Search engine optimization, SEO, is the foundational digital marketing tactic. It is also the most misunderstood.
If you’re building or redesigning a small business website, creating it with search optimization in mind will make it easier to use almost any other online marketing strategy or tool. When it comes down to it, “SEO” is just marketing-speak for creating a website in which information is clearly presented, navigation is simple for people and search engine bots, pages open quickly in web browsers, and is easy to read on mobile devices.
When your website’s search optimization is sound, it makes other tactics — search advertising, social media, social media advertising and even blogging — more effective in attracting prospective customers.
SEO Helps People Find Your Stuff
What exactly is SEO? To keep it simple, it’s a series of tactics that improve the visibility of your website in search engines. Those tactics include onsite changes you can make to your website and offsite efforts to encourage other websites to link to yours.
Google and other search engines want to give searchers the most relevant results possible. SEO helps search engines understand your site content and thus whether it’s relevant to a search query. Links are a bit like word of mouth. Search engines assume that if lots of other sites link to yours, it must be authoritative.
There are at least three common misconceptions about search engine optimization:
SEO is Free
Although SEO generates traffic that you don’t pay for (marketers call it “organic”), making a website search-friendly is definitely not free. Even when you do it yourself, it takes to understand what needs to be done, to research the key phrases people are likely to use when they search for your service, to write complete and clear information about your business, to track the results of your efforts and to adjust based on your results.
If You Don’t See Your Site, It Doesn’t Work
Is it true that the highest ranking search results are clicked most often? Yes. Is it true that SEO isn’t working unless your site is ranked on top? No. The goal of search optimization is to send more organic traffic to your website. When organic visits increase, it’s likely because your SEO is paying off.
SEO Provides Instant Results
Search optimization is a long game. Once new, optimized content is in place, it can take several months to move the traffic needle. It’s not a one-and-done fix. Search optimization requires constant tuning, just like an engine. You get more mileage with regular oil changes.
When SEO practitioners talk amongst themselves, they have long conversations about how their work keeps changing because search engines — mainly Google — keep changing the rules. It’s true to an extent. Optimizing is different now than it was 10 years ago, but the basics are the same:
Search Engine Optimization Basics
- Write good, interesting content for your site.
- Make sure your site loads quickly.
- Make sure the search engines can easily crawl your site.
For more in-depth explanations of the elements of search engine optimization, visit the Search Engine Land Essential Guide to SEO. Make sure to download the SEL Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors, too.
Even though good search optimization lays a strong foundation for other online marketing tactics, that doesn’t mean you can’t successfully use other tactics without it. But the focus of SEO — matching relevant information with the right potential customers — is the same for any marketing.
Mark Whittaker, a Pittsburgh-based online marketer, helps small businesses and start-ups find customers with search and social media advertising, content development and digital marketing strategy. Write to him at mark (at) markwhittaker.com and subscribe to his bi-weekly email.