What Is Search Engine Optimization?
You may be wondering, “What is this SEO I’ve been hearing so much about?” or “why should I consider search engine optimization for my website?”
Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short, is the process of modifying and actively promoting your website for the purpose of gaining search engine rankings and visibility. Modifications can include improvements to your website HTML source code, new page copy, keyword updates, navigation changes, inbound links, internal links, graphics, tags, and more. The topics below should help clear up some of the myths and misconceptions about search marketing.
Basic SEO includes performing some foundational analysis and recommendations on how to better position your site on the web. How you position your site can greatly impact your overall results. An audit is often the first step of basic search engine optimization. Setting your expectations too high or too low can lead to a lack of keyword performance. Each search engine marketing strategy must consider what is realistic for each site and include some short and long-term performance goals.
Other basic activities may involve keyword research, title tags, META descriptions, and more. Often, a digital marketing firm will do this type of work as part of a larger overall strategy. The results many times can depend on who is doing the work. Make sure that whomever you have writing content for your website has a basic understanding of best practices. Having a list of keywords is great, but do you have the right strategy in place to see results?
A good goal, for example, would be to grow your organic sessions by an average of 10% over the next 12 months. Work back from these goals and try to estimate your realistic growth potential based on past performance. If you’re growing your visitor sessions by 5% with very little effort, then 10% may be realistic. If you are seeing a decline of 5% each month, perhaps 10% may not be achievable. Don’t set the bar too high with 3% growth vs a 5% decline equaling failure. 3% growth in that case is truly a win!
Is It Guaranteed?
Search engine optimization is not guaranteed. This is something you will hear from most experienced marketers. While search engine marketing works to achieve improved rankings through best practices and targeting, there are no guarantees that your site will appear in the top position for your targeted keywords. The results of search engine optimization depend on how much time and budget you are willing to set in order to achieve top rankings. Often you will see more localized and 4-5 word keywords appear like “Ohio SEO company” before 2 and 3 word key phrases. If a consultant or firm tells you they can get you to the top of search results in a short timeframe, you may want to question their methodology. They are either spamming search engines or getting you rankings for super low competitive keywords you could probably rank well for on your own with very little optimization work. Some industries are VERY easy to see results. If the consultant or firm is touting #1 rankings for a local restaurant chain or local landscaping business, beware. They may be able to handle work for these small shops, but can they do well for large B2C companies or in industries like legal services, insurance, or healthcare? Make sure the firm you hire has experience in your industry.
When Do I Get Results?
How long before I start to see results? This is one of the most common questions clients have after hiring an SEO. Generally speaking, if it is a new website, branded terms will be the first keywords to appear within the first couple months. Once a site has 2-3 months to bake in search engines, longer keywords (those 4 and 5 word keywords) will begin to appear as well as branded search terms. Only after a site is established for some time, up to a year in most cases, will more broad non-branded keywords (2 and 3 word phrases) begin to appear. It may take 8-12 months before you can begin to see organic non-brand traffic grow unless you have been running an organic campaign for several years.
If you have seen an impact from Google updates or penalties in the past, this timeframe can be longer. Impacts from a Google update can set you back several months as the marketing firm begins to “clean up” your site back to best practices. One red flag I hear from prospective clients is the “when does it start to work?” phrase. This is usually a clue that the client doesn’t have much time or money to see results from organic work. Search engine optimization takes several months to see improvement. If you can’t commit to a campaign for at least 12 months, you may be better off putting your money into Google Ads advertising or simply doing cheaper forms of marketing until you can afford it.
More Visits DO NOT Equal More Sales
More visits and more website traffic may NOT equal sales. While ranking well helps improve website visits, visits alone do not translate into leads and sales. Beware of services that clout high rankings and high growth in visitors. Most high sales and lead converting keywords will not drive the most visitors. The goal of conversion focused SEO is to target the right set of keywords to bring in the right customer to your site. By targeting the right keywords and improving your website usability, you increase the likely-hood that visitors will convert into sales.
Don’t Expect Great Organic Rankings from a Bad Website
Poor Design & Usability = Poor Ranking Performance
A user friendly site is digital marketing’s best friend. If your site is easy to navigate and visually appealing, your site is more likely to gain natural links, retain and convert visitors. Is your site mobile friendly or converting visitors to sales? If you have a bad website, fix that site first before investing heavily in organic search. Would you expect the website below to rank well in Google’s search engine?
PPC (pay-per-click) IS NOT Search Engine Optimization
Search engine advertising (or PPC) is not SEO.
Many people wrongly confuse paid search engine ads you see as sponsored links on the top and right of search results as SEO. Pay-per-click, or PPC for short, is its own sub set of search marketing involving ad copy creation, keyword targeting, bid placement and reporting. While there is some overlap between the types of keywords targeted in Google AdWords and search engines, it’s important to make the distinction. Pay-per-click and organic search can work together to improve your placement for core keywords, taking up more real estate in search results. Often Google will only list one of your page listings on the first page of results. The only way to gain more visibility is through a paid search campaign. There have been cases where we’ve looked at a clients’ Google Analytics reports to see their ads were never tagged properly. This meant what they thought was organic traffic was actually paid visits! Make sure you hire a pro that knows what they’re doing.
The Days Of Secrets Are Over
SEO is not voodoo or black magic.
There once was the perception that search engine optimization is some form of dark art or hocus-pocus. After more high profile brands began adopting SEO strategies and seeing profits, this myth was quickly put to rest. Since Google’s Penguin and Panda updates in the late 2000s, SEOs have had a really hard time faking great content to influence rankings. You still see some of these tactics used by local hacks in less competitive industries. For small volume local keywords, there still exists some aggressive spam. Google will often take care of these spam sites after each major algorithm update.
Search Engine Optimization Guides: