Let me be blunt. There is a whole lot of snake oil being sold on the subject of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). There are many reputable web marketing companies selling SEO but there are also many snake oil salesman in the industry —or rather on the fringes of the industry.
There is no denying that web marketing is a vital part of any marketing strategy today and definitely for the future. To ignore it can cost your business sales, especially if prospects decide to “investigate” you or your products online and don’t find you.
I want to take a few minutes to educate and help you navigate through this somewhat controversial subject. This is worthwhile so that you may make smart decisions about your web marketing that result in good response and genuine benefits in the form of increased sales.
What is Search Engine Optimization [SEO] Anyway?
Search Engine Optimization is the practice of making your website or websites easy to find through search engines and social media so that when your target audience decides they want to buy what you are selling, you get found. SEO specifically refers to unpaid or “natural” listings as opposed to search engine marketing which encompasses paid listings. This is also referred to as “organic” search results.
The internet is vast – very vast. Estimating the actual size of it is impossible. With such a huge medium made up of such diverse contributions there are many SEO methods – some of them more beneficial than others.
How does SEO work?
The best way to explain this is to take the world’s biggest search engines and explain how they do it. Google, Yahoo! and Bing, to name a just a few, use computer programs called crawlers, spiders, robots, bots (short for robots) or automatic indexes that browse the world wide web, make a copy of the pages they visited and then index them (like a librarian indexes the books contained within the library). That means when a visitor searches Google they are not searching the live web but rather their index of the web. Metaphorically speaking, the index is only as up-to-date as the last time the librarian updated it.
Once your site is indexed it is “ranked” against other websites that also contain useful or relevant content. And so you have listings.
Realize that this process took quite a bit of time to achieve, and it would take time for your website to get indexed and then ranked. Google estimates that it takes a couple of weeks for their rankings to update as they have to search through the entire web before the index and rankings are updated.
It is important to remember that the intended audience for search engines are the users. Users search for something they want and the search engines provides them with a list of websites that offer what they are looking for. The search engine wants the user to be satisfied that the websites they found were relevant and useful because then the user will come back and use the search engine again. The search engine then makes money by selling advertising space to businesses who want access to these users. Their sales depend on how many users they have visiting their search engine. The users will only use their search engine if it gets them the information that they want to find—not broken links, old information or irrelevant websites. So, again, the search engines want their users to be satisfied because it guarantees them future traffic and therefore advertising sales.
And this is where SEO comes in. Basically, you continuously provide useful content and relevant information on your industry, products or services and the search engines reward you by sending you visitors or traffic. At least that is what you do if you are a genuine business that plans to be on the internet for a long time. There are ways to “cheat” but when a search engines catches you cheating they will blacklist your website and stop sending you visitors.
The other aspect to understand is your website and social media profiles are being indexed on different subjects. For instance, RESPONSE! is indexed under “targeted marketing”, but it also indexed under “postcard marketing” and again under “direct mail”. Then it is indexed yet again under “website design”, etc. Whatever your web content talks about, your site will be indexed under and you will have a ranking assigned accordingly. Your ranking could be number 1, or it could be number 3002, depending what the search engine has decided about how relevant and current your content is to the search term.
The World Wide Web Just Became Much Faster
In June 2010 Google announced Google Caffeine. Google Caffeine is a new, faster method to index sites and provide much more fresh (therefore much more relevant) web pages to their users. To be precise Google’s release has promised “50% fresher results”. Google is achieving this by analyzing the web in small portions which continuously update the index – like a librarian on five shots of espresso.
Plus their new system of indexing also encompasses… well, just more. In their own words:
“So why did we build a new search indexing system? Content on the web is blossoming. It’s growing not just in size and numbers but with the advent of video, images, news and real-time updates, the average webpage is richer and more complex. In addition, people’s expectations for search are higher than they used to be. Searchers want to find the latest relevant content and publishers expect to be found the instant they publish.” – Carrie Grimes, Software Engineer, Google.
What you need to know is that, with the introduction of Google Caffeine, web content will be indexed and ranked faster than ever before. That means your web content and web marketing will up-date, or go-out-of-date, much faster. Out-of-date is bad because the older the information is, the sooner it will be deemed irrelevant, and be assigned a lower ranking accordingly.
To give you some idea of how Google Caffeine changes the frontier of search engine rankings, RESPONSE! has experienced double the website traffic since Google Caffeine launched due to the fact that we aggressively update our website and social media profiles, and provide content to the world wide web for small business owners like you through articles like the one you are reading right now.
That in a nutshell is Search Engine Optimization.
What Should You Do To Get Your Own Cup of Google Caffeine?
Here is a list of the very bare minimum I recommend doing to take advantage of this medium.
TIP 1: STRATEGY
Based on successful print promotion, questions your prospects frequently ask from sales people, and your general image and branding, work out exactly what you want your web marketing to say about your company, about you and about your products and services. Use this as a road map in any further web marketing.
TIP 2: Content, Content, Content
I have used the word “content” several times. By content is meant reviews, user reviews, advice, opinion, experiences, anecdotes, in-depth descriptions, features, how-to articles, tips, discussions, information, testimonials, videos, images, guides, tools and manuals on your products, services, industry and related topics. Any information that the user might be looking for or may find useful in making decisions or taking action.
Think about your own online searches and the information that you found useful and the information that was useless. Then make sure you are providing useful, up-to-date content on your website.
TIP 3: Blog, Blog, Blog*
[*weB LOG: an online journal for easy logging of news and information]
The easiest method to load content is by regular blogging. Blogging gives search engines material to index and keep your site actively up-to-date. Blogging platforms, such as WordPress (one of the world’s largest blogging platforms and what we use to build client websites) is specifically targeted at reaching search engines with the latest news and content.
The reason for the high response rate with search engines is that blogs are syndicated. By “syndication” is meant blogging content is made available to multiple external sites through the use of web feeds. These feeds broadcast to other sites. They can even broadcast to people’s inboxes through feed readers, such as Outlook and Google Reader, if they have subscribed to your feed. If you have a blog you may never have seen your feed page, but it’s there and it’s broadcasting to search engines and the web in general.
TIP 4: Syndicate, Syndicate, Syndicate
Locate your feed address and syndicate it to your Facebook, Twitter and other web marketing pages and sites. This is an easy method to load regular content on these social media sites and cuts down on the time needed to keep these up-to-date. If you don’t have Facebook or social media profiles, get them set up. Search engines frequently list these on the rankings and users search Facebook and Twitter for subjects in the same way they use search engines. Not having them set up means you’re missing out on visitor traffic.
TIP 5: Update, Update, Update
Load your videos and images and advice. Update your site. Find friends on Facebook. Email your customers and give them a reason to click through and visit your site, your Facebook, your Twitter. Have something interesting to say about a new product you started carrying? Broadcast it on your website’s blog. Updating is an ongoing process and should be done as regularly as possible—no less than 2-4 hours a week.
TIP 6: Too Much Coffee Is Bad For You
Remember to keep doing your other marketing such as direct mail, newsletters, advertising, networking, etc. Investing all your time and energies into the web and dropping successful print campaigns can be deadly and that is why you still see me printing high-quality postcards and newsletters for our own targeted marketing campaigns.
Until The Next Cup
As you can see the key method to achieve search engine rankings is regular, consistent work on your web marketing. I hope this SEO 101 guide to web marketing helps you to understand more about the decisions you will make about how to approach your web marketing strategy.
Barry A. Coziahr
President, RESPONSE! Targeted Marketing