Think of your site as a physical location. How would you get people to come and see you? Direct mail, newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, word of mouth, flyers, business cards, T-shirts, packaging, FaceBook, Twitter, email campaigns, banner ads on websites – traditional advertising works for websites too.
Then there are those methods you can only use for websites: click through advertising and search engine optimization (SEO). Click through advertising costs either by the ad, like traditional advertising, or by the click – each time someone clicks on your ad to get to your site, you pay. As with other advertising channels, the more people who are known to view the page where your ad resides, the more you pay. Ads can appear on various web sites, or at the top of search engine pages. The most popular pay per click app is Google AdWords. Click through advertising may be a good option for you seo.
This article will focus on the other online only method: Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is all about getting your site to the top of the list when someone does a search in Google, Bing/Yahoo or another search engine.
Watch out for Snake Oil
Many claim that search engine optimization (getting your site to the top of that list) is science or magic or some other sort of mystery that only a few very special people have the brains to understand. – NOT TRUE! Effective search engine optimization is a lot of work. And it does take some technical knowledge. But the basics are just that – basic.
The purpose of this article is to demystify SEO so that you can select an honest SEO firm. Or if you have a bit of tech savvy you can see that it’s not impossible for you to do on your own. And even for those of you who love to browse, but aren’t so comfortable with the technical details, there is a lot of the SEO job that you are more qualified to do (or at least supervise) than any SEO firm.
How much SEO do you need?
Is your site for your school and everybody who will ever want to find it on Google already knows it exists and will look it up by typing in “Peoria Middle School”? Then you need just the tiniest bit of SEO.
Is your site for your family car dealership and the tri-state area sees Uncle Joe on TV every spring hopping up and down in a bunny suit inviting “y’all” to “come on down to the Kalamazoo Kia Kangaroo Sale”? Yours is not the only car dealer in town and when people search for car dealers they will probably type in something like “Kalamazoo cars” rather than “Kalamazoo Kia”, although if they really like Uncle Joe’s bunny suit, well you never can tell. This situation calls for a little SEO.
Is your business is entirely online? Say you sell remanufactured camera parts that you refurbish in your garage nights and weekends. Then pull out all the stops. You need lots of SEO.
Put Yourself in Google’s Shoes
Look at SEO from the perspective of the search engines. What’s their objective? The same as yours: lots of visitors. How do they attract all these visitors? They put the most useful sites at the top of the search results list. How do they decide which sites are most useful? They look for the most popular ones.
That’s right. SEO is not rocket science. It’s a popularity contest.
So then, how do you make your site more popular? First let’s define popularity in search terms – links from other sites to your site. Think high school. Popularity equals friends. So you want lots of friends, and not just any friends, you want popular friends. But well, when push comes to shove, not so popular friends are better than no friends at all. Translation – friends equals links and you want lots of links, but not just any links. You want links from sites that have lots of other sites linking to them. And those sites should have lots of sites linking to them and so on and so on and so on. A link from CNN.com is going to get you a lot more popularity points than a link from your local newspaper website. But then a hundred links from so-so sites might be better than one link from CNN. It’s hard to tell.
And that’s where the mystery/science SEO legend takes hold. The search engines are not going to tell you exactly how they rank pages. If they gave away all their secrets the cheaters would fake everything necessary to get to the top of the list.
There is a subculture of SEO gurus who spend their entire lives trying to unravel the precise algorithms the major search engines use to rank pages. And then they figure out how to use that information to their advantage. It’s a trial and error process. Eventually they get sites to rank high. Then the major search engines catch on and tweak things a bit so the SEO gurus have to start over again. It’s a never ending game of tug of war.
Not all these gurus are bad guys. Most are honest business people working to get the edge on the competition. But how much careful tweaking does your site really need? And how much money do you want to spend? It’s one of those diminishing returns things. Up to a point spending more time and money will yield a greater and greater ranking, and then, boom, a huge amount more will yield almost nothing.