7 Habits of Highly Effective SEO

When I started my professional career (selling advertising), one of the most influential books that I read at the time was “7 Habits of Highly Effective People“, by Stephen Covey.

It’s not much of an over-statement to say that this book changed my life.

What’s interesting to me is how many of the tenets that Mr. Covey conveyed in this book hold true in many facets of my life, and specifically with digital marketing and search engine optimization (SEO).

I speak to many prospects for SEO services, every day. Some of these believe that SEO is a one-and-done affair.

While I find instances where companies could see some solid gains by simply implementing propertitle tags and correcting a few things, more often than not, proper SEO efforts need to be worked on a regular basis to realize the types of gains that can deliver really solid, long-lasting and “optimized” (optimal) results.

Every SEO company will have its own processes for performing SEO, and I’m not suggesting that what follows covers everything that goes into an ongoing SEO effort, but the key ingredients are here.

*Note: items in italics come directly from Stephen Covey’s website.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Instead of reacting to or worrying about conditions over which they have little or no control, proactive people focus their time and energy on things they can control. The problems, challenges, and opportunities we face fall into two areas–Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.

Proactive people focus their efforts on their Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about: health, children, problems at work. Reactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern–things over which they have little or no control: the national debt, terrorism, the weather. Gaining an awareness of the areas in which we expend our energies in is a giant step in becoming proactive.

In our world, being proactive means you can’t chase an algorithm.

What we can focus on are those things that we can control, which is develop a sound web presence that the search engines “should want to” rank – one that:

There are many things that are within our circle of influence, such as:

  • Selecting the right keywords to target.
  • Building quality websites.
  • Making sure that content is crawlable/indexable.
  • Developing sitemaps.
  • Maintaining clean code.
  • Promoting content.
  • Distributing press releases.

While we must be aware, and understand, things like Google Panda/Penguin and other major changes in the algorithms, if we focus on doing “good marketing”, all other things should fall in line, and major algorithm changes shouldn’t be a concern.

You want to try to build a company’s web presence that the search engines should want to rank. Perhaps, that way, you aren’t reacting to algorithms but actually working “ahead” of any algorithm changes.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

So, what do you want to be when you grow up? That question may appear a little trite, but think about it for a moment. Are you–right now–who you want to be, what you dreamed you’d be, doing what you always wanted to do? Be honest. Sometimes people find themselves achieving victories that are empty–successes that have come at the expense of things that were far more valuable to them. If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.

Habit 2 is based on imagination–the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. It’s about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself. Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.

I have often asked prospects this very question (“What do you want to be when you grow up?”). Without knowing where you’d like to be, how do you get there? What are the goals?

When I hear “I want to rank for this one specific keyword”, I am very inclined to elect not to work with that company. I’m not about “empty” success.

When I hear “we’d like to grow sales by X” or “we’d like to grow traffic by Y,” then I know that there is potential in an ongoing relationship.

Once we’ve determined that there may be a fit, it is the responsibility of any good SEO to lay out a plan based upon the end goals, and begin the process of developing the necessary steps to achieve the end goal.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

To live a more balanced existence, you have to recognize that not doing everything that comes along is okay. There’s no need to overextend yourself. All it takes is realizing that it’s all right to say no when necessary and then focus on your highest priorities.

Habit 1 says, “You’re in charge. You’re the creator.” Being proactive is about choice. Habit 2 is the first, or mental, creation. Beginning with the End in Mind is about vision. Habit 3 is the second creation, the physical creation. This habit is where Habits 1 and 2 come together. It happens day in and day out, moment-by-moment. It deals with many of the questions addressed in the field of time management. But that’s not all it’s about. Habit 3 is about life management as well–your purpose, values, roles, and priorities. What are “first things?” First things are those things you, personally, find of most worth. If you put first things first, you are organizing and managing time and events according to the personal priorities you established in Habit 2.

Often, when performing a competitive analysis, we find websites that are quite successful (getting a lot of quality organic search traffic for keywords that we’d like to target). When we can identify those top competitors and uncover the reasons why they are successful, we can reverse engineer their success and build a program based upon “best practices”.

When you compare the reasons why a competitor may have more success than you, you can begin to develop a program based upon address those “holes” (deficiencies) and scope out a project plan, accordingly.

If you’re like most, you may not have an unlimited budget and you’ll need to prioritize your efforts. For some, link building may be the most glaring need. For others, a lack of content to support ranking for keywords in the issue.

However you go about getting to the end goal, you must understand the end goal – first – in order to understand the prioritization of steps necessary to be successful.

For SEO programs, most agree upon a common “hierarchy of needs”. As a general rule, this is a good illustration of those (SEO) needs:

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Win-win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-win means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying. We both get to eat the pie, and it tastes pretty darn good!

A person or organization that approaches conflicts with a win-win attitude possesses three vital character traits:

  • Integrity: sticking with your true feelings, values, and commitments
  • Maturity: expressing your ideas and feelings with courage and consideration for the ideas and feelings of others
  • Abundance Mentality: believing there is plenty for everyone

From an industry standpoint, someone who has done a tremendous job in understanding this “habit” very well is Rand Fishkin. From my recollection, Fishkin was the first person to take his “corporate website” and turn it (largely) into a blog.

Fishkin then proceeded to “give away” his IP (Intellectual Property). Anything that he knew, or thought, or whatever was posted for the community at large to read, disseminate, comment and – yes – share (links).

I don’t know when that was, but it seemed very early (Rand, if you read this, I’d love for you to comment). Fishkin understood something that took me a while to wrap my head around: the more you give, the more you get. This has been the foundation of my advice for folks getting into social media, and it’s something that I can now demonstrate results from, myself.

My company’s website has earned most of its links through our blog. We try to write helpful, interesting posts and we promote those posts. Sometimes, we earn some pretty significant/“good” links.

I’ve also been writing for Search Engine Watch and/or Clickz for a little over 5 years now, and have been a speaker at industry conferences for a little over 6 years. “Giving away” content is a good thing (I’ve earned speaking engagements, new business and – yes – some links, because of these efforts). You get rewarded, if not immediately.

Convincing companies (clients, in my case) that they, too, need to consider this can be a challenge. But, if you step forward with proving helpful/resourceful content (even if your competitors are reading it), you position yourself as a thought-leader and can win “on the back end.”

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Communication is the most important skill in life. You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being? Probably none, right?

If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely.

Without understanding this principle, you may try to target keywords that you think everyone should be searching for, rather than doing the research to see how people actually search for your products and/or services.

How many SEOs out there have worked with companies that are clearly determined to push forward on their way of describing their products/services, even though research shows that no one is searching in that manner? I refer to this as CEO-itis. That is, the CEO has his vernacular and is very determined to have a website full of fluff content rather than crafting content to be more in line with reality.

When you listen first, and then understand, you have a much better chance at success. The same can be said about success social media marketing efforts.

Habit 6: Synergize

To put it simply, synergy means “two heads are better than one.” Synergize is the habit of creative cooperation. It is teamwork, open-mindedness, and the adventure of finding new solutions to old problems. But it doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s a process, and through that process, people bring all their personal experience and expertise to the table. Together, they can produce far better results that they could individually. Synergy lets us discover jointly things we are much less likely to discover by ourselves. It is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. One plus one equals three, or six, or sixty–you name it.

A proper SEO effort is one in which PPC works with SEO, PR works with SEO, social marketing works with SEO, copywriting works with SEO, video/image teams work with SEO, web design/development teams work with SEO, and IT teams work with SEO.

Getting this synergy in place can lead to beautiful results. However, if synergy isn’t in place, you can’t expect to realize optimal results.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice the other six habits. You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you. Without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish.

SEO, when done well, isn’t a one-and-done affair. Optimization of results, via analytics review/analysis, usability reviews, on-going tweaking/refining of on-page/off-page SEO and conversion optimization lead to better and better results, over time.

You must sharpen the saw and always consider how things can be better. Certainly, new and interesting opportunities present themselves all the time.

If you had “completed” an SEO effort several years ago, you might not have been taking advantage of “new” opportunities such as local, news SEO, video SEO, shopping feed optimization or even blogging/social promotion.

Things change, and we must always look for ways to be better at our craft and seek out new/interesting opportunities for advancement of the SEO efforts.


I need to provide a shout-out to Neil Patel for this particular column. While the idea for this column was 100 percent mine, I did a search and found that he had written a similar post (that I encourage you to read) titled “7 Habits of Highly Effective SEOs”.


How to Run Foreign Language PPC Campaigns

English remains the single most widely used language online. But it still only accounts for around a quarter of total usage, and this proportion is falling. 

The growth in online use of languages such as Chinese and Arabic far outstrips that of English. Additionally, many users only speak English as a second language.

A recent study conducted across the European Union found that more than half of Internet users visited foreign language (usually meaning English) websites. However, only 18 percent said they would make online purchases from a site that wasn’t in their own native language.

The benefits of website localization are increasingly widely recognized. Although SEO should be an important part of any online marketing strategy, it can take time to yield conversions.

A pay-per-click (PPC) campaign can help speed the process and can also be a cost effective means of advertising and building brand awareness in a foreign market. Of course, it gets more complicated when operating across linguistic divides, and there are a number of issues that should be considered.

Go Beyond Google

Google is by far the most popular search engine worldwide and it should play a crucial role in most PPC campaigns. As of June 2012, Karmasnack reported the search engine giant had a whopping 87.6 percent market share worldwide. But this doesn’t tell the whole story.

In certain markets local competitors rule the roost. In Russia, for example, Yandex has the greatest market share while Baidu – the fifth most visited site in the world according to Alexa – is massively important in China.

Where local search engines don’t dominate but do enjoy a decent slice of market share alongside Google, they may offer a cheaper viable alternative for your PPC campaign.

Do your research though as PPC rules can vary between search engines. To open a Baidu PPC account, for example, you will need a local presence with a Chinese domain website and a valid business certificate issued by the Chinese government.

Keywords are Crucial

If you have fully localized and optimized foreign language websites, you may have your diligently researched keywords all ready to go. If not, don’t forget that straight dictionary translations of your English language keywords may not be adequate for the job.

What works in one language might not in another as colloquialisms, abbreviations, regional variations and other alternative terms may all be more effective.

A literal translation of “car insurance” into French, for example, would be “l’assurance automobile”. A quick run through Google’s keyword tool indicates that this term yields very poor results, with alternative terms such as “assurance auto” or “assurance voiture” being far more successful.

Don’t throw away your carefully researched English keywords, but use them only as a starting point. Brainstorm alternatives with the help of a native speaking translator and test their effectiveness using the keyword tools of whichever search engine(s) you focus on.

Consider Your Copy

PPC ads have to grab the attention and convey the right information in an extremely limited space. There’s an art to effective PPC copywriting but what works in one country might not in another.

As with keywords, you certainly shouldn’t rely on dictionary or machine translation. Context and culture should be taken into consideration and the tone of language used can be very important.

You should think transcreation rather than translation – combining the creative and translation processes to come up with vibrant copy that really speaks to your target market.

Monitor Your Campaign

As with any PPC campaign, you’ll need to constantly monitor your progress and results. Once the ads are live you should regularly check to see how many impressions, click-throughs and conversions each one achieves.

You should also keep an eye out for instances of potential click-fraud. As you’ll be dealing with foreign languages and possibly unfamiliar search engines, it’s likely that you’ll need the assistance of language professionals.

As with keyword and copy localization, native speaking translators are best, as they tend to have more of a handle on local practises and variations.

Adjust your Approach as Required

Monitoring your campaign’s ongoing performance allows you to make tweaks or large-scale adjustments as and when they are needed. Any PPC campaign is an ongoing, fluctuating process.

Comparatively small things like refining keywords can have a huge effect on PPC and this can be even more marked in foreign language and multilingual campaigns. The search engine(s) you originally used may not be as effective as you envisaged or you may find that your product or service is simply not as much in demand as your market research suggested.

The opposite may also be true of course. You may find your campaign has been more successful than you’d envisaged and decide to increase your spend. Measuring your return on investment will, of course, be the best indication of the effectiveness of your overall campaign.


Running a foreign language PPC campaign brings its own unique challenges. With a little forethought and planning however, it can help you increase sales and tap into whole new foreign markets.

How Pandas & Penguins Change Your Link Building Strategy

Who would have thought that two seemingly innocent zoo animals could cause such an uproar in the SEO industry?

You’re probably tired of hearing about Panda and Penguin. I don’t blame you. Articles seem to pop up daily about how it affects your site and what you can do to recover from the algorithm updates heard ‘round the world. Hell, there are even YouTube videos about them.

You could say this is just one of those articles. And you may be right, but I’ve successfully recovered from Panda and lived to tell the tale of Penguin. Just look at our own analytics: The first line was Panda 2.5, the second Penguin.

Our post-Panda lowest days (weekends) equal our pre-Panda peak days (Tuesdays – Thursdays). And I want to tell you how we did it, all by just adjusting our link building strategy.

Build A Bridge & Get Over It

I used to buy links. There I said it. Granted, it’s been a long time since I’ve bought a link, and it’s not something I’m proud of, but it happened, and I’ll wager a lot of you have done it, too.

You can’t change the past so rub some dirt on it, and walk it off. Move on. I spent far too many hours trying to get rid of our cruddy links (not all from buying and not all from me) before realizing the attempt was fruitless.

Put your focus on building good quality links rather than trying to fix all of your crappy ones. Eventually, you’ll have a higher ratio, and you’ll get rewarded.

No Link Left Behind

I’ve never met a link I didn’t like. Scratch that: I never met a link from a quality website I didn’t like.

We used to only go after one-way links in the footer or side-bar of a website. It killed us because it so obviously was manipulated. Your job as an SEO is to make it look like you don’t exist.

Strive to get a sampling of all types of links: Content links (within the actual content and in bios for guest blogs), footer links, resource links, image links, social media links, and yes, even no-followed links. That’s the only way it’ll look like there’s not someone trying to game the system.

An Anchor Text Melting Pot

Just like you need to diversify the types of links you get, it is vitally important to have a conglomerate of anchor texts among your entire link profile. Everyone does not describe your business the exact same way, so of course everyone isn’t going to link to you in the same way.

Ensure you have brand links (ie, 352 Media Group), exact-match keyword links (ie, web design company), partial-match keyword links (ie, web design and development agency), non-descriptive links (ie, click here). We had way to many exact-match links so for 3 solid months, every time I linked, I used our brand name.

Some people go by a ratio of 7:3 branded to non-branded keywords. I don’t because there is no formula for SEO. Do what’s natural and trust your gut. If it feels shady, it probably is.

Patience, Grasshopper

“SEO is an investment; it has to incubate before you see any results.” It’s my go-to line for all of my clients. No one ever listens.

I’ve been working on cleaning up our link profile for more than two years and finally (finally!) I see the fruits of my labor with a 20+ jump to a Page 1 ranking for our top keyword. You can’t expect results immediately. Implementing the above changes today means you’ll see the effect 4, 5, 6, 12 months from now, pending on your keywords and how bad things were from the start.

Our link profile isn’t perfect. There are still too many exact-matches for my liking and not enough brand mentions, but we’ve come a long way since we’ve made this our objective and I’m happy to report Google has taken notice.

It will get frustrating. You will doubt yourself. You will curse Matt Cutts’ name. You may even get in slap flights with your computer screen. (All true stories.) But have faith in the white-hat system because it works. Google’s goal isn’t to penalize every single site; they just want to make the Web a better place. Make sure that your website is part of that better place.

Who knows what future algorithm updates holds for link building, but I can tell you one thing: Watch out zebras: You’re next.