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The Missing Element in Search Engine Marketing

. . . Creativity  (This Is a 4 Part Article Complete)

by Robin Nobles 

In the “technical” world of search engine marketing, we often get so tied up in optimizing our pages, getting our databases crawled, determining what’s happening with Google’s latest update, and building our link popularity that we think in much too linear a fashion.

It’s way past time to begin looking at your Web business as if you’re standing in the clouds looking down. For the time being, don’t think about search engine optimization, Web design, or technical issues. Yes, those things are crucial, and we’re counting on you to cover those areas. But for now, let’s look at what I believe to be a crucial missing element in search engine marketing . . . creativity.

You might be thinking . . . you’re not a writer, a dancer, an artist, or a painter. You’re just not creative!

Perish the thought!

There are different levels of creativity, and everyone can be taught to think more creatively. To be honest, the very fact that you have an online business shows your creativity. You’re selling goods and services online. You’re doing something that was practically unheard of 10 years ago. Congratulations on your forward thinking!

Need more proof of your creativity?

• Do you value a well-designed Web site?
• Do you enjoy music?
• Do you take pleasure in art – any kind of art?
• Do you appreciate the glory of a sunset?
• Do you feel a sense of awe at seeing horses galloping across a pasture?
• When you see a child smile, or a brand new baby, are you inspired by the unbelievable wonders of this world?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, creativity lives inside you. It’s up to you (with a little help from a friend) to begin using your creativity in your online business and on your Web site.

“Can’t” Can’t do Anything

When I was younger and told my mother I couldn’t do something (“I can’t do this math homework”), her wise response was always, “’Can’t’ can’t do anything.” In other words, “If you give up in the beginning, you’ve killed any opportunity of achieving success.” 

The biggest killers of creativity are words like, “can’t,” “no, because,” “it costs too much,” “it won’t work,” “there’s no one to do it,” and “it’s impossible.” 

Walt Disney had different teams who worked on the same projects. When his idea creators got together, no one was allowed to voice thoughts like:

• “It can’t be done.”
• “It costs too much money.”
• “That idea is horrible!”
• <dead silence> (Have you ever been really excited about an idea, and this was how you were greeted when you shared your idea? Kind of cuts off the flow of those creative juices, doesn’t it?)

Idea creation is a brainstorming session, pure and simple. Someone has an idea, and the team of creators takes the idea and run with it. They don’t worry about the “mechanics” of how to implement the idea. They’re in the creative mode. 

They’re simply . . . creating.

Once the ideas are expanded upon and ready to be moved to the next level, that team begins to work on the implementation of the idea. 

Walt Disney’s belief was “Yes, if . . .” is the language of a creator, whereas the language of a defeatist is “No, because.”

Is Every Idea a Perfect One?

Of course not. That’s where the power of brainstorming comes in. One person has an idea, which spawns the additional thoughts of another person, which creates more input from another person, and so forth. Maybe the original idea needs a little more work to make it doable. Maybe the best time for the idea is next year, rather than next month. To make the idea work, maybe an additional staff member will need to be hired. Maybe several obstacles will need to be tackled before the idea is possible. 

One thing is certain:

You’ll never succeed if you give up too soon.

There are no brick walls in search engine marketing. If you run up against a brick wall, it’s time to think creatively. 

Does Every Idea Work?

Nope. Some ideas fail. But if you don’t try, you’ll never know what will work and what will have the potential to make you a bundle of money. If an idea fails, step back and review. Can you make some changes to the project to make it work better? Can you add a twist to turn things around? Is your thinking stagnant – do you need a different perspective? Is it time for a brainstorming session? 

Don’t take what might look like a failure and “assume” that’s what it is at face value. 

Never assume! 

Time to Look at Some Examples

Example #1: Travel Web Site

(Note: These examples can apply to almost any industry. Use your imagination and make them work! Also, there are many things we don’t know about the sites, since we can’t visually see them.)

You sell vacation packages going to Walt Disney World. Competition is fierce in your industry. You’ve done everything you can from an SEO standpoint to optimize your database-driven site. Every page is found in the engines, and every page has a unique title, description, heading, and content. Your rankings are fairly good but could use improvement. However, your conversions could be better, and so could your link popularity. 

Another problem is how to differentiate yourself from your competition. In other words, you need a USP (Unique Selling Proposition).

At the end of this article, I’ll give you some possible solutions, but the purpose of this article is to get YOU to think creatively. 

Ask Yourself These Questions:

Is there a way that you could get your happy customers to link to your Web site in order to build your link popularity? Are you giving them a reason to link to your Web site?

Is your site “sticky,” meaning are you giving new and past customers a reason to come back to your site over and over again? Do you have a lot of repeat customers?

What exactly makes a site sticky? Why do you go back to sites again and again? 

What could you do on your site that would make your customers tell others about your site? 

Let’s say that I’m your customer. Why would I want to come back to your site again and again? Why would I want to tell others about your site? 

Re-read the description about the site. Remember what the strengths and weaknesses are. 

Why would I want to buy from YOU instead of your competitor? That is your USP – your Unique Selling Proposition. The USP differentiates you from your competition. Every business needs a USP. What is yours?

30-Minute USP Brainstorming Exercise

1. Try brainstorming with friends or associates who know and understand your business. For these exercises, try to work with at least one other person.

2. Try setting a specific time limit of just 10 minutes per exercise. When the time is up, stop - unless you are really on a roll. Never stop a “creative roll”!

3. There is nothing wrong with any idea. List every one whether it is good, bad, silly, or indifferent.

4. Make sure not to allow "negatives" or "negative attitudes" to destroy the atmosphere of creativity. If a brainstorming partner always seems to think negatively about ideas, it’s time to find a new brainstorming partner. 

(Important: These exercises will only work if you actually do them!)

Exercise One: 
In 10 minutes, make a list on paper of every service that you provide that is common to your specific industry overall.
• This list includes everything that most businesses in your industry provide in common.
• Throw in absolutely everything that you can think of that is common.
• Let your mind suggest anything in any kind of order as it occurs to you.
• Once you have completed this, cut it off after 10 minutes (remember this is an exercise.)

Exercise Two: 
In 10 minutes, make a list on another sheet of paper of every service that you provide that is uncommon to your competitors.
• This list includes every way that separates you from your competitor. 
• Focus on why you are different than a competitor, not better than a competitor.
• Do not feel that you have to think logically or in order. Write ideas as they are tossed out.
• No idea is a bad idea or not worth listing. Be sure to include everything without question.
• Once you have completed this, cut it off after 10 minutes - unless you are on a roll.

Exercise Three: 
In 10 minutes, make a list on another sheet of paper of every service that is not or cannot be provided by anyone (but you wish could be provided.)
• This list can be as zany or crazy as you like with no logic at all.
• Don't let anything prevent you from listing EVERY idea regardless of how crazy it is. If someone suggests "free insurance" or "paying the customer" or something even more outlandish, still list it.
• Avoid using your logical senses and have some fun with this. 
• There is no such thing as a "dumb suggestion."
• You are purposely thinking of radical ideas that may not ever happen.
• Once you have completed this, cut it off after 10 minutes exactly - unless you are on a roll.
Once you are done creating your three lists, lay them out side by side and begin to think about your unique selling proposition. Have you noticed any new and original ideas popping into your mind yet? There is something wonderful about brainstorming combined with the action of writing things down that is very therapeutic. Sometimes it's when we are in our most illogical state of thinking, just having fun, away from the stress, that truly brilliant ideas and concepts will emerge.

In part 3, I'll share my own list of possible solutions for Example 1 (the travel site). That will give you plenty of time to complete the exercises yourself. 

Tip: Creativity is like SEO. You have to work at learning and building the skills. Do the exercises. You’ll be amazed at how you’ll feel and what you’ll learn. Trust me on this.

Example #2: Online Retail Store

(Note: Many of the same solutions can apply to this example, but we’re going to brainstorm for others as well.)

You have an online retail store, and you sell a multitude of different products. You have 300 static pages, and you don’t want to switch to a database. Your rankings are good, but your click throughs need help. (Tip: Be sure to check your log files and analyze your traffic. You don’t want to change anything until you know for sure that your rankings/keywords aren’t bringing you traffic.)

You have no real “identity” online. The name of your Web site is “GJL Retail,” but that doesn’t tell shoppers what your site is about and has proven lousy as far as branding is concerned. 

You sell everything from clay clocks to building blocks for kids. People who visit rave about your product lines, the ease in navigation, the design of the site, and the friendliness of your staff. Your conversion to sales is good, once you get the customer on your site.

The main problem is that visitors aren’t finding your site through organic listings. You’re spending a fortune on the PPCs. Without them, you’d be toast. 

Ask Yourself These Questions:

First off, let’s think about the click throughs. You have good rankings, but why aren’t those rankings translating to click throughs? 

(Tip: Again, be sure to check your log files and analyze your traffic. You don’t want to change anything until you know for sure that your rankings/keywords aren’t bringing you traffic.)

In search engine “optimization,” we strive for top rankings. But all of the top rankings in the world won’t matter if they don’t convert to sales. In order for those rankings to convert to sales, they have to convert to click throughs. So what does that mean to you?

Your problem with click through rates could mean two things:

1. Your titles and descriptions aren’t captivating and designed to drag your potential customers by the neck, kicking and screaming, to YOUR Web site.

2. You’ve optimized your pages for keyword phrases that few people are searching for. 

Improving Click Throughs Exercise

Choose one of your pages that you’re having problems with click throughs. Take the most important keyword phrase and type it into Google. When the results come up, study the titles and descriptions for the top 10 results. How do they compare with yours?

Pick someone in your office (or maybe your spouse or a friend), and ask him/her to choose which result he/she would pick after reading the titles and descriptions. 

How does your title/description compare to the chosen result? 

Where is Google pulling your description from? Is it pulling your description from the description META tag? If not, find the description on your page. If your site is listed in the Open Directory Project (, it may be pulling your description from that listing. Are you pleased with the description? If not, rewrite it.

Start rewriting your titles and descriptions for 5-10 of your top pages. Don’t make any changes to your HTML pages yet. Let others in the office see the changes and get their opinions. Wait until the solutions part this article before letting any changes go live.

Though you may think these aren’t “creativity” exercises, the solutions you’ll find will definitely spark your creative thinking.

Remember: the purpose of this exercise is to improve your click through rate. However, by the same token, we don’t want your rankings to go down. Just make sure to use your keyword phrase toward the beginning of both tags when you rewrite them.

If you have a branding problem online, get your brainstorming team together and think about what you can do about “GJL Retail” and how to brand it and make it memorable. There are many different paths you can take. Take out a piece of paper and start writing. Study some successful retail sites online. How have they successfully branded themselves? 

Tip: You don’t have to use your keyword phrase in your domain name.

Increasing Traffic to Your Site

For this very important exercise, I want you to forget about your own Web site. You’re too close to your site, so you need to learn by working on a hypothetical site, and then apply what you have learned to your own online business.

1. Gather your brainstorming team together. The team may be you and just one other person. But you need at least one more person to work with you.

2. Here is your mission:

You’ve been given a Web site to work with, but you’re not allowed to touch the design of the site. We’ve just spent $50,000 on a new site design, which we’re very proud of, and we’ve written the content for the audience. We don’t want the design or the content changed. 

3. Pick between these different companies, but DON’T pick a company that’s similar to yours. 

• Online retail store
• Nonprofit organization
• Medical supplies
• Online counseling
• Local winery
• Downloadable cook books

Tip: The first thing you’ll want to do is spend 10 minutes or so thinking about the company itself. You need to have a feel for the company, what products or services it provides, and what its target audience is. Who is this company marketing to? 

4. Your Goal: Come up with as many ways to increase traffic to this site as you can. These ways can come from search engine marketing, other avenues of online marketing, or offline marketing. 

Be CREATIVE. Let nothing hold you back. Start a list and begin writing. Remember: money is no object. 

Here are the guidelines you MUST follow:

• You can add new pages.
• You can change the content of tags.
• You can NOT spam in any way. No cloaking allowed. No tag stuffing. No redirects. Read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines ( if you’re unsure of what constitutes spam.
• You can’t change the content of existing pages EXCEPT to rewrite the heading at the top of the pages. 
• You can’t change the design. The site MUST look just like it looks now. 

Important Notes:

• Don’t forget the entire SEO process. Though we’re focusing on “creativity” here, forgetting the “basics” of SEO can mean severe problems to a Web site.
• SEO isn’t the only “game” in town. What other online marketing avenues can you consider?
• What offline marketing avenues can you consider? 
• Think creatively . . . radically . . . illogically. Don’t neglect to add something to your list because you “think” it will never work. Add it anyway! Absolutely NO ideas are bad or wrong (unless they are spam). 
• Get to work! Don’t pass over this exercise. If it sounds silly to you, do it anyway. This simple exercise could be one of the most important learning exercises you’ve done in a long, long time.

Possible Solutions to our Example Sites

Example #1: Travel Web Site
Here are some of my brainstorming ideas:

Remember: Even if you’re not in the travel industry, you can adjust these ideas to work for many other industries as well.

• Set up an area on your site where your past travelers can post photos of their vacations. This would be your photo library. If a traveler posted photos of their vacation on your Web site, don’t you imagine they would link to your photo library from their Web site? Don’t you imagine that potential travelers would see those other photos, and this could encourage them to purchase their travel packages from you? In other words, you’re also building up the trust factor by showing them past happy customers.
• Set up an online coloring area for children who go on vacations or want to go. This could be a place for parents to send their children to get them excited about the trip or afterward to color pictures about their trip. Use vacation or holiday-oriented coloring sheets. Let the children print out, e-mail, or post their color sheets online. Every aunt, grandmother, grandfather, mother, father, extended family, etc., will link to pictures their children have posted online. The link popularity potential will be astounding. is a great example of what can be done. (Check out their link popularity at, by the way.) 
• Have a well-defined link to the two areas on the main page on your site and in your main navigation system. Also, include the links on your site map. Have a small area of your main page that explains that you’ve set up these special areas of your site just for your travelers. 
• When someone purchases a package from you, remind them about the photo areas and send them the URL of how they can use the areas when they get back from the trip. Make the instructions user friendly (meaning non-computer-savvy friendly).
• Look carefully at the graphics on your site. You’re not selling “vacation packages,” you’re selling the “Yippee! We’re having fun!” Do you have pictures of the Walt Disney World sign with no smiling faces, or a picture of Splash Mountain with no one barreling down the water fall? At our last workshop, one of our students told me that she’d taken our suggestion about including a person in a sports car on the main graphic on one of her client’s sites, rather than just the car, and their conversion rate quadrupled. Think about it. It can make a difference.
• Have a non-intrusive link at the bottom of your pages where you can “refer a friend.” Consider showing your appreciation to those who refer business to you by offering a 10% discount on their next vacation package for anyone who actually signs up for a vacation package.
• Look at the use of additional graphics on your site. Graphics should be used to invoke emotions or draw the eye to whatever you want the visitor to see. Don’t use graphics gratuitously. White space is fine on a Web page. You don’t want to use a cute little graphic and draw the eye away from some important content on your page needlessly. However, a “Buy here” button is fine!
• If you don’t have a newsletter, set one up immediately! Be sure to announce special dates at the parks, special pricing that you might have from time to time, your photo and color areas, your referral discount appreciation program, and new things happening on your Web site. Make your newsletter personal, written by one person, and write it on a regular basis. Don’t send it out too often. Your newsletter should bring your “family” of readers together, with you as the writer, if done correctly. Have a place to sign up for your newsletter on every page of your site. Post past newsletters online, and add that content to your site. Permission e-mail marketing is an extremely powerful form of online marketing.
• Make your USP clear throughout your site. This is what differentiates you from your competition. This is why I would buy from YOU rather than your competition. 

Again, there are many other things we could do with this Web site. However, we covered the travel site’s main problems: conversions, link popularity, and USP. We also covered ways to make your Web site “sticky.” By working on off-page factors (link popularity), your rankings should improve.

Example #2: Online Retail Store
Here are some of my brainstorming ideas:

Tips for re-writing titles and descriptions:

• Get rid of all trite words in your titles and descriptions. Use power words instead. Visit and type in trite words and substitute them for power words. For example, our products are always the “best,” aren’t they? (yawn) How about “incomparable” instead? 
• Ask stimulating questions in your titles or descriptions. They make your potential audience stop and think. “What would a management planner be worth to you if it increased your productivity by 87%?”
• Solve problems for your visitors in your titles or descriptions. Save them money or time, or even offer your USP in your tags, only if appropriate. “Let us dig for antique books for you. Send us titles and authors, then sit back and relax!”
• Read this article on adding “zest” to your title tags:

Back to the drawing board with keyword research:

• If you have great rankings for some of your keyword phrases but little corresponding traffic, it could be that your keyword phrases are “low-hanging fruit.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We have pages built specifically for low-hanging fruit. They don’t bring us much traffic, but the traffic they do bring us is highly targeted and converts extremely well. 

My suggestion would be to open new keyword windows by finding additional keyword phrases for your business. Go to Wordtracker ( and do some research. Don’t ever assume you know how your audience is searching. Bottom line: you’ll probably be wrong. Don’t waste your time guessing when you can know for sure. Read this article to get you started:

Create new pages based on your keyword findings. These new pages should provide value to your visitors and the search engines. They should open new windows of traffic into the site. They could be information pages about your products, “how to” pages, tutorials, interviews, articles, or whatever type of pages you feel would be worthwhile to your visitors. Link to these pages from your site map and from any other pages containing similar content. 

Additional brainstorming ideas for Example #2 (Online Retail Store):

• Get some domain ideas from online retail stores like (How could we ever forget the ‘O’?) or Unforgettable domain names, yet quite simple. 

I just went to Network Solutions and played around, and I found these domain names for retail stores. They’re currently available (at the time of this writing):

Any number of names would be easier to remember and possibly brand than

Get new graphics, and begin rebranding your Web site. I assume GJL are your initials. You can even use them if you can come up with a way to re-brand the site using your initials.

Increasing Traffic Exercise – My Brainstorming Ideas

I chose the online retail store, since that’s the example we’ve been using. The target audience is mainly women ages 25 and up, though there are some products for men. The company sells children’s products as well.

• I would analyze the site and make sure the site itself is compliant and all of the SEO basics have been covered. 
• If the site is “code” heavy, I would go with CSS. The design would look totally the same. 
• I would do keyword research through and create valuable new pages based on keywords through which the site currently is getting no visibility or traffic. I would add one new page of content every week.
• I would look at the product line carefully. We know the site sells clocks. Are these unique clocks by a particular designer? I would set up an online chat session with the designer and promote it heavily on the site. Send out a press release through Have the designer autograph the clocks. Notify your customers by your newsletter about the autograph “party.” Offer discounts. Make it a media event. Ask the designer to promote the autograph party as well. What other products do you sell that would fall into this same category?
• Do you sell a particular product to where you could have an “Ask the Expert” area on the main page of your site? Your visitors can ask questions, and the answers can be archived elsewhere on your site. This is a great way to add new and fresh content to your site on a continual basis. 
• On the main page of your site, list your best selling items. You don’t have to show their pictures – just link to their interior pages. Psychology is such that if someone knows that an item is a “best seller,” “I” should like it to, or at least give it a try.
• Be sure to have a page of specials or discounted items, and rotate them out. 
• Give the customers enough ways to search through your products. For example, if the retail store sells bath products, the customers need to be able to search by fragrance, product line, product (bomb, gel, bubble bath, etc.), country, and what other variables might be important. 
• Hire a national celebrity to promote the Web site for short TV ads to help increase the branding of the site. Send out press releases, magazine articles, and newspaper ads for this national campaign. (I told you to brainstorm and be creative – this is what I mean!) 
• Toning down the TV ad idea, look into how much it would cost to put on TV ads late at night. I’ve seen many Web sites put on TV ads on late night TV. is one that I see on a regular basis on national stations. 
• Put up a billboard in a prime location. Use memorable language. Drivers will have to remember your URL or a keyword phrase where you’re #1 or you’ll lose the business between the time they see the billboard and the time they get home to their computers.
• Set up an affiliate program offering a 20% affiliate commission to anyone who promotes your product lines. 
• With the national celebrity, introduce a new line of products featuring the celebrity. 50% of the proceeds will go to a nonprofit cause that you’ll determine and promote. Get the celebrity on national news shows, etc.
• Send out press releases for all of the company’s newsworthy activities.
• Set up a blog to where your customers can post feedback on your various products. Link back and forth between your product pages to your blog. Offer a discount to your customers if they’ll post to your blog. 
• Better yet, set up a blog with a purpose. Read this article to learn more:
• Do you sell books on your retail site? Have the authors conduct chats. Have them link to your site. Offer autographed books (if possible).
• What other products do you sell where the original creators could link to your site? Think “link popularity building” here.
• Think “article marketing” now. What “how to,” “top 10 lists,” or “interview” articles could you write as a way to add content to your site? This may be a way you could get your authors or product creators to create some content for you. 
• With every order you send out, include a bumper sticker with your URL on it. Everything a shopper could want . . . and more. Visit

We’re just getting started here. We could go on and on and on. Notice that we didn’t cover some of the traditional forms of online advertising such as the PPCs, advertising in e-zines and lists, etc. Of course you’ll want to consider those avenues as you see fit. We covered permission e-mail marketing in our first example.

I’m sure you were able to brainstorm many more ideas, and that’s the beauty of creativity and idea creation. Let your mind flow. 

Now, think about your own business. Compare my list to yours. Would any of the ideas work for your own business? Did you think of any other ideas to add? Can you change up some of the ideas to make them doable? 

Some of the ideas may not work at all for you, and that’s fine. Some may take some pre-planning to make them conform to your particular situation. Some you just won’t like. But by brainstorming, you should have come up with some ideas for pulling in traffic to your site. 

In Conclusion

Remember that Web site solutions don’t have to come in the form of search engine optimization or technology. They can often come in the form of creativity . . . the missing element in search engine marketing. 

Don’t forget creativity, and please . . . have fun!

Robin Nobles is the Co-Director of Training of Search Engine Workshops with John Alexander. They teach 2-day beginner, 3-day advanced, and 5-day all-inclusive "hands on" search engine marketing workshops in locations across the globe. She also teaches online search engine marketing courses through, and she’s a member of Wordtracker’s official question support team. With partner John Alexander, she's co-authored a series of e-books called, "The Totally Non-Technical Guides to Having a Successful Web Site." And, they opened a networking community for search engine marketers called The World Resource Center for Search Engine Marketers.

Copyright 2002-2006 Robin Nobles. All rights reserved.

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