During my career in the creative services industry, I’ve always tried to stay ahead of the curve by investigating emerging trends. My curiosity and gut instinct usually paid off, and I’ve been successful at slowly educating clients on the benefits of getting on board with smart new ideas to help them build their brands, and their businesses.
Unfortunately, SEO (search engine optimization) is an exception, and continues to be a very tough sell here in Atlantic Canada – perhaps because it isn’t always understood and has a complicated history. This is a real shame, since SEO is one of the smartest investments you can make in an increasingly competitive digital economy.
Because it is such an important factor in the effectiveness of your online presence, I want to uncover some of the mysteries around SEO and to redeem it as a smart, measurable, and effective component of your overall marketing strategy.
Often referred to as organic or natural search, SEO is the process of improving your rank on search engines, and bringing traffic to your website. Simply put, it’s about being where your customers are, and directing them toward the solutions you can offer.
Your website could be a work of art, but if you don’t make it easy for people to find – what’s the point? If your keywords aren’t targeted and your site isn’t indexed properly, you basically end up with a Rembrandt in the attic.
– David Ferguson, Senior Technologist, Think Marketing
The technical side of SEO involves structuring your website so that it will be properly indexed by search engines. A lot of technical wizardry goes on behind the scenes to make sure your website is properly structured for search.
The problem is that when SEO came on the scene in the mid-1990s, many purported SEO experts were not in fact technical wizards. Rather, they realized that they could manipulate their rankings by excessively stuffing their site with keywords – something that hadn’t yet been guarded against by search engines. Because these practices led to less relevant search results for users, search engines have had to develop increasingly complex ranking algorithms that factor in more than just keyword density.
Now, many search engines (such as Google) actually provide information and guidelines to help with site optimization, while penalizing deceptive “black hat” practices such as “spamdexing” and “cloaking” by reducing their rankings or eliminating these listings altogether.
Great, so as long as you play by the rules, Google will love you and your site will be seen by all, right? Not so fast. Implementing best practice SEO strategies is a complex business, and is about much more than understanding and following the rules. In order to be competitive, your SEO strategy needs to be designed and carried out by someone with the expertise to stay on top current trends, and anticipate changes in such a dynamic arena.
Your website is the digital front window of your business and one of your most valuable assets. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, attracting potential new customers, partners, or investors.
Over 75% of internet users do not look past the first page of search results, and over 35% of internet users click the top three search results. If your website doesn’t rank well, you risk being overlooked. This is where SEO plays a valuable role.”
Where many forms of online marketing are based on interrupting a prospect with a sales pitch, SEO is aligned with the intent of a searcher, serving relevant messages and delivering solutions they’re already seeking. If you’re right where your customers are – at the right moment – you’ll win.
Online users trust organic search results more than ads, so ranking well in search engines helps build brand awareness and credibility. Companies that come up on the first page of a google search are generally perceived to be more trustworthy.
SEO takes time, effort, and patience. There is no magic pill, and it’s not something that provides immediate results overnight – which is the main reason why it’s a tough sell. It’s a long, meticulous process that requires research, hard work, and many hours to ensure your site reaches and maintains solid rankings. Like a fine wine, it simply takes time. But that time, effort and investment will pay off in the long run.
SEO should not be an afterthought—it needs to be considered during the initial stages of mapping out your website. Addressing SEO while planning your website’s structure, content management system (CMS), URL syntax, and Web design provides the best results. It ensures that you map old URLs to new ones, tailor your landing pages to user needs, and preserves old rankings that may have taken years to achieve.
Google is not static. It’s constantly evolving—which means that what works today is not guaranteed to work tomorrow. Every day, Google tweaks their algorithm, and every year or two, they roll out major updates that result in significant shifts in search engine rankings. Therefore, your SEO strategy has to keep up and stay relevant through continued maintenance.
As previously mentioned, it’s also important that you play by the rules. Google is meticulous about keeping SEO from being exploited, so you need to make sure you don’t overstep the boundaries – which can result in your ranking being reduced, or disappearing altogether.
Not all SEO experts are created equal. Beware of those who promise to get you in the number one position within an unrealistically short time frame.
A true expert will take the time to understand your business, design a thoughtful strategy to achieve your objectives, and provide analytics to show the results of your investment. They should have a genuine interest in the brands they’re working with, and want to deliver a return on investment.
Great SEO demands more than just coding skills. It involves marketing and communication, strategic thought, and the ability to think outside the box.
Qualified SEO specialists work behind the scenes to stay up to date with the newest algorithm changes, negative and positive ranking factors, and know what needs to be adjusted right now while being proactive in predicting what will be needed in the future.
Great SEO also relies on authoritative content, and this is where many organizations fall short. While all that technical wizardry is crucial, it has to be applied to strategic content in order to give you that competitive advantage.
SEO is important, but it needs to work in tandem with your other marketing initiatives. The challenge is to decide how to intelligently integrate SEO into your overall marketing mix to achieve the highest cumulative rewards.
To be perfectly blunt, there’s one main reason to invest in SEO—you can’t afford not to. You simply can’t rely on a static website to give you a strong digital presence. Rather, you should think of your website as something that requires a digital pit crew to fix problems, keep things running smoothly, and give you an edge over the competition.
Building a strong SEO plan can help significantly impact your bottom line by ensuring your website reaches the right audience, and converts them into customers. In short, it might just be the smartest investment you ever make.