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If you have a website, sooner or later you’ll get an email (or worse a call from a call centre) trying to sell you on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). They will claim that you will improve your click through rate on your website, improve your visibility on search returns, and improve your view time by some magical number, if you pay them a monthly ongoing fee. If you are like most people, you would have ignored it and carried on with running your business. Still you might wonder if what they claim is true and given how the internet drives business these days, would it be a worthwhile investment. We are going to answer that question by explaining what Search Engine Optimisation is and what it means for most businesses.
What is Search Engine Optimisation? (We will call it SEO from now on). In simple terms, SEO is the process of modifying your web pages to contain information to improve the likelihood of your business being returned to the top of the search results when people ‘google’ for something. They do this by including a series of search terms embedded in each of your web pages which are commonly searched for when people look for a thing that relates to your business. An example would be that people look for ‘spa, salon, beauty, cosmetic, makeup, pedicure, nails, waxing’ etc when they search for beauty salons. These are known as ‘keywords’ and form the basis of how you search for things on the internet.
What SEO companies do is review the current effectiveness of a large library of search terms and how high they come in the results to build a trending list. They take the trending words and go through their clients websites, adding new popular keywords and removing or downgrading unpopular ones. Depending on the plan you pay for this process will be applied to your website on a cycle from daily to annually. What happens in reality is that they embedded in your site front page a bit of code that pulls from their own databases relevant terms and injects it so that the search engines see it. The trending terms come directly from the search engine providers automatically and processed by their own automated system to work out who gets what terms. So you are paying for an automated service to put words on your website that should be already there if you’ve spent time setting it up right in the first place.
All search engines constantly cycle reading through the webpages and look for terms in the content that match up with their database/index of terms that people search for. (This is known as crawling.) Based on how often that word/term is looked for by people, the higher up the rank of returned results when people search for it. The more words/terms that page has, the more likely it’s going to be brought up and the higher up the list it is placed. This process is effected by such factors as slang, commonality of usage, and even search trends. For example, an electrician is also known by the slang term ‘sparky,’ so having that term could push you up in the ranks. The word electricity is so common that having it as a search term could have very little meaning in searching. If there’s news about a faulty model of stove, suddenly the words ‘stove’ & ‘oven’ could become highly searched for term so having it on a webpage increases the chance of it being returned.
Why does it matter where you appear on the search returns? Because people are lazy. Think about your own searches. How often have you bothered to go to the second or third page of a google search. How often have you even scrolled down to the bottom of the first one? The simple fact is that in most cases, if you’re not in the first 10 or so results, or even in the first 3 or 4, most people will never look at your website. By using SEO it could increase your chances of being in that first few results.
Note how I keep saying ‘could’. Here’s the reality of SEO, it only ‘sort of works’. Back in the early days of the web, late 90s to early 2000s, search engines were pretty simple systems. All you need to do to rank highly on the results was have a bunch of common terms on the webpage that the search engine could see but people didn’t and that was it. In these more simpler times people would even ‘spike’ the searching results by including a lot of unrelated but high ranking terms to increase the chance of being on that first page. This is where the SEO business comes in, as they keep a track of what is high and low ranking in searching terms and then adjust your page accordingly to improve the chances of being on that first page of results. As a marketing tool, it was quite effective in the early days of the greater internet. Now it’s not so effective.
Firstly the algorithms that drive search engines are far more advanced. They calculate their rankings based not just on a few terms but hundreds or thousands of them. If you have more than one page on your website, how well they link to each other is important too. How often a site is updated matters too, the fresher or more active the website content the higher the ranking. The algorithms that drive the engine have been taught how to deal with people trying to manipulate them and will lower the ranks of pages that have inconsistent or conflicting keywords.
Secondly, how things are searched for are quite different from the heydays of SEO marketing. When Google first started in 1998 there were about 2.5 million unique websites, by 2018 there were about 1.7 billion. This 700% increase in numbers means that even the best keyword combination will still be part of hundreds of results in a general search. Search engines are more aware of the person doing the search location (especially true on mobile devices) so generally try to return results that are ‘close’ to the person physically. While search engines are very trend driven these days, putting the most viewed pages first, for most small to medium sized businesses being part of the trend makes very little difference.
Thirdly, people are far more experienced searching for things online these days, naturally using more focused terms to limit their results. They also don’t just use search engine results to make their buying decisions any more. They tend to ‘aggregate’ their information by using multiple sources, be it several search engines through an aggregator site, or looking at independent review sites. They also put a lot of weight to social media about a business to get ‘customer feedback’ which doesn’t get tracked as well by search engines.
Finally, the search engine providers are commercial businesses and want to make money from this free service. They do this by selling advertising, the opportunity to be placed at the front of the results returned. The more money you pay the better the position, and for common search terms it can be a lot of money. No matter how good your SEO is, you will never beat those who pay the search engines to put them first in the results.
So should you even bother paying for SEO? Unless you are a larger company, not really. For large companies, having someone review their keywords on a regular basis can make a small but still worthwhile return over the cost of doing it. For most small and medium companies, it’s largely pointless. Once you’ve set up your website, which should include content and keywords that most people search for, you shouldn’t need to worry about that part of it. Updating your content on a regular basis and having reasonably active social media will provide more return on your investment of time and money than paying an outside company’s bot to inject a few trendy search terms on your website every month or so.
So how do you improve your ranking on the search engine results if SEO isn’t that useful for you? You do that by having a well designed and focused website (or websites) combined with smart use of social media. Copy Express can help you with all of this, from the setup to teaching you how to get the most of the tools that everyone has access to. Give us a call or email to learn more.