Content Strategy + SEO

Initial SEO Research


Kim Clark

on 5/1/2010

Whatever client scenario it is we have to work with, the beginning of any detailed SEO project starts with research. That research takes time. Lots of time. Time that could be spent napping. We don’t want to take too much time so where do we start?

Some of the key points we look into:

  • What are competitive sites doing? Is it working? What keywords are they targeting?
  • What are the relative traffic rates for the client’s pre-identified key words? What other keywords should they target?
  • How well is the site performing in search engines? Is the traffic converting once it gets to your site?

Big Secret: Nobody knows all the answers

For each question, there is an answer, and for each answer, there is a tool. At VIA we utilize a plethora of tools that help us analyze sites and answer these questions. It often takes an exceedingly long time of extreme attention to detail to succeed. These are the days that seem to involve black holes that take us from nine to 5:30 without passing GO. We call it “Going down the rabbit hole.” Sounds yummier than it is, trust me.

This research is a big part of the monthly maintenance expense often dedicated to SEO. Reports, charts, spreadsheets and graphs abound. Kim and Jason spend a LOT of time on the phone, both talking to clients and talking to each other. Sometimes the answers are elusive and there are emails and blog posts to clear up ambiguous questions that they can’t parse out themselves. Fortunately, we have lots of tools to help us glean the answers that allow us to guide our clients through the murky depths of Search Engine Optimization.

We’ll go into detail, and discuss many additional tools, in more specific articles to come. Here are a few to get you started.


Tools that let you research your own domain and that of the competition can give you a good view of your site from high above. Much information is publicly available for free, most services offer more advanced paid features, and many let you see more detail about your own site by adding their code.

  • Quantcast shows detailed traffic and demographics along with information on related sites and advertising
  • Compete focuses on comparing one site to another with excellent graphing options and many premium features
  • Alexa provides an additional view into the data with the usual domain information as well as links and search terms


Where to even begin? These sites are a big help when starting from scratch as you can just give them a domain and they will give you back a list of terms to start with. So much easier to start with a list to whittle down rather than a blank sheet of paper.


Be careful! Clicking on any of those links may lead you down the rabbit hole. And that’s the danger in too much data. How much research is enough? One of the hardest things to do in SEO is to find the actionable items in the stream of information. You can drown in that stream if you’re not careful. To purrrhaps paraphrase Avinash “less data, more action”.

See how I waited until the end to warn you? It was a trap! We need and want more people to understand SEO so they will see the value in our services. I’m sinister, I know. I come by it naturally.

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