Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has been around since the mid 90's. In the last five years it has increased in popularity. Why? It places a website in a position to be seen by more people, thus potentially leading to more success (i.e. online sales, exposure, etc).
We could conclude this article right now and it would be quite obvious that SEO is important and should be implemented by anyone and everyone. Don't get ahead of yourself just yet. Let's look a little a more in depth at SEO.
SEO is the process of optimizing a website in order to increase its overall page ranking with search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo!, MSN, and so on. The goal is to increase quality traffic to a website based on keywords (search terms). Let's use a landscaping company for an example. We'll call the company ABC Landscaping.
ABC Landscaping is located in Houston, TX. This is just a guess but I would imagine that there are 1000's of landscaping services in Houston, TX. In fact, Google retrieved 261,000 results when I searched for "landscaping services Houston TX".
In this case, the goal of SEO would be to improve the placement of ABC Landscaping when a user searched for specific keywords, like "landscaping services Houston TX". The perfect situation would be if ABC Landscaping was the very first result, or, at the very least, was on the first page of results. Is this possible? Well, it depends. Let's look a little deeper into SEO.
SEO is performed using several methods.
Cross linking between pages of the same website
Inbound linking from external websites
Adding relevant keywords to a website's meta tags
Content, content, content...
Now don't get SEO and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) confused with each other. SEO utilizes unpaid, or organic, practices. SEM utilizes paid practices like Google AdWords. We'll discuss SEM in another article but let's get back to SEO for now.
I'm sure you noticed the emphasis placed on content in the above mentioned SEO Methods. Content is the absolute most important area when dealing with SEO. Search engines look for relevant and fresh content. Therefore, it is important to keep your website updated with content that is relevant and very specific to the keywords people may enter when they are searching for your services. It's great to optimize a website but content is king and a web developer can only do so much. This is where I believe there is a lot of confusion.
SEO Lies (myths)
It is EXTREMELY important to exercise caution if a developer promises you a top five or first page Google ranking. There are no guarantees with SEO. Let's pretend some more. You are ABC Landscaping, again.
I mentioned earlier that Google retrieved 261,000 results when I performed a search for "landscaping services Houston TX". Well, ABC Landscaping may be on page 33 or even the last page when this search is performed. What if I searched for "ABC Landscaping services Houston TX"? Just maybe ABC Landscaping would find itself on the first page of Google in this case. Why? Because I was more specific with my search by placing the name of the company within the search terms. Is this acceptable? Maybe. Maybe not.
It is imperative that you ask a developer how they will optimize your website and what keywords will they optimize for. Always put yourself in the mind of your potential customers. How will they find you on the web? What are they most likely to search for? In most cases people are general with their searches so you will need to optimize your website to include general and specific terms.
Another key point to keep in mind is that we, developers, have no control over Google or other search engines. You may spend a lot of time and money attempting to achieve high rankings and actually realize some success. However, Google may decide tomorrow to change their ranking algorithm. They have been known to do this. Where does that leave you? It may not affect you at all but it could.
There are no guarantees. So, why should you engage in SEO if there are no guarantees? Because everyone else is doing it. You don't like that answer? Okay, let's see if we can do better.
Do you really need SEO?
You should engage in SEO because there is no harm in it, only benefits. The most important advice we can give is you have to determine how much is too much. I'm referring to money here. How much do you want to invest in SEO? In the long run will it be worth it?
For example, if you are a company competing with Wal-Mart then you have no shot at first page ranking. Let's just call it like it is. It is extremely difficult to knock the big dogs out of their search engine nest. It would take a lot of time and money to get on the same playing field with these guys. Don't let this discourage you too much. Utilize SEO even if you are in a competitive market. Not everyone is a fan of Wal-Mart. So, why not do everything you can to place yourself in a position to be next in line behind Wal-Mart?
If you are in a smaller market and are localized (i.e. ABC Landscaping) then get on the SEO bandwagon as fast as you can. When done properly, you could see remarkable results in a short amount of time. Below are a few suggestions we believe will help you plan and implement your SEO practices:
Place yourself in the mind of your customers and perform the same searches they might do and analyze those results. What companies are ranked in the top 5, first page, etc.?
Determine if your company is competing in a market that is dominated by one or two other companies. This will enable you to make realistic goals regarding SEO.
Place more emphasis on the content of your website. If people are interested in what you have to offer and what you are saying they will keep coming back and will tell others. Nothing can replace grassroots marketing.
Get involved in forums and blogs that are relevant to your products and services. This is just another way of getting more exposure.
Last but not least, consult with a knowledgeable developer that makes no guarantees or promises. Most developers should not charge for consultation. If they do, it should be very minimal. That is our opinion at least.
There you have it. SEO will be a prominent force in the development world as long as search engines are in existence. SEO methods and practices will change based on changes made by search engines, but SEO will stick around, and you should engage in it.
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