It’s been just over 2 months since I announced my Online Marketing Internships, and today LaShae’s going to update us on her progress in what I call “Phase 2”. I haven’t really talked a lot publicly about the way I’ve been training all 3 interns, but I have a special 4 phase process that I use to work with clients and their web sites. The 4 phases cover everything necessary to make any web site successful, and really (to me) there are no secrets here. The problem is if you haven’t done the work, and don’t have the experience, finding out what you need to know will take a couple years of trial and error and a couple thousand blog posts. I’m circumventing all that and teaching the interns how to take a brand new empty web site to successful money making web site in 5 months.

Here’s LaShae talking about what she’s learned in Phase 2:

LaShae again, with an update on Phase 2 of the intern program.

In Phase 1 I talked about learning how to set-up a wordpress site so it readily ranks in the search engines and hopefully gets on the first page of the SERPS, so people find you. I also talked about how to make sure your WordPress sites were secure, so when the search engines do begin ranking you and you’re getting traffic, your site loads quickly and is available.

So how do you get ranked on the first page of search results by the different search engines?

That is what Phase 2 – Competitive Analysis helps uncover.

The first thing to determine is which keyword phrase or phrases you want to rank for in the search engines. JT walks through the process in How to SEO. I used the same basic concept to locate 3 specific keyword phrases to target on my intern site.

Finding the keyword phrases for my site was decidedly more complicated due to the competitive nature of the CPA (Click Per Action) market I was entering.

So JT and I both located 3 keyword phrases each. After he put the phrases through the paces using a paid SEO tool (we’ll reveal later), he determined that our phrases would be extremely hard to rank for in the search engines. He then went on to locate 3 other keyword phrases using the same paid tool.

After the keyword phrases were decided upon, I began the full competitive analysis.

First, I completed an SEO competitive analysis, looking at rank on the first page of google search results, google pagerank, alexa ranking, backlinks, title, description, url and heading for each of the competitors on the first page of search results for each of the 3 keyword phrases.

There are tools, both paid and free, that can do this for you in an instant, but knowing how to do it manually is helpful. It provided me with information I would never get from a tool. It gave me an opportunity to view each of the pages in my browser and poke around on them looking at site design, layout, useability, appropriateness related to the keyword phrases, as well as the level of interaction and personality of the site.

Next I did even more competitive analysis this time for traffic statistics using free services online to learn how and where visitors were most likely coming to the site from and where they were going after leaving the site. I also looked at the demographics of the traffic – age range, income levels and education levels.

Using yet another free service, I learned that many of the competitors were using adwords to get traffic to their sites. And I learned whether they offered advertising directly on their sites and what the general ad sizes were on the sites.

Still, even with all this information, what did it mean for my assigned site?

Honestly not a whole lot, at first.

Initially it felt like information overload. And it was in many ways. However, without doing the competitor analysis, I might have spent months trying to find a way to get rankings and traffic in a niche that relies heavily on more than just SEO for traffic and conversions.

As it turns out, this niche is definitly suited to a long term plan far outside the scope of the 5 month intern program.

This sounds like a lot of time and energy to take researching. And it’s worth it to spend the time and energy up front, before spending any money, to figure out what the odds of ranking in the search engines are for your keywords.

Learning how to do both the data gathering and how to interpret the data is priceless and will certainly help me to use any paid tool I chose to use in the future.

What I know now about the CPA market is that it will take a year or more to unseat and outrank most of the sites in the top 10 on the search results pages, using an SEO strategy. That’s not unusual in the case of competitive and aggressive niches. It’s also not useful in meeting the objectives JT has set for the intern program.

It’s okay to change direction and it’s easier to do before money and months and months of time have been invested.

I specifically chose a market with lots of competition because I knew it would get JT to go deeper into his process and that means we all win in the end.

I learned how to chose appropriate keyword phrases to target. How to determine whether those keyword phrases are good or bad targets based on what other sites have done to target the same phrases. I learned how to determine the general source of competitors traffic and general demographic information about the visitors coming to their sites. I know how to do all this using free services to gather data. I also have a better understanding of how to interpret that data. The data doesn’t look or feel as overwhelming as it did before.

I’d say all in all Phase 2 is the most frustrating simply because it determines the strategy you’ll use for your site. And reading the data accurately truly determines if your strategy is destined for failure or success.

Since the internship is teaching interns how to make new sites profitable using SEO strategies, by the time you’re reading this I’ll have chosen another site to work on.

It will still be competitive enough to take JT deep into his mental knowledge databanks, while meeting the time constraints and strategy objectives of the intern program.

Stay tuned for the next update to see what happens.

LaShae talked about using different tools and methods for research, and one of the purposes for my intern program is document my 4 Phase program for success so later in 2010 I can make it available for anyone that wants to learn. If you’ve read any of my hundreds of posts on this site, you know my penchant not only for detail, but for complete and unabashed honest. I’m not one of those crazy IM gurus writing a 16 page emotional sales letter trying to hype and sell you on my “latest greatest” thing.

I’m using my interns to create an entire Online Marketing Course using the exact same principles and techniques I use with small business and corporate clients every day. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, signup to my email list using the form below. I’m not going to spam you with crazy “magic bullet” and “google cash” offers. I will only send you email every now and again about techniques and products I actually use (there’s a small handful), and later this year my Online Marketing Course when it’s available.