How James Dean Helped an SEO Class

By Ava Naves, Principal, The Online Strategy House


James Dean helped an SEO Class

Most people wouldn’t think that there’s any link between vintage cars, Hollywood legends, and Information Architeture. That is so, but little did I know that my teenage crush on James Dean would come in handy at one of the SEO and Web Analytics classes that I’ve taught at the University of British Columbia.

I’ve been strangely fascinated by the actor ever since I was around 12 or 13, and that has led me to memorizing several bits of what, until recently, I deemed to be useless trivia. For example, I know that he…

  • Was driving a 1955 550 Porsche Spyder when he died
  • Had his fatal accident on September 30th, 1955
  • Played the violin as a young child

The course that I’ve taught at UBC, here in Vancouver, presented best practices in SEO and Digital Analytics that can guide the optimization of new and revamped sites. One of the topics of the first session was how Information Architecture (specifically site hierarchy and structure) affects SEO.

When I first developed the materials for that class, I somehow had the idea of using a fictitious site for a reseller of vintage car parts as an example. Fast forward to a few weeks later, during this term’s first lecture. When I got to the part where I talked about SEO and Information Architecture (IA), I mentioned Porsche as the theme of one of the make-believe directories in the site. The next step would be to explain that one of the subdirectories would include information on parts for Porsche classic cars, like the convertible that James Dean was driving on that fateful September afternoon. But then… I forgot the model of the vehicle! I usually like to include that in the example because it is unexpected and students often find that amusing.

By that point it was around 8:30 pm, and I was cognizant of the need to to keep the students involved so that they would understand those important IA and SEO principles. And my coffee was… not kicking in anymore. So there I was, staring blankly at the white board, saying outloud: “Right… what was that car that James Dean was driving…”

To my surprise (and relief), one of the students  jumped off his seat and came to my aid. Very enthusiastically, he said: “A 1955 550 Porsche Spyder!” That was a moment when everyone in class realized that learning about SEO, IA, and Digital Analytics can actually be enjoyable.

When that class was over for that evening, the student paid me one of the dearest compliments I’ve ever received. He said: “I was dreading this class but this was actually fun!” I know that students sacrificed personal and family time to attend that three-hour course every Wednesday evening, so I very much appreciated that.

Thank you, Jimmy!

P.S.: Maybe you’re part of a company that could benefit from a custom online marketing workshop. Give us a shout… we’ll make it fun!

Don’t Paint All SEOs With the Same Brush

SEO Paint Brush

By Ava Naves, Principal


A few weeks ago I came across an article on Search Engine Journal that irritated me.

While some of its content rang true, parts triggered one of my pet peeves: SEOs that author content with titles like “SEO is Dead”, “Why You Don’t Need SEO”, or in this case, “5 Things Your SEO Consultant Won’t Tell You” — that seem to be written  for no other purpose than to create controversy in our industry. Unless, of course, their ulterior motive is to attract links from other sites.

I wrote a lengthy comment presenting the cons and pros of that article, but I suspect that the number of words in it made it get caught in spam filters. So, instead, I’ll publish it here.

The article put forth five points about SEO and professionals in the field:

  1. SEO is not a dark art that only the technical mind can comprehend
  2. They’re probably violating Google’s guidelines
  3. They don’t really know how to go viral
  4. If they’re doing it without you, they’re setting you up for failure
  5. They haven’t tested the validity of anything they say

I agree with some points, but couldn’t disagree more with others. Let’s start with the positives:


“SEO is not a dark art that only the technical mind can comprehend”

My take: Absolutely. However, it is complex. You can say that drawing is not hard, either, but there’s a big difference between a Picasso line drawing and some piece of art that a child will bring home from kindergarten. Clients are best served when the agency or consultant helps them understand SEO best practices.


“If they’re doing it without you, they’re setting you up for failure”.

Correct. I can’t even fathom how an SEO consultant or agency can initiate work on a new account without getting the client really involved in the process. From a foundational step like keyword research, all the way to content strategy and SEO implementation, clients’ goals and processes have to be understood in order for SEO to be successful.


Now to the points that I respectfully and emphatically disagree with:

“They don’t really know how to go viral”

This may apply to “beginner SEO consultants”, but any good online marketing agency (like The Online Strategy House) or professional understands that search engine optimization doesn’t happen in a silo. Thus, they will have plenty of hands-on experience with online marketing and understand what makes content go viral.


“They’re probably violating Google’s guidelines”

Again, this applies to less-than-reputable SEO practitioners, especially those who have only been around for a short while. A pro won’t feel that it’s necessary to resort to black-hat or grey-hat methods to help a client. Better yet, a pro knows better than to even entertain that thought!


“They haven’t tested the validity of anything they say”

This may apply to someone who’s a novice or doesn’t take an interest in clients’ successes past the point where all deliverables are fulfilled and the final cheque is cashed in. From what I’ve witnessed in my 15 years of experience in this field, this is not how reputable agencies treat their clients. It’s certainly not how we treat ours.


Here’s the deal: competent, professional SEO agencies and consultants do exist. We’re one of them, and know of numerous others that are great examples of good ethics in our industry. They may be a small percentage of those who claim to be able to do the job, but they are out there. I’m glad that there are people who take the time to debunk some of the myths surrounding our field, just like the author did in that article. But these folks are doing themselves and others a disservice when they paint all SEOs with the same brush.

Search Engine Optimization: Much Better as a Team

By Ava Naves, Principal

SEO is a team sport

The Online Strategy House recently presented a search visibility workshop to the staff of the British Columbia Patient Safety and Quality Council (BCPSQC). That experience really drove home the importance of teaching search engine optimization basics to a team — in this case, to the people who will create any content for their site, or those who, by virtue of their responsibilities, frequently come across opportunities for link building.

Optimally, several people will contribute blog posts to an organization’s domain. At the same time, those companies often have partnerships with others in their vertical, aside of taking time to participate in or sponsor industry events. When a team learns the relevant principles of on-site search engine optimization, from that point forward they see their day-to-day activities as opportunities for SEO. Those SEO principles then become ingrained in their modus operandi. For example:

  • Next time a manager contributes a blog to the company site, she will know that this is a chance to write a post according to the content strategy delineated in the organization’s online marketing plan. She will also be cognizant of the importance of incorporating the keyphrases that the online strategy has specified as relevant to that post.
  • The event coordinator will be aware that, by sponsoring a conference, there’s a prime opportunity to ask the organizer for a link to his employer’s site. Once adopted as a routine, this practice will help the company amass a good number of on-topic, high quality inbound links — the sort that will help build their online visibility.

When a group understands that individual, small commitments to search engine optimization amount to a large victory for all involved, they get excited about search engine optimization. The Online Strategy House makes a point of presenting SEO and online marketing workshops that are fun, and that engage even those who are not tech-oriented.

Employees are thrilled when analytics show that their blog posts received visits because they followed SEO best practices. They see they have made a tangible difference. And then, the enthusiasm is contagious.