The other day I was reading in the San Jose Mercury News about how Costco was finally going to optimize its site, Costco.com. It hadn’t focused on or cared about search engine optimization (SEO) at all until it finally realized that competitors like Amazon.com and Walmart.com were eating its lunch online. The company realized that it was leaving a lot of money on the table.
Each week I meet with a variety of business owners, corporate employees, entrepreneurs or managers. SEO is a common topic in these discussions. They’re often curious about how it works and are also frustrated by the whole concept at the same time. If you want a definition, SEO is the art and science of getting web pages or blog posts to rank in Google or the other search engines for keywords that you and your business care about (see also “What is SEO“).
Based on these discussions, the recent Costco article, and the lack of usage and knowledge of SEO in general, here is my conclusion about the state of SEO and business:
Most businesses have no clue about SEO!
There is so much confusion, misinformation and anxiety about this topic that it actually boggles my mind. Google’s in on it. SEO consultants are in on it (sometimes by just trying to teach too much). Website developers are often unwittingly doing it. Pseudo experts are in on it.
I would say that SEO “fluency” is extremely low for most businesses. There are those few that get it and dominate the results and then there are the masses who don’t have any idea and are, unfortunately, missing out on opportunities to get more targeted visitors to their sites.
Question: Why are people so confused about how to get their pages to rank in Google and the other search engines?
Here are some of the reasons. Please add others below in the comments:
- Misdirection and Subterfuge: Google and the other search engines purposely hide details about their ranking algorithms so people can’t game the system.
- SEO friendly vs. SEO: Web developers who may not really understand SEO, claim a site is “SEO friendly”, “SEO optimized” or “Includes SEO”. “SEO friendly”, “SEO optimized” or “Includes SEO” have very little meaning if there is no keyword strategy (e.g. what keywords is it optimized for???). Did you talk with your web developer about which products, services, brands or geographies you’re focused on? If not, it’s most likely not optimized for keyword phrases you care about.
- Smoke and Mirrors: Some companies that offer SEO services use presentations that include lots of smoke, mirrors, and paralysis-inducing levels of detail that leave potential clients so dazed they don’t know which way is up. But they know that they want the SEO pain to end. “Where do I sign to rank #1?!”, they say in frustration.
- Algorithm change hype cycle: Google’s constant algorithm changes (e.g. “Panda”, “Florida” etc…) make it all seem like a moving target for all but Search Gurus. It’s enough to make any business owner, manager or employee throw up his/her arms and just give up!
- “Kind of” knowing SEO: A lot of people “kind of” know SEO. Which means they get that it’s about keywords, content and links. There’s a big gap between this basic knowledge and actually implementing something with impact.
- SEO Tools: SEO tools are required to measure progress. It’s hard for most regular businesspeople to make an educated buying decision about an SEO Toolset. So most just don’t even bother going there.
- Delayed Gratification Problem: SEO is not an overnight thing, so people don’t easily associate their actions with results. What’s worse, they may not even know that they’re ranking for certain keywords already! Because of the lack of feedback, they quickly give up and head over to Adwords instead – an expensive replacement, but one that can give instant satisfaction.
- Lack of Analytics Awareness: People don’t check their website analytics, don’t have analytics, or don’t understand it enough to know what’s working and what’s not.
Why you should care about SEO?
I get 40% of my traffic from search engines (organic, free traffic). That’s great because even if I take a social media vacation, I still have a decent amount of traffic regularly coming to my site, sharing my content, inquiring about help or a partnership, or buying products. That’s just this site, which is in the very competitive space of online marketing/social media.
If you’re a brick and mortar business, it’s even better. You can get regular phone calls, email inquiries or walk-ins directly as a result of better SEO. If you offer products and services that people love – but you just don’t seem to be found easily online – pay attention. One of my bigger sites (that sells products for the construction industry) gets about 90% of its traffic from SEO. After the initial set-up and optimization work, it’s now 100% “set and forget”. I love that.
It’s not rocket science but you will probably need some help…
Let me talk about a concept here that I explain to my clients. This is simplified but it’s one way you can think about SEO:
- If you have a website, you’ve already published content online.
- Phase 1 of SEO is merely optimizing that existing content in a format that Google recognizes and can use. Why waste all of those web pages you’ve worked so hard on by hiding them from Google????
- Of course, you have to optimize for keywords that your customers care about and those usually fall out from your business strategy, the types of products you offer, and your location (if you’re a local business)
- You can learn some of the basics at places like SEOMoz, Seach Engine Land or SEO Basics.
- Phase 2 of SEO is having a keyword strategy and actually creating new pages that focus on your target keyword phrases. You may also rethink some of your existing pages based on your keyword strategy.
- What are target keyword phrases? These can include your most profitable products or services, geographies where you want to sell more of your products/services and sought after brands or product types.
For many businesses that serve a specific niche or geographic area, Phases 1 & 2 can give a nice boost.
In less competitive or niche markets, Phases 1 and 2 (often combined into one project) are enough to start getting you to rank on Page 1 for relevant phrases for your business. You can learn about some of the most important SEO elements on a WordPress website or blog here (SEO for WordPress Workshop). It’s not free but it’s extremely inexpensive for the valuable context that it provides.
Going a lot deeper…
- Phase 3 of SEO gets into link-building, directories, local listings, social media, etc. This is a bigger effort, but if you have the first phases taken care of, you have a great foundation to start from.
Need an SEO Assessment?
One of the most important things is to understand where you’re at today. What keywords do you current rank for? Do people link to your site (helping your SEO)? Are you doing the right things for SEO on your site? And much more. Click here to see if you what you rank for in Google.
Don’t be afraid of SEO.
There are simple things that you can do that can help most businesses to rank better in the search engines. Learn them, start simple and use SEO tools (ranking, inbound link analysis) and website analytics to measure incremental progress.
Don’t ignore it.
Tom Treanor is the founder of the Right Mix Marketing blog. He’s the author of the Search Engine Boot Camp, the co-author of Online Business Productivity, and regularly speaks at industry and corporate events. His writing has been featured on the Content Marketing Institute, Social Media Examiner, Copyblogger and other leading industry blogs.