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SEO Lecture @ Georgetown University

I was honored to be asked by Bret Peters to teach a class on advanced link building and keyword research at Georgetown University a few days ago, and I wanted to share my slides, below. One of the reasons I enjoy giving presentations to classes like his is that: (a) the students ask great questions, which forces you to focus and re-visit some of your assumptions, and (b) the act of preparing the presentation forces you to re-visit and re-organize your thoughts on important topics, like the role of link building, and how to do proper keyword selection.  Here are some of my major takeaways, and I hope you find the slides useful:

  1. Link building was previously, and still is, one of the most important ways to drive results in SEO.
  2. With link building, as with much else in SEO, your constant enemy is spam – it will kill your rankings.
  3. It’s better to have one link from a great university like Georgetown, or a great website like the Washington Post, than to have 50 links from crummy websites.
  4. You should evaluate SEO tools based on how much transparency they give you. Tools like Moz’s open site explorer are great in part because they tell you how they reach their scores and conclusions — without the backend data, the tools are useless.
  5. Don’t over-rely on tools. Too many SEO professionals want to live their life without talking to others. Never use the link disavow tool, for instance, until you’ve tried to talk to the owner or manager of a website that you want to disavow, and simply ask them to remove the link. If they do that, you’re way better off than if you resort to the disavow tool.
  6. The best way to start your competitive research is by googling your #1 phrases, and see who else comes up. No fancy keyword research necessary.
  7. The best way to start your keyword research is to ask one reliable customer what they would Google in order to find your product or service. Or better yet, ask them to do a Google search in front of you, and see what they do (i.e., ask them to use Google to find a dentist).
  8. You can structure your link building campaigns initially based on competitive data – see what links your competitors have, and then see which of those sites you “deserve” a link from.
  9. Google Search Console should be your best friend as an SEO expert.
  10. If you want to have a mobile optimized website, you should get to know the “Fetch & Render” tool within Google search console. This is too little used.
  11. Modern-day link building should be focused on “quality content creation” and “quality link attraction.” Easier said than done, but you can’t replace it.
  12. Sometimes your best bet is to get other sites to include you in their content — don’t even try to displace them. For instance, you’ll never displace Wikipedia for most of the keywords it ranks for. But you may be able to be incorporated into the Wikipedia articles, which can drive your lower rank.
  13. You can do a very advanced keyword “gap analysis” using nothing more than the Google Keyword Planner, and the keyword data from within Google Search Console and Google Analytics. With a little math around your normal CTR when you rank in position #1, #2, and #3, you can see the size of the opportunity if you gain additional ranking slots in those positions for new keywords.

I hope this information, and the slides below, are helpful to you as you think through your SEO plans for yourself and your clients!

Will Marlow is a search engine marketing consultant who loves helping high growth companies optimize and improve their PPC results: and he holds seven certifications: Google AdWords Search, Display, Mobile, Shopping, and Video Certification, Google Analytics Certification, as well as certification as a Bing Ads Accredited Professional.

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