There are two kinds of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), if you ask me.
One form of SEO is the necessary work that happens when you build a new website or update your website’s theme. This involves adding the proper elements to the site to help Google find your content easier, and it also includes basic plugins that help users adjust the SEO settings for each page–like the focus keyword–right from the page in the content management system.
The other form of SEO, however, is when you hire someone to stand on the digital street corner of the internet so they can try to attract attention from anyone who happens to be zipping past.
Comparing these two options, some could say that both are essential, but they offer vastly different results, and the price tag reflects how much effort goes into each as well.
For your average developer to set up your website properly with basic SEO options, you’re looking at work that can be completed in hours, whereas the promotional form of SEO could take hours each month, depending on how much you’re paying for (including back-links, blog articles, and so on).
As Smashing Magazine discusses in their latest article, The Inconvenient Truth About SEO, this is something more website owners need to think about. As writer Paul Boag says right away, “a lot of website owners see search engine optimization as the answer to their search ranking woes, when things are considerably more complex.”
“The inconvenient truth,” Boag goes on to say, “is that the best person to improve your ranking is you.”
As Boag explains, and as I can attest from my own experience running The GATE, the best way to increase your rank in Google is to create great content that is optimized for the readers and users, and in my opinion, for you to share it through social media to help build an audience.
Initially, especially for a new site, there is not usually much of an audience for most websites, so generating early traffic often means building it through social media and sending emails to existing clients. The catch right away, and what we come back to again, is that without great content, you really have nothing to share in the first place. Poorly written articles by SEO companies will rarely impress anyone, and they don’t provide any great details for readers, while interesting, thoughtful content will almost always generate sharing and user buzz.
This whole idea, however, also depends on social media integration with your website. Even the best content will not always ensure that users are going to take the extra step and copy your URL down to then paste it into another window where they have Twitter or Facebook ready to go. The best strategy, therefore, is to write intelligent content, and have social media sharing tools available on the major content pages of your website. This applies whether you are selling a product or a service, or blogging about the latest fashion news.
Back to Boag’s original point though, SEO techniques employed by third parties can work–there’s no question that they can increase traffic, but they’re built on the idea of manipulating Google’s system to make it believe that your website is relevant for a given topic, even if it’s not. To retain that position, it’s rare that you can then just sit back and stop paying the SEO company for their work. Without ongoing steps, when Google’s algorithm changes, it’s common for website positioning to fluctuate, and that means your paid-for position could suddenly crumble to nothing.
In the case of Black Hat SEO, the far worse implication is that your website could be penalized by Google and demoted entirely from a given keyword or search term.
As Boag says though, it does not have to be complicated. “Google’s aim is simple: connect its searchers with the most relevant content,” Boag writes. “If you are more worried about a good ranking than providing relevant content, then you are going to be fighting a losing battle.”
If you read Google’s webmaster guidelines, Boag points out what will work for you over the longer term: “Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines” by creating “a useful, information-rich website, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.”
In other words, have a website that is filled with real information that will satisfy readers and interest potential buyers or advertisers. This is a vicious circle, since you may be starting with no traffic to begin with, but if you’re going to start anywhere, it should be with your content.
From my perspective, that’s why I encourage companies to start a blog on their website, have regular news items posted at least once a month, and find ways to build a reader base of interested people.
This all leads back to the most important thing I tell new customers: if you can’t produce content of your own and promote it over social media, then hire someone who can. A smaller investment in content and social media is a lot cheaper than SEO work, and it can produce far more worthwhile results.
My sales pitch here is that I can help you and your company produce great content, and I can help you build a social media presence with hundreds–or maybe even thousands–of engaged readers and customers. The benefit to this approach is that you can actually take control of your own social media channels and your content at any time. You don’t even need to learn anything about SEO–you just need to approach your topic honestly, and offer information that people want to read.
Read the rest of Boag’s article for the rest of his tips on creating content and the hazards of SEO, and otherwise feel free to have your say in the comments or contact me here.