure what to do.

A: From my experience good developers usually have an ok grasp of what SEO entails from start to finish. You might hear from the developer that the site just needs to have clean code and good content and that’s all you need. But you might want to ask them: what about keyword research, internal linking, topical hub pages, title tags, Webmaster Tools configuration, etc? Developers are very smart and could definitely do and learn these things if they had the time, but that’s often not the case.

I’ve created websites myself, and when I’m in website development mode, I just want to the the dang thing working and out the door. There’s so much pressure to get all the things working that people will notice – make sure the site design is good and there are no errors, that everything else falls to the wayside.

Having someone responsible for the website’s SEO is key. It’s like a system of checks and balances. By having someone who is not creating the website responsible for auditing the technical elements, you have a second layer of protection.

Marketing managers and business owners have such a variety of tasks to do that they can’t go deep on any one thing. Trust me, I was a Director of Marketing at a travel company and could only focus on the SEO of a site for 10% of my time – the rest was focused on design, writing, branding, emails, PPC, managing people, managing development team, reporting, fixing last minute things, etc.

If you are a two person operation in lean startup mode, then it makes sense for you as the marketing manager or business owner to learn yourself and apply the basics, because of the interest of money. If you run a larger, serious business that depends on selling items in your online store or bringing in new leads for new deals, having that second set of expert eyes is money well spent.

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