Ah, search engine optimization! If you’ve been in business long enough, no doubt you’ve come across this term and its punchy little acronym: SEO. The concept sounds simple enough: improve your site’s performance in search. Turning this “simple” concept into reality, however, is often what confounds business owners, web designers, and marketing consultants alike.
The purpose of this post isn’t to show you “how” to optimize your website—people have written plenty of articles and books on that subject. Instead, this article will give you some practical advice on what you—as a business owner or as the person tasked with website optimization—need to think about.
SEO isn’t a one-time “thing.” It’s a long-term process. You don’t just do some backend stuff, flip a switch, and—voila—your site is optimized. It’s not a thing like cable or electricity. Instead, search engine optimization is a long-term process and one that should be included in your overall marketing plan. It’s something you work on month-to-month, year-to-year. It’s not something that will ever be done (which is both liberating and deflating at the same time—we get it!). Another way to think of it is like this: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
SEO is about people first, search engines second. It’s unfortunate that the name has the words “search engine” in it because it makes it easy—too easy—to think that the process involves gaming Google or figuring out what will make Bing happy. Any legitimate, ethical search engine optimizer will tell you that you need to think of humans first, search engines second. Why? The search starts with a human. This person has a need and is turning to a search engine to help fulfill this need. So you need to start by thinking of this person, understanding what her motivations and needs are, and predicting what type of content will satisfy those needs. By the way, “content” is an important term, which brings us to…
Effective SEO centers on stellar content. In the early days when the web landscape was less crowded, you could get away with SEO tricks (known as “black hat” tactics) like keyword stuffing and doorway pages. But search engines—or, rather, the people behind their algorithms—caught onto these tricks and updated their algorithms to not only ignore these tactics, but also penalize the offending websites for using them.
Today, you’ll still encounter some of these spammy sites and tactics, and yes, some even perform well. For now. But remember what we said: SEO is a long-term process, so it will serve you better in the long-run if you use “white hat” strategies. The one strategy that will likely always be effective is providing amazing content. This means:
- Each and every page of your site is relevant and valuable—it’s not just “there” because your competitor has a similar page or because you’re trying to target a keyword phrase; the content should actually provide value to whoever reads it.
- All content is unique (no plagiarism or duplicating pages), well written, and error free. Your ninth grade English teacher was right: spelling, punctuation, and grammar matter.
- All content sounds like it’s written for people first. This means that whenever a keyword phrase (or synonym) is used, it’s done so in a natural way.
SEO “rules” change over time. This is why you must be skeptical when someone says you “must” do such-and-such in order to optimize your website. (The one exception is strong content—that is a must!). As of right now, there are some other things that you should do, such as including the keyword phrase in the web page’s title tag. That said, we’re writing this post in August 2013. If you’re reading this a year or two later, the title tag might not hold as much weight as it does right now (we’re not making a prediction; we’re simply saying you need to consider this possibility). Because SEO is a long-term process, it evolves over time and with the times. Back in the 90s, the keyword tag was relevant. Today? Not at all. When someone gives you a “must-do” list of items, always approach it with a healthy dose of skepticism and spend a little time researching the recommendations.
SEO should be a team effort. Unless you’ve somehow found a 25th and 26th hour in the day, you’ll probably want to consider dividing and conquering when it comes to SEO instead of attempting to handle all of it yourself. People who can help: SEO copywriters, respected search engine optimizers, and marketers and web developers who understand the tenets of SEO.
The key when farming out work is making sure you’re handing off tasks to people who know what they’re doing. Anyone can hang a virtual shingle these days and make claims that that they’re SEO experts, so make sure you do your due diligence, check references, and ask for examples of work. Here are 20 questions you should ask before you hire an SEO agency. Another important note: don’t pass off the work and wipe your hands clean. You need to provide oversight, review the work and the analytics, and be involved in top-level discussions. You’re part of the SEO team, too!
SEO knowledge is power. Keep up with SEO concepts, changes, and new rollouts from Google. You don’t need to subscribe to every SEO blog on the planet, of course. Find one or two respected ones you like and commit to reading the articles. Here are some recommendations:
- Search Engine Land
- High Rankings Advisor newsletter (comes out twice a month)
- Search Engine Guide (geared towards small businesses)
- HubSpot’s blog (topics include SEO, but also more general marketing topics as well)
In addition, read Google’s own tips and guidelines regarding SEO. Here’s a good post from Small Business Trends on how to choose the right SEO tactics.
How do you handle SEO for your business? Share in the comments!