All About Content

I’d Be #1 … If It Weren’t for All Those Other Sites

Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Years ago I was teaching a friend how to drive. She wasn’t feeling very comfortable pulling into traffic and making unprotected turns. In a moment of frustration she exclaimed, “I KNOW how to drive. I just can’t do it with all this traffic.”

I don’t recall how I responded at the time, but her statement got me thinking. Only later was I able to put my finger on why this didn’t sit right with me.

Now that I’ve set up that scenario, you can probably articulate immediately the conclusion I came to later.

Let’s compare notes after the jump.


Here’s the thing: Knowing how to drive is not about knowing how to operate a vehicle. Understanding how to make a car move and maneuvering it down a paved road is a necessary, but not sufficient, part of this thing we call “driving.”

Driving requires knowing how to react to other cars… yes, even if they don’t follow the rules of the road. You have to be able to gauge how soon oncoming traffic will reach you, when you should turn, how quickly you’ll need to slow down or accelerate, whether that car at the intersection is likely to pull out ahead of you. You should be able to guess what the speed limit probably is, even if you don’t see a sign. You also need to be able to drive on roads you’ve never been on before. Driving up and down the driveway doesn’t count.

Even if you follow all the rules, you still might get hit by some jackhole who isn’t doing what he’s supposed to be doing and your insurance rates will skyrocket through no fault of yours. But the odds of that tend to be lower if you drive defensively and don’t take unnecessary risks. On the other hand, if you are too conservative and are scared of driving on roads where you might encounter other cars, you may never get where you’re going (or not in a reasonable timeframe).

Does any of this sound familiar? Try replacing “search engine optimization” for “driving a car”. Now substitute “other cars on the road” with any dumb or even legitimate thing you’ve heard webmasters gripe about.

Part of being an SEO is understanding the consequences of algorithm shifts, dealing with the fact that competitors do shady things, pursuing strong ROI while also managing risk levels, knowing what pitfalls lay ahead and having some idea of what to do about them. Being an in-house SEO involves getting executive or company-wide buy-in and prioritizing tactics and resources. Being a client-facing SEO service provider also involves being able to convince clients to do things and, yes, even making sure they pay their invoices. Unless you’re an academic, that is part of being an SEO.

You might hear people say, “I KNOW how to do SEO and I’d be wildly successful except…”

Except Google keeps changing the algorithm.

Except my clients don’t do what I tell them.

Except my competitors engage in spammy paid link building practices.

Except I have an e-commerce site and no one links to commercial sites.

Except my crappy CMS keeps spitting out duplicate content.

Except blah blah blah…

If this is something you hear your SEO provider or colleague (or yourself) repeating regularly, perhaps you need to say: Dude, consider that perhaps you don’t know how to drive. (And then: But I still love you. Or: Get off the friggin road! — whichever is more appropriate.)

Image: “Traffic Jam” by K2D2vaca used under CC license.

Comments (3)

Category: Navel-Gazing

Change. Brought to You by the Letters P, B, and S

Posted by Melanie Phung on Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 7:44 am

Wow, it’s been more than a year since I last posted on this blog. I’m dusting it off because I have some exciting news to share.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading over to PBS, where I’ll serve as Director, New Media, within the Interactive Division. In that position, I’ll be responsible for SEO and content strategy! I’m thrilled for this opportunity to work in-house for such a wonderful brand.

PBS is doing incredibly innovative things online and I can’t wait to be a part of the team responsible for making those things happen.


p.s. I’m usually much wordier than this, but just wanted to make sure I got an announcement up. I hope to blog more about what drew me to this opportunity, my experiences working at an agency vs. doing SEO in-house, the challenges and opportunities working with huge sites that contain multiple brands, things I’ve learned while managing the social media presence of a major international nonprofit, and other thoughts rattling around in my head.

Comments (4)

Category: Navel-Gazing

Revving Up with RedEngine Digital

Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 1:07 pm

When faced with scary economic times, the instinct is often to dig in, batten the hatches, hunker down and try to stay safe… in other words, play it conservative.

The other option is to seek out and embrace new challenges.

And with that by way of intro, I have some news to share: I’ve left New Media Strategies, the national leader in digital PR and word of mouth marketing for Fortune 500 companies, to go much smaller and deeper.

Starting at the end of the month, I’ll be joining the team at RedEngine Digital, an integrated marketing firm that specializes in online marketing for nationally acclaimed non-profits, associations and businesses. Offerings include SEO, paid search, A/B testing, online fundraising, membership acquisitions, and email marketing — all with an eye on running highly profitable campaigns.

As RedEngine’s new Director of SEO and Online Marketing, my responsibilities will include search engine optimization (naturally), strategic marketing and social media… and the RED website. I’ll be able to have direct, quantifiable impact against specific goals; there’s something exhilarating about being held accountable by hard numbers. Even better, clients include non-profits that advocate for issues and causes I can get passionate about.

What does this mean for this blog? Expect nothing to change. I’ll probably maintain the same erratic publishing schedule, with posts varying in quality from lame to surprisingly not terrible, on subjects ranging from the blog itself to banal observations about the state of the industry. 😉 Keep in mind that the really juicy stuff doesn’t get published here. I still won’t blog about my clients, “amazing SEO secrets”, or industry news already being covered ad nauseum on other SEO sites, although I might start blogging more about issue-related or cause marketing.

For more frequent updates, your best bet is to follow me on Twitter, where I do drop a few nuggets of knowledge (usually from other people). And if you’re interested in what RedEngine Digital can do to turbo charge your marketing efforts, get in touch and let’s chat.

Comments (7)

Category: Navel-Gazing

An Interview with Melanie Phung by David Almacy

Posted by Melanie Phung on Friday, December 12, 2008 at 6:48 pm

Recently I was tapped by David Almacy, in what I’m calling a quasi-meme of the 7 Things You Don’t Know About Me variety, to answer a set of 10 questions about my involvement in the SEO industry. In turn, I’ve asked him to answer the questions on his blog Capital Gig, which we modified slightly to reflect his current focus.

Below are my answers to the questions he posed.

1. How long have you been doing online marketing and what attracted you to search engine optimization?

I’ve been involved in developing website content since 2000. In 2005, I was hired at an e-commerce firm to launch the company’s SEO efforts — this despite the fact that I didn’t have any SEO training. What I did have, however, was strong writing skills and experience in a variety of other disciplines that make up a foundation for SEO. I ended up diving right into the deep end and learning on the job.

What attracted me to the job, and what continues to hold my interest is metrics. My favorite part of doing SEO is knowing I have a direct impact on the bottom line and being able to quantify the value of my work in terms of incremental sales.

2. In your opinion, what’s the measure of a SEO professional?

In the SEO industry, there is a lot of debate about white hat (following Google’s guidelines) and black hat (not following the guidelines) tactics. The word “ethics” gets thrown around a lot, too, in the context of the search engines’ rules. All that tends to obfuscate what I think really matters in the end, which is to provide value for your clients and employer.

An SEO professional should be measured by the same standards than other professionals: Do you do your job? Are you honest and dependable? Do you know what you’re talking about and follow through? etc.

3. What blogs do you read to keep up on industry news?

To be honest, I’ve stopped being a regular reader of most blogs. I don’t mean that I don’t read them at all, but that I pick and choose what posts I’m interested in based on what other people are buzzing about (via sites like Twitter or even Sphinn). There’s no single blog where I feel like every single post provides value anymore. I’m a pretty picky consumer of information, because my time is extremely limited.

4. What’s your best “SEO secret”?

It wouldn’t be a secret if I told. 😉

While I wouldn’t say that I had any bona fide “secret tricks” up my sleeve, let’s put it this way: it’s hard to get ahead of the competition if you only use the plays written out in the Google playbook. You can play within the rules without doing everything exactly the way everyone else does them.

5. Search engine algorithms are getting smarter, and a lot of people predict organic SEO services will become obsolete. How do you plan to adapt?

I’ve been reading about the death of SEO for years. To be honest, most people who talk about SEO becoming obsolete have zero idea what “real SEOs”¯ do for a living, or they do know and simply delight in baiting the industry to generate a lot of buzz.

As long as people are using search engines, someone (whether their title is SEO or not) will be working to make sure their website is seen by the right people. As an online marketer, I’ll do what it takes to stay on top of the trends and adjust my strategies accordingly — the same as I’ve been doing for years.

6. Please describe the biggest challenge you face in your current job.

Coming from the background of an in-house SEO, I struggle sometimes with being so far removed from the work being done on the clients’ sites now that I’m at a word of mouth marketing agency. Sometimes, by the time the client (or rather, a client services manager working with the ad agency retained by the client) comes to ask me “Why don’t we rank well in Google”, it’s too late for me to have meaningful input on the campaign microsites themselves. I’m working on getting us involved earlier in the process when it comes to these types of things.

7. Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in search engine optimization, but doesn’t have a background in it, on how to get started in this field?

The best way to learn is to actually do it. Go out and build a site, get under the hood, and start optimizing. If you work as an in-house marketer, get involved in the operations of your company’s website. Learn everything you can about HTML, CSS, usability principles, information design, persuasive copywriting, etc. Read, implement, and test.

If you’re new to the industry, do yourself and everyone else a favor and don’t start yet another generic SEO blog (by which I mean “blog about SEO”) that just regurgitates what the big guys are posting. And don’t call yourself an expert and sell consulting services hoping you’ll learn on someone else’s dime. Learn to do it properly first.

8. If you could rank for any keyword phrase you don’t currently rank for, what would it be?

Wait, do you mean “rank in the #1 position¯? Because I already rank #2 or #3 for Washington DC SEO as well as DC SEO. If I could rank for anything, I think I’d like to rank for the word Amazon — a nice high volume keyword that’s monetizable.

Or maybe Jesus Christ, since Compete already thinks I’m getting a ton of traffic from that term.

Or, SEO Strategist.

9. Assuming you had never gone into SEO, what would you be doing now (professionally)?

I would still be involved in making or improving websites somehow.

10. You’ve been in DC for a decade now — any interest in politics or at least political marketing?

I’m as apolitical as they come. The irony is that my undergrad degree is in political science. I came out to DC to pursue a graduate degree in international relations, but ended up going into marketing communications instead.

However, New Media Strategies, where I work now, has a thriving Public Affairs Practice. I’ve had the good fortune to work with the likes of Howard Mortman (hilarious political blogger at, former “Hardball” producer, columnist at the National Journal), the not-quite-anonymous-anymore Not Larry Sabato, Soren Dayton, Jon Henke, and quite a few other well known political communications gurus.

Working at NMS, I get to participate in a lot of interesting public affairs campaigns, like promotion of the C-SPAN convention and debate hubs, a couple of political issue-oriented campaigns for which I ran PPC, and a few things that I don’t think I’m at liberty to talk about 😉

That’s all. Thanks to everyone who participated. Please check out their sites and follow them on Twitter.

@almacy – a Digital Strategy Expert
– an SEO Strategist in Washington, DC
@martinbowling – a lover of Zima
– a Utah SEO Consultant
@fairminder who offers Boston Website Design and SEO services
@cyandle – a Google Adwords Professional
@melanienathan – an Edmonton SEO specialist
@jackleblond – a VP of Internet Strategy
@djpaisley – a Digital Communications Strategist
@vinceblackham – a Utah SEO specialist
@researchgoddess – a Staffing Social Media Specialist
@monicawright a Maine SEO professional

Comments (2)

Category: Navel-Gazing

Have You Found Jesus on My Blog?

Posted by Melanie Phung on Monday, November 24, 2008 at 11:54 am

We all know that panel data can produce some odd results when sample size is really small — exaggerating trends that in reality might not signify anything at all or missing some data altogether. In the case of reporting search traffic to my site, however, the panel data from seems to be pointing at something that really doesn’t exist.

Check it out: says that the term “Jesus Christ” is responsible for one quarter of my search traffic.

Obviously I don’t expect Compete’s free data to match my (also free) analytics program perfectly, but I can say with a lot of confidence that this data appears to be sampling something that can’t possibly exist.

Now before you go around decrying me as a heathen and a heretic, my point here isn’t that Jesus Christ doesn’t exist … simply that he certainly does not exist on this blog.

I’ve never, ever used the phrase “Jesus Christ” on this site. Until now, of course. No, in general I tend to favor exclamations like Jeebus! or Good Gawd! or Sweet Lawd Almighty!

Nor have I, to the best of my knowledge, ever been Googlebombed with that term.

In short: I do not rank, and there’s no reason for me to rank, for the search term [jesus christ] — And showing up in search results would seem to be a prerequisite for driving search traffic.

Here are the terms that drive search engine visits according to my analytics program (although no single term drives anywhere close to 25% of my search traffic):

See? No Jesus.

While I do use for research and competitive intelligence, I’m going to be taking their data with an ever larger grain of sand. Their data isn’t just skewed, in some cases it’s just patently wrong.

Post Script

The idea that someone looking for Jesus Christ would find Him on my blog struck me, frankly, as insane. But I hear He works in mysterious ways, so I’m just going to go ahead and go with it.

Jesus Christ Loves

Tagged: sacrilegious

Comments (14)

Category: Data,Navel-Gazing