by Ray Larson
What is SEO? What do you as a business owner really need to know in order to evaluate proposals for outsourcing or to manage internally? Here’s the first in a series of posts to teach you essential SEO.
“SEO” stands for search engine optimization. Generally speaking it means configuring your website so that your target audience can find you on the web. More specifically SEO means following a proscribed set of best practices to insure your website shows up in the search engine results pages for a query (search or question) used by your customer. However you just don’t want to appear in the results, but rather show up high enough to increase the probability that your listing will be clicked and your target delivered to your website (where the “magic” hopefully commences).
The search engines utilize algorithms to populate the search engine results pages (SERPs). These results reflect an algorithmic ranking of the search engine’s determination of the best response to a user’s search query. More specifically the SERP listings embody the search engine’s mathematical judgment of the trust, subject authority, and reputation of the websites returned.
The prescribed best practices mentioned above are driven by experts (called SEOs) best estimates as to how Google’s (used generically; Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go, etc.) latest algorithm works. I use the word latest because Google continually changes how this algorithm works. Why?
Remember first and foremost Google is a profit making venture. Google must return the best possible results to a user’s query in order to retain it’s dominant market share and continue to serve up their highly profitable ads. In order for your target to type their search question into the Google browser they need to trust the search engine will return relevant, useful listings to their search. This became problematic for Google at the end of the last decade, with SEOs using “black hat” techniques to artificially inflate their firms in the search engine results pages. As a result of these practices the SERPs became polluted with content thin non-authoritative websites that frustrated many Google users. We’ll have a primer on why it’s important for someone in your organization to stay on top of Google Algorithm changes in a subsequent post.
SEO is an online marketing tactic (though your SEO, in house or outsourced firm should have an SEO “strategy” specific to your website) and an important one. When your website shows up in the organic results (the “free” listings) in a SERP and a prospect clicks it, this visitor cost you zero dollars, as opposed to when someone clicks an ad. Furthermore the majority of traffic to your website should be organic. Take a look at this chart that emphasizes the size of and importance of organic traffic.
The higher your website appears in the SERPs the more likely it is to attract your target audience. Take a look at this graphic that succinctly illustrates this point.
Essential SEO means implementing the latest best practices in order to insure your website appears high enough in the SERPs to attract prospects. As you can see from above, failure to do so results in near zero traffic.
An important paradigm shift for a business owner attempting to understand SEO is this: your website requires optimization for two audiences. First it must possess a great user experience for your human target audience. Second it must possess convince the search engines, its second target audience of its relevance to the core business it states its purpose thereof. Thus if your website does not show up high enough in the SERPs for user queries it will never be found. Thus you must optimize first for the search engines.
In future posts I’ll explain explain what you need to know about algorithm updates, why keywords still matter, how to respond to a telemarketer when they guarantee you the first position in Google, and a whole series of posts on essential SEO best practices.