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SEO: "Optimization Is More Than Just Rank"


An Aquent Talent Spotlight

Bonnie S., who is represented by Aquent’s Philadelphia office, got into Search Engine Optimization (SEO) the honest way: by working hard to optimize her own website. “I got a degree in architecture and then worked as an architect for several years before deciding I had to get into something else.

“I set up a design studio with a friend and we went into business providing design services to architecture firms. I created a website for our studio and then worked hard to get us to #3 in Google search results for ‘graphic design’ and ‘Philadelphia.’ I knew I was on to something when a friend called me out of the blue and asked, ‘How did you get to #3?’”

One unexpected by-product of using SEO to promote her design business was that it actually led to SEO business. “One day I was talking to one of my clients and he said he was paying $3000 a month for pay-per-click advertising. I told him he could pay me a lot less to boost rankings through organic optimization [optimization that's driven by the content of the pages]. He hired me to do that for him. He saw results and began referring me to people, and things took off from there.”

“There are cases where you might want to pay-per-click,” Bonnie says, “but only to supplement your organic search optimization efforts. For example, if you are in a business where there is a lot of competition and the field is saturated, getting your rankings up organically might take a while. Pay-per-click can be a way to get attention while you’re working on that, but, for the most part, it’s not worth the money. People have a natural aversion to clicking on links that are obviously sponsored.”

Although Bonnie has had success getting results for her clients, her work sometimes requires educating them on what is possible and what is not. “I worked with a company that had developed some software designed for law firms. They wanted their site to rank #1 when people searched for ‘time management software.’ I tried to explain to them that they would need to create another website if they wanted to get those results organically but they wouldn’t go down that path. So, try as I might, I was able to get them to #1 in a lot of different categories, but their product was so specialized for the legal market, I wasn’t able to crack #1 for ‘time management software.’”

When Bonnie got into SEO in 2000 it was still in its infancy as a marketing tactic. Back then, she explains, you could do things that you can’t do nowadays, like create a whole page of keywords using a white font on a white background. “Today, things are much more complex and, frankly, internet users have gotten much more savvy about searching. You could get away with a lot more in the old days because everything was so new.”

In fact, Bonnie insists, over time the whole optimization game has changed. “Optimization is more than just rank nowadays. You need to make sure that your site is not only optimized for search engines, you also have to make sure that it is optimized for a wide variety of devices. What’s the point of showing up at the top of search results if someone is searching the Web with their cell phone and can’t actually see your site when they click on it?”

For this reason, Bonnie believes that you need to have a holistic approach to optimization, an approach that doesn’t stop at the thoughtful choice and placement of keywords. “Optimization involves the entire architecture of the site from the site map to the interface. It’s absolutely integral to the success of the site because it determines whether anyone can find it in the first place and then whether or not they can find what they’re looking for when they get there.”
As the Web continues to evolve, it’s difficult to predict where SEO, and optimization more generally, are headed. Wherever it goes, though, odds are that Bonnie will figure out. “I’ve been there since the beginning and have never had to play catch up. I pay attention to the trends and when something new comes along, I learn how to work with it.”

That attitude has been part of Bonnie’s career since the outset. Although she started out doing presentations and things like that for architects, pretty soon her clients were asking her and her partner if they did websites, CD-ROMs and the like. “We said, ‘yes,’ even though we hadn’t done that stuff before. We just decided to learn how to do everything.”

Bonnie’s natural creativity – “I’m an artist at heart” – her curiosity, and her willingness to learn have brought her this far in her career and will carry her well into the future. When asked if she had any advice for people embarking on creative careers she simply says, “Do what makes you happy and don’t stay with something that’s making you miserable, life’s too short.”


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