Although SEO helps your business, it’s important to remember that it’s also about leveraging the offering of one company: Google Search Engine. In the US alone, Google has more ad dollars than all print media and earns over 80% of search ad revenues.
This has nothing to do with SEO per se but gives you an idea of its dominance. SEO is the art and science of making the latest Google site-relevance algorithm ranks your site higher than your competitors without paying for AdWords.
A lot of resources need to be poured into appearing high on Google’s first page. Although there’s a widespread belief that making an effort to appear in a keyword search means anyone could potentially find your site—an exceedingly narrow hose through which to force your marketing— ranking high on search engine result pages (SERPs) entails a great deal more.
In fact, over the years, Google has continued to refine its algorithms to defeat the most obvious ploys of SEO such as keyword stuffing and irrelevant inbound links. Now, algorithms are about promoting the most relevant and authoritative sites for a particular search. The continuing changes in the algorithms is an effort to show better results to Google users but may also have to do with hoping you’ll stop spending on SEO and knuckle under to SEM (spend on AdWords).
SEO is a large practice area for digital marketing agencies.
SEO proposals range from a few hundred a month to several thousand a month. If you speak with SEO vendors, they all say they’re doing the same thing. It’s nearly impossible to tell what the expensive teams will do differently than the inexpensive one, except that you can infer they will spend more time on it, be more up to date on new algorithms and in general, be more thorough.
These days, SEO specialists will ask to manage your content. They’ll refine it to make it more appealing to Google. That means that although there’s copywriting and editing involved, they’re also skilled at writing for the web, optimizing content for search engines. They will adjust the copy so that relevant material is easy to find (based on keywords important to the business), there’s valuable information without repetition (repetitive pages causes your site to get demoted by Google), and make sure content links smartly to other pages to improve indexing. They will also ensure metatags are in good order. Depending on the level of services and expertise, agencies will also audit your site so it’s correctly structured, easy to navigate, loads fast, and complies with other known search engine rules.
How do you measure SEO success?
It’s not that easy, and at best inferential. For instance, there is no way Google is going to tell you that yes, for these reasons you are now ranking higher in SERPs (search engine result pages). You are there, or not there. And you’re left wondering if it’s the optimization you’ve done or the keywords (especially in longtail) or any of a number of other efforts. By inference you can say “I paid these guys $x and then I started showing up better” and leave it at that.
But what about social? Social media is not typically part of SEO but it can be. Greater activity on social media leads to greater visibility overall for the site, which translates into more mentions, links, forwards etc., and all of this amounts to what, for lack of a better term, we can call “authority” or at least legitimacy. Authority drives search engine rankings. That it may have nothing to do with actual expertise can be troubling, and points up that SEO is a never-ending dance with what Google wants.
Beyond search, what about conversion?
Whether you hire an agency or an expert to handle SEO in-house, keep in mind that many marketers tend to focus on top line and not enough on the bottom line. Which means: okay, you got the site to rank high on Google. But now what? If you’re spending money on SEO, make an effort to not waste those visits you got from click-throughs. Now that the site is optimized for search, spend some time on conversion rate optimization (CRO).
Here are the signs that you need to spend more time on CRO: do you see lots of one-page visits (is your bounce rate high)? Is a small percentage of your visitors getting in touch or buying from you? Think about this: maybe a large percentage of your visitors don’t believe they’re seeing what they want or know exactly what it is that they’re supposed to do on your site. That means that, as a selling tool, your site is weak.
Work with an expert that not only optimizes your site for search results but structures content to make the site easier to navigate, puts calls to action in the right places, all via regular A/B testing to turn your visitors into leads and customers.