Let’s start at the very beginning. SEO = Search Engine Optimisation.
SEO is about understanding how and what people are searching for, and making sure that search engines can find and understand the information you want people to find.
You need to be able to connect with both people, and automated computer code. Search engines look at billions of pieces of web content and determine which of this content will answer your query in the best way.
Think of it like a librarian looking through a drawer full of catalogue cards, trying to find the best book to help you with your research project…. but in this case, it’s a billion librarians, looking through billions of catalogue cards, all at the same time.
Search engines can do this by finding and cataloguing all searchable content on the internet. This includes all media/text that is online. The act of searching for web content is called “crawling” and the act of cataloguing the content is called “indexing”.
What’s So Important About SEO?
SEO is important because it will generate more traffic to your website than paid advertising. Basically, good SEO will likely bring in many times more traffic to your website than pay per click advertising on the same search engine (think: paying Google for your ad to be listed in search results Vs ending up in search results because of good SEO).
As opposed to paid marketing, SEO done the right way can snowball overtime and deliver more and more people to your website once traction has been gained. To get these same results with paid marketing, you constantly need to run more campaigns, which costs your money that you don’t need to put in to SEO once it is done.
What Are “Organic” Search Results?
“Organic” search results are the results that are found on search engines without having to pay for their placement. A search engine results page (or “SERP”) is filled with organic, paid, and dynamic organic results.
Usually, the top few results of any Google query will have a little “Ad” box next to the link to indicate that this specific result has been paid for.
Dynamic organic results (often referred to as “SERP features”) are results that come up on the search page from organic sources (not paid), but delivered in such a way that you don’t have to leave the search page to read the information (like answer boxes etc.).
It’s important to realise that search engines make money from advertising and their business is dependent on their customers (people using their search engine) returning and using their product (search engine) again and again. This is achieved by providing their customers with the best and most relevant search results for any query.
Organic search results are the most desired traffic to any website because these are people who have taken it upon themselves to visit you online. They have not been shown any advertising, or coerced in any way, but they have searched for something and believe your website will be able to provide them with an answer/solution to their query.
So, Should You Hire An SEO Agency?
Basic SEO is able to be implemented by yourself, but it really depends on your capacity to focus on an area that isn’t your core business. Website complexity also plays a role in this. Whether you do the basics yourself, or hire an agency really comes down to personal preference.
If you do choose to hire an SEO agency, it’s important to understand that the quality of service that agency provide can vary greatly.
Knowing how to choose the right SEO agency will save you time, but also a lot of money. This is because the wrong SEO techniques can cause damage to your website, and/or business.
The job of an SEO agency is to provide users with the content they desire, in the format they want it in.
You have to understand user intent.
User intent is the reason why they are using the search engine. When someone searches for “cat”, do they want cat pictures, a new pet, or cat stevens?
It is the job of the SEO agency to make sure that the right content gets to the right user.
There are 3 common types of user intent:
- Informational – looking for info on a topic
- Navigational – trying to find a specific website
- Transactional – looking to purchase something
White Hat Tactics Vs Black Hat Tactics
You may of heard the terms “white hat” and “black hat” SEO before. These terms refer to the types of SEO practices being performed by SEO agencies.
White Hat SEO refers to best practice techniques that will always help websites with their SEO goals.
Black Hat SEO refers to techniques that are considered to be a little… underhanded.
These types of techniques will sometimes work, but using these techniques comes at a huge risk to the website. If search engines discover that black hat tactics have been employed, your website runs the risk of being penalised, or being de-indexed (completely removed from search engines).
Black hat tactics have resulted in many businesses going bankrupt due to the penalties put in place once the tactics were discovered. In many cases (not all), where an SEO agency is promising immediate results, they get these results by employing black hat tactics. It works in the short term, but could end up destroying your business in the long term.
What Do The Search Engines Say About SEO?
Google’s very own guidelines for SEO basics
- Make web pages for user, not search engines
- Don’t deceive your visitors
- Avoid tricks to try and improve search rank – a good test is asking yourself if you would do this is search engines didn’t exist
- Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging.
Things to avoid
- Auto generated content
- Participating in link schemes
- Creating pages with little to no original content
- Cloaking (showing crawlers different content than visitors)
- Hidden text and links
- Doorway pages (pages created to rank well for specific searches just to get more traffic to your main site)
- Provide engaging content that is easy to find
- Keep titles clear and relevant
- Bing rewards links that have grown organically
- Social shares are good
- Page speed and a good user experience is important
- Using alt attributes is good
Things to avoid
- Thin content
- Abusive link tactics
- Duplicate content
- Keyword stuffing
Know Your SEO Goals
A good SEO agency should be able to determine what your website goals are. However, in many cases many business owners don’t even know this themselves. Often a website has been put together because “it was the thing to do”.
If your website was thrown together and your web designer didn’t have a conversation with you about what your goals were, all is not lost. Take a few moments to really think about why your website exists and ask yourself whether or not your website is meeting this purpose.
Simply deciding a website should exist “to promote the business” is not good enough. The goal/purpose of your website must lead to something, and be measurable.
“promoting the business” isn’t specific enough, but “bringing about brand awareness so we can grow our customer base” is heading in the right direction.
“more visitors” isn’t good enough, but “more targeted visitors so we can make more sales” is great.
The next thing you want to do is define how these goals will be achieved. Will you promote your brand and grow your customer base through videos on your website? or by email sign ups? Will you make more sales through downloads or by people filling out a contact form?
If you haven’t already identified your website goals, your SEO agency should be able to help you with this, as this information is critical to being able to provide a great SEO service.
If you know that you want SEO services so that you gain more targeted visitors and want them to fill out a form for you to contact them about a specific service, your SEO agencywill not only be able to create an entire strategy for this goal, but will be able to determine what metrics need to be monitored to make sure their services are working.
But What About Simply “Ranking Higher On Google”?
Along with the basic goal of “more visitors”, ranking higher on Google shouldn’t be the main focus of your website or your SEO agency. If the end goal is to simply rank higher on google, this will not help your business grow as it doesn’t accomplish the bigger business objective. Ranking higher doesn’t increase your sales, people filling out contact forms does that.
An SEO agency who is happy with the end goal of “ranking higher in google” is an SEO agency that doesn’t care about your end results.
Likewise, “more visitors” can not ever be your end goal, as this will never help grow your business.
You might think that more visitors would be great, but you can easily get an extra 5,000 website visitors every month by paid for advertising.
Would you rather 5,000 monthly visitors, and 2 contact forms completed?
200 monthly visitors, and 20 completed contact forms?
If your goal was to drive more targeted traffic to your website to help increase sales, you would be happy with the latter, as the end goal (more sales) is realised.
SEO is not about vanity metrics (page rank, visitors etc.). When done well, it helps businesses grow their profits by focusing on what that specific business needs.