As marketers, we often run into people who try to “speak our language”. They throw around terms such as “optimize”, “analytics” and “algorithm”. But, the one term that we hear thrown out more than any other term is “SEO”. People have used it as both a verb and a noun, and occasionally even an adjective.
But, 99% of the time, people say SEO when they mean something else. But, don’t worry, we’re going to clear up the confusion right here, right now.
According to Moz, who are SEO geniuses, SEO can be defined as:
Short for search engine optimization. Search engine optimization is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
What SEO Isn’t
Before we talk about when you should use the word SEO, let’s first cover how you shouldn’t use it. The main thing that you don’t want to do when talking to a marketer is discredit how much work goes into a legitimate SEO strategy. Here are a few things to stay away from in your SEO conversations. (And yes, we have actually heard all of these at one time or another.)
- SEO does not include web design. You can have the ugliest website in the world, but still be fully optimized for search. As much as our design loving hearts hate it, it’s the truth. This is because Google doesn’t speak design. It speaks code. Specifically, code around the content on your website. This is where things get kind of fun from a development perspective. There is a sort of secret code, called schema, that we can include on certain parts of your website. This code acts like a neon sign that says, “Hey Google, we are what you’re looking for!” There’s other helpful content code that can be added around images, telling Google what the image is, and content, which allows you to choose a specific keyword that your content focuses on.
- SEO is not simply turning on a service. Adding services such as Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager to a site definitely don’t hurt your website. In fact, they give your marketing team the ability to track changes over time. But, simply adding “SEO programs” to your website does nothing to help it move up the rankings. At 434, we use a number of software programs and services to help us create custom SEO plans. One of these, SEMRush, collects thousands of data points from a website. But, simply turning it on tells us nothing, we have to take the time to interpret this data, find patterns, search for opportunities and propose a plan. Sometimes, we wish it were as easy as flipping a switch!
- SEO does not happen overnight. There are times when we have been asked to move a website to the first listing on Google by the next month. This is pretty much impossible, and for a good reason. Google doesn’t like it when people try to outsmart their system. Their algorithm works in such a way that you have to earn any climb in rank. We typically tell our clients that SEO is a long playing game, and they may not see results for six to eight months. For example, we recently launched a website for a client who was starting a new business. He had no prior website, so we knew going in that it would take a while to build up the number of people who frequented the website. When the site first launched in January 2018, the site was only getting about 1,900 organic sessions each month. For the next 7 months, we created a content plan, implemented some of our strategies and sold some of their products. In July 2018, they received over 12,000 organic sessions.
- SEO is not magic. You can make all of the suggested changes, play the SEO game to the best of your ability, and still not see the results you are hoping for. There are hundreds of factors that play into how Google ranks the results page. Making any suggested changes will not instantly improve your rank. With the client mentioned above, we went months without seeing any progress. But, around April, Google started to pick us up for a certain keyword (one that surprised us all), and things continued to gain momentum from there. But, it was still a long game that we have to work to play.
- SEO is not a blanket fix. What works for one website may not work for another, even if they are in the same industry. Google takes thousands of factors into account when ranking websites. Some of these include: how old your website is, how many words are on each page, page load speed, how many headers are on a page, if the images have alt text, if the page has meta data… the list can go on and on. Because of this, there is no way to tell how Google is going to react to SEO changes on a website. While making suggested changes isn’t going to hurt your rankings (usually), it’s beyond the marketer’s control exactly how much it will help you rise in rank.
- SEO is not ever finished. Because the world of SEO is constantly changing, there is never a finish line. A site can never be “fully optimized”. There will always be new content added (please, please, add new content to your site every now and then) that will need metadata. There will be new products added. Google will change it’s algorithm yet again. Don’t put a 12 month timeline on your SEO efforts and then decide to be finished.
What SEO Is
Many people think that SEO is a tangible thing, like website content or design. SEO is not really a “thing” so much as a process. It can almost be compared to a hydra. As marketers, we start with one or two glaring issues that we see that need fixing. So, we fix those pretty quickly and easily. But, this alerts us to another four things that could be improved. We come up with a plan to make those things better. But, once we start that, there are eight more that could be taken care of. To someone who has no clue how to deal with the SEO Hydra, it’s intimidating. But, it doesn’t have to be. Here are some things to keep in mind when thinking about SEO:
- SEO is ever-changing. What worked in 2014 may not be a best practice in 2018. What works now probably won’t work four years from now. Google likes to release new updates to their algorithm without telling anyone ahead of time. But, great marketers keep up with these changes and adjust strategies for their clients. A lot of SEO practices that were once considered effective are now considered black hat SEO, and can penalize your rankings.
- SEO is content focused. The number one contributor to your SEO efforts should be content. Google can’t search what you don’t put out there. If your hours aren’t listed on your website, it can’t serve them to people. If you don’t tell it that your pizza parlor also serves the best ice cream in the world, it doesn’t know. We’ve been asked if it’s possible to have too much content around a topic. The answer is no, as long as it all says something different.
- SEO should be authentic. Don’t waste time writing 3,000 words on a topic that’s only loosely related to your business, just because you want to rank on that page. That is only going to make both yourself and Google frustrated. Content should reflect who and what your brand is. Keep your tone true to your brand. If you haven’t noticed, our articles are pretty casual. We aren’t going to present a 20-page thesis paper to you. But, for some clients, we have to write that way. Make sure Google can get a sense of the true heartbeat behind your business.
- SEO should be planned. Don’t rely on impulse changes to make a difference on your rankings. Adding content around “where to buy running shoes” one day and “how to grow a succulent” the next is going to get you nowhere fast. Instead, your marketing team should focus on creating a clear plan. Keep reading to see what exactly this means.
P.S. For those of you who want an in-depth look at everything that goes into SEO, check out this article.
Question Your Agency
If anyone should know how to talk about SEO, it should be your marketing agency. We often see clients who have been burned by an “SEO agency”, who then come to us for help. The truth is, a lot of agencies say they “do SEO”, but fail to either stay up-to-date with the latest information or define how they are going to measure their success.
If you are considering outsourcing your SEO efforts to an agency, there are some questions you should ask them:
- How will success be measured? Oftentimes, agencies will leave things open ended and vague. They say they will “increase organic traffic” but don’t define by how much or to what page. This is applicable to any marketing effort. Before beginning a project, both parties should agree on what success looks like. In the case mentioned above, getting one more organic visitor in June than in May would be considered successful. Is it going to increase sales for your company? Probably not. With us, you’ll get a monthly breakdown of where you stand.
- What does your research process look like? Good marketers should take the time to do individualized research for your website. SEO does not work the same for every website. Here at 434, we do a custom research report for each of our clients to make sure we can attack the problem from all possible angles.
- Ask for explanations. If you receive a proposal that just says “Search Engine Optimization” and has a price next to it, ask for an explanation. What will this entail? Are there audits included? How will the plan be decided? Do you need to write an content for them? Vague line items like this drive us crazy. When we create a proposal for a potential client, we provide examples of past SEO work, as well as a description of everything that we plan on doing.
No matter what agency you use for your SEO work, there are a few basics that should be included in your proposal.
- Review of problems and goals- Your SEO plan should reflect that it is customized to you. Here, part of our proposal process is to take the time to talk to you about your needs. This allows us to identify specific goals straight from the beginning, so that we are all working toward the same cause.
- Site Audit- Using the tools available to us, we will run an audit of your website as it stands. This allows us a high-level overview of any outstanding errors and gives us a glimpse into the code, showing us things we may not have noticed at first glance. You’ll get to see a breakdown of this information, as well.
- Current Keyword Rankings: Not only does this help us establish a baseline moving forward, but it shows you exactly how you are ranking for the most important keywords for your business.
- Solutions to the problems- Remember the first section when we defined the problems? Now, it’s time to fix them! In this section, we will outline any steps that we plan to talk to resolve the presented problems. Some agencies like to provide template proposals that have a checklist of items on them. We dig down into the details, and let you know how our tasks will impact your website.
- Timeline- Make sure that your proposal has a definitive timeline. Even though SEO is a long play game, there should be deadlines for having certain steps completed.
- Case Studies- The best way to show that we can do the work is to show that we have done it before. At any given moment, our agency has a handful of SEO success stories that we can show you. Any agency that claims to do SEO should be the same.
If you’re ready to take your SEO to the next level, we can help. And we promise to explain everything to you along the way.