SEO – it’s one of those acronyms the business world loves to talk about but what does it really mean? Do you really need to know? Does a small business even need to be spending time and money on it?
At the very least as a business owner, you should know what it is, if only to not get ripped off. The truth is, it sounds very complicated and it can be, but understanding what it does for your business is not difficult.
Take a moment or two to read this and you will be almost as knowledgeable as some people calling themselves SEO experts!
To start at the beginning – SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and is all about how well search engines such as Google and Bing rate your website for what people search for. It gets very complicated, but if you think of it as the mechanism that brings up a list of websites, articles and businesses about ‘Ice Cream’ when you type ‘Ice Cream’ into Google and not a stack of irrelevant destinations then you are on the right path.
SEO is not advertising, those results at the top or bottom of a Google search results page are not there thanks to their SEO, they are there because they paid to be (another related complicated process which I will cover another time) and they are displayed as sponsored or paid for.
What good SEO should do is get your business, your website, or the relevant pages of your website as far up the organic search results as possible. Organic search results are the list of relevant results you get for any search that is not paid for or sponsored. Using my Ice Cream example today the top results on Google are from Wikipedia, Sainsburys and BBC Food, followed by several from Tesco, Asda and Iceland.
So, how does it know? All the search engines have ‘bots’, this is software which constantly visits, scans and assesses all the websites they can find. This is called crawling. These bots read websites and the search engine systems use the data they gather to rank and rate every part of every website. These systems are the algorithms you may have heard of, that Google and others are constantly changing so it becomes tricky to know what they are looking for. This process is highly sophisticated and anyone who tells you they know exactly how it works is kidding you and themselves. I am pretty sure that no one single algorithm writer at Google knows either so be wary of anyone who claims they do!
The changes in these algorithms over the years have made some big changes and SEO practices that were considered the norm say 10 years ago could get your site downgraded in the rankings today. Therefore, it is important to have someone in your business who keeps up to date with what is acceptable and what is not.
One big issue to look out for when looking for someone to work with on your SEO is that a huge proportion (maybe more than 80%) of SEO services delivered to businesses are ineffective and useless, some are indeed an outright scam. This is according to Peter Kent, writer of the book series SEO For Dummies, a highly respected SEO expert. SEO results are not instant, it takes time to filter through and start to have an effect so it is hard for clients to measure how well the SEO work has been done. Usually long after the ‘SEO Consultant’ bill has been paid, the company realises they have been scammed. Always ask whoever you are considering working with how results can be measured. At the most basic level, it’s not difficult to add some tracking to see if the number of visits to your website or specific areas have been visited more. Anyone working on your SEO should be setting this up as a matter of course if you don’t have it already. My other suggestion here is that something completely independent such as Google Analytics is used, not the service providers own system or software.
Off-page SEO is mainly about links and is somewhat trickier than the on-page work because it is not 100% under the site owner or publishers control. Again, those bots will assess every link on other sites pointing at your site. They want to know where those links are and the type and reputation of those sites (remember I mentioned trust), how long your website has been around (more trust), how long visitors stay on your site, how many ads run on it and so on. They want to know where you are located and how your site is talked about on Social Media. They will also assess how many links point to you, how relevant they are to your content and whether you have paid for links or gained them by spamming blogs, forums or other places. Link building may be one area worth considering paying for but it is critical to choose the right service provider as there are lots out there providing worthless links and the bots will know!
I have a great infographic here created by Column Five for Search Engine Land which nicely demonstrates the factors involved.
There really is no single answer but working with someone who will take the time to understand your business, help write your content and on-page SEO and work on those links for you really is your best bet. Talk to me about your content and SEO needs and don’t get left behind!
Talk to me today about improving the SEO of your website or to get a free SEO Audit report. Most small businesses suffer from very poor SEO and with a few tweaks and updates we can improve the basic ranking and appearance quite quickly. For deeper, full-site SEO it takes a bit longer but speak to me today to start to get a handle on your website and landing page SEO today.