What is SEO?

What is SEO?

It's all about connecting with customers who search.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is effectively an ever-evolving methodology and approach to ranking well on Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

Fancy acronyms aside, ask yourself when the last time was that you clicked a search result from page 12 of a Google search? Exactly.

SEO is the difference between being found by an interested audience and being afloat in this irrelevant space of non-competitive, low ranking websites.

To us, SEO is foundational. It should always be there in everything we do with Internet marketing.

If you want to understand just how important it is, consider how the following terms are proportionally searched on Google:

SEO
Web Design
Development
PPC

SEO is the most searched keyword compared to “web design,” “web development” or “PPC” keywords. Instead of turning directly to a web designer or web developer when you “just need a website,” consider talking to someone who knows how to make your website perform.

The Big Picture

The first step to understanding SEO is to look at the big picture of Google as a company. Why do we emphasize Google and not give much love to Bing or Yahoo? When Bing or Yahoo have nearly two thirds of the market share in search, we’ll use their name primarily.

Google recently hit a new record high approaching 68% market share in the US.
Citation: http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2345837/Google-Search-Engine-Market-Share-Nears-68

In 2013 across the board for our clients, Google had an even more dominant share of searches.

Search Market Share - Our Clients in 2013

Google 81.38%
Bing 9.08%
Yahoo 8.82%
Other 0.71%

Google’s stock (Nasdaq: GOOG) broke $600/share briefly early 2014, and its market capitalization exceeds $380bn.

The theme here is this: search is big business, and Google is dominating.

Why is this relevant to understanding SEO?

Google wants to continue to dominate. It’s worth a third of a trillion dollars largely because it created a space to sell ads. That ad space happens to be the place where most people turn to search.

Google wants to keep selling ads and continue in its market dominance, and therefore it must continue to earn the loyalty of searchers worldwide.

If you need some new Reebok shoes for your CrossFit workouts and search Google for “Reebok Nano 3.0 shoes,” you expect to be able to quickly find a selection of shoes and prices. But what if the search results were dominated page after page by sketchy muscle supplement companies who market themselves to unsuspecting health nuts because they were using shady SEO tactics?

The big picture for Google is to therefore continue its march to dominance and ever higher stock prices by delivering users the most quality, authoritative content relevant to user searches.

This user-focus is it.

We as individuals, marketing professionals and businesses can take a clue here and gain incredible insights and value from understanding the dynamics of what consumers are searching.

Enter: Keywords.

The importance of keywords

The term “keywords” refers to the phrases that people type into a search field. This keyword search triggers a search algorithm that relates what the search engine believes to be the most relevant, quality and authoritative content to the user’s search.

Let’s be clear: understanding your keywords is paramount to understanding your consumer in a digital market.

If you don’t know your keywords, that means you are out of touch with what your potential customers are searching.

Keywords are the heart and soul of SEO. They are what people search.

Keyword research is foundational to the success of SEO and any Internet marketing efforts. We talk to businesses all the time whose existing copy on their website is full of obscure buzzwords that may sound authoritative when giving a speech to their business peers but have absolutely no basis in what their customers understand.

Our keyword research process is usually very insightful for our clients, as we bring new ideas to the table that help them better understand how to connect with customers online.

So what happens when someone searches a keyword?

Google’s algorithm takes into account over 200 criteria to display its search results. What are these factors?

We will break it down to two general categories for the purposes of this article: “under the hood” and content.

What’s “under the hood” of your website matters

“Under the hood” is how we refer to things that are what makes up the metaphorical engine to a website. It’s the optimization of the markup and code behind a website that is geared towards the crawlers that search engines send to your site to see what you’re all about.

For the sake of not putting you to sleep (SEO drivel is an anesthetic), we’ll keep this relatively short and give you one example that many people have heard of: meta tags.

Meta tags appear in the section of an HTML document and refer typically to the Title and Meta Description tags among others. People used to be able to include keywords in a Meta Keywords tag, but Google has since discontinued use of the MK tags in their algorithm.

If your Title tag says “hello world” and you are trying to attract people to your local Italian restaurant, you can see the keyword problem here.

The “under the hood” is not always related to keywords. Part of it is Google assessing the quality of your website. If your markup is full of errors, takes 12 seconds to load and your website full of broken links to pages that don’t exist, you don’t look like you mean business.

Getting it right “under the hood” sends the signal to Google that you are a great website technically, which means points on the board for your SEO.

NERD ALERT! This is about to get a little technical.  Do not read while operating heavy machinery.

Quick Aside: Web Crawlers & Indexing

Crawlers are automated programs that do what is called “Indexing” the internet. When you search Google, you’re not searching the World Wide Web. You’re searching what is in Google’s index.

Crawlers basically go and seek out websites across the Internet, and the process of indexing is kind of like adding a book to a library. Once a website has been added to the index, a search is able to be run against all websites within this index to yield search results. If the index is the “library”, then the search function is the Dewey Decimal System.

The importance of understanding the process of crawling and indexing the Internet is that the ranking factors in Google’s algorithm are criteria that are compiled and evaluated by a machine and a formula.

When you understand this, you will understand why we say that a website’s design is nearly useless to SEO. Ugly websites can blister past even the best looking websites if the difference in SEO is that great.

Content

Then there is content. This is what a user sees. Google indexes your content, cataloguing the text of the document itself to use against its user searches.

Here’s something we see a lot: Acme Service Company provides a valuable service to a local market population of 1m people. There are probably 2-3m devices that search Google within that size of a market, making the impact of good SEO even better for them.

Acme Service Company hired a web designer who put together a Photoshop mockup of a beautiful design with this stunning photograph that takes up the full page and a catchy, perhaps edgy tagline or call to action that pops out at you the second a user visits the page.

The design gets tons of great reviews internally, it gets approved, and then the designer pumps out the website.

And nobody finds it on Google. All of the traffic comes from people who are doing “branded searches” for Acme Service Company, not the service they are selling.

The problem is one of content. Yes, the stunning photography and catchy text are great and all. But not a single keyword is involved in this process.

And though they were hoping users would find this page on Google, the lack of any quantity of substantive content with relevant keywords makes this website irrelevant in the eyes of Google.

So what’s the trick here?

Our approach is to not look for tricks. Google rewards being awesome, so we just say be awesome. We know we need content. We know it has to have keyword relevance to be valuable. But instead of writing for machines (the crawlers), Google wants us to write something its audience will find valuable.

We suggest developing a rich body of content, and our process for developing marketing content for our clients has proven very successful. People can try to create the content for themselves, but in the many instances of smaller businesses lacking a full time marketing department that has an integrated digital strategy, our team gets it done for our clients.

Black Hat vs White Hat SEO

It is important to follow this by discussing Black Hat vs White Hat SEO and our desire to rise above “tricks” to focus on the value of high quality work.

Black Hat SEO is any strategy that is either currently banned by Google or is still against their general guidelines or vision for what kind of content it wants to deliver to its users.

An example is the buying of links. The role of links in SEO is changing, but at one point you used to be able to pay money to someone, and they would add a link to your website from their completely unrelated website. So here we have a metric (total links) that was intended to be read as a vote of confidence in the authority of a website. In practice, it was being manipulated by people selling links to boost a website’s rankings against the intention of the inclusion of that metric within the algorithm.

But it worked.

For a while.

The thing about Black Hat is that it can get clients fast results, but when Google comes down with algorithm updates that hits a Black Hat strategy, those SEO gains are lost in an instant.

The Penguin update in 2012 addressed this spam link situation. We have seen people who were spending a thousands a month on SEO watch their traffic profile plummet after this update was released. The link buying strategy worked for a while. It helped their rankings. And their rankings drove a good deal of sales. And then the penalty came down, causing a multi-year road to recovering from the damage that was done.

We just don’t think Black Hat strategies are worth it. It’s like robbing a bank. It may make you some quick cash, but if you find your way to Federal prison, was it worth the short term gain?

White Hat SEO, by comparison, is more interested in living up to Google’s goal for delivering quality, authoritative content that is relevant to user searches.

White Hat is what pays off in the long run, and study after study shows that good ol’ SEO creates the greatest return on investment (ROI) of the various Internet marketing strategies.

SEO is not static

SEO happens on multiple levels. If you’re developing a huge eCommerce website or any marketing site, SEO should be at the table during the planning and development process to be sure. People who try to accomplish serious goals without SEO at the table fail entirely too often, so they have to spend more than they would have to begin with to have an SEO professional go in and fix their problems.

But the job of SEO really is never done. Let’s say you achieve the very top ranking for your keywords (congratulations!), and there is nowhere up to go from there. Do you then stop doing things to optimize your website for relevant searches? Absolutely not!!

Climbing Google rankings is kind of like climbing a mountain. If the path you took was a treadmill. Even after powering your way to the top, the trail is still moving downhill, so you have to keep pushing to stay on top.

The ongoing process is critical. This can take many forms, but it all ultimately is a process designed to help you keep climbing that mountain of a treadmill known as Google SERPs.

Is SEO for me?

Do you want to be found? If yes, then SEO is for you. If not, then why are you reading this article?

Perhaps the correct question is what sort of strategies are important for you. Our way of doing things is to find the proper intersection of a client’s desired outcome and their budget.

What are some pitfalls to watch out for?

1 – black hat strategies that go against Google’s guidelines
2 – snake oil salesmen who promise quick results and don’t back it up with a contractual guarantee
3 – Labor outsourcing overseas. First of all, we support the idea of buying American. Secondly, people who outsource don’t always tell you, so you pay what you would pay for higher US wages for what is cheap overseas labor. That means the value of your dollar is going to sales commissions and profit, not highly skilled labor hours. Overseas web work can be a dicey arena. Many black hat tricksters come from India and other Asian markets. Quality assurance is simply a nightmare here.

Conclusions

Okay, this was a long article, but SEO is so fundamentally important that it can’t be taken lightly.

We want people to be familiar with just how critical this is and some of the basic components.

If you want to talk to someone more about SEO and particularly our approach to integrating SEO into an overarching Internet marketing strategy that is focused on accomplishing outcomes, just give us a call.

You will not talk to a salesmen (we don’t like to talk to them either, therefore we don’t employ them). You can talk to an SEO expert with no strings attached.

”Search

SEO FAQs

If you need to connect with new leads via the Internet, then you need a website coupled with great SEO.

Your potential customers or clients are out there searching for the goods or services you provide.  The question is whether or not they can they find you.  More to the point: are you one of the first people they come across when they Google what it is they are looking for?

The standard long-view is that quality SEO can take up to two years to achieve.  Some clients accomplish better results within 6-12 months.  We have had a local firm receive their first phone call driven from their website within two weeks of going live with their new campaign targeting other regional markets.

It just depends.

Factors that influence this include how large your search market is, how stiff the competition is, and how competitive your SEO efforts are.

This is very difficult to predict.  Traffic is a function of three things:

  • The size of your search market
  • The demand for your goods or services
  • How well you’re competing for your keywords

We have had multiple clients within the same local market see traffic profiles that are drastically different.  Some are in lower demand service industries, while other higher interest industries receive multiple times the monthly traffic in the same city.

One thing is certain: if you are behind your competitors, you are getting less traffic from search.

seo

Are we putting you to sleep?

Don’t worry, it happens! This is here, because we want people to be informed.

If this is too much geek speak for you, you can always give us a call to talk about how our approach to integrating SEO in our Internet marketing strategies can help you.

Call 800.504.9667

The Smart Approach Thumbnail

The Smart Approach

Don’t get sucked in to people trying to sell you a website, because it probably isn’t going to perform.

If you want to talk to a real professional – not a salesperson – about our Smart Approach method and what strategies can work for your business and your market, then just give us a call.

Give Us A Call: 800.504.9667

The Internet Marketing Playbook

The Internet Marketing Playbook

A foundation in solid fundamentals yields great results, and the Internet Marketing Playbook is our rundown of the core components that we find yield the greatest results for our clients.

Check Out the Playbook

Want to learn how the Smart Approach can help your business?