What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Each web site starts as a house on a mountain. There are no inroads to your site from the fragmented places around the Internet. Your target market is congregating in various related and relevant places around the web looking for you. Problem is, you probably aren’t there to be found.
One resource used to solve this problem is the search engine. Consider search engines as a system of inroads from those fragmented places to our web site on the mountain. However, to be found we must achieve keyword rankings and get our content indexed. One tool used to accomplish that is search engine optimization. We create programs that help build highways from the search engines to our home on the web.
The term Search Engine Optimization is often misused. Common understanding is that SEO is a matter of Web site factors such as content, alt tags or site maps. Although important the truth is off-site and usability factors must also be taken into consideration.
It is also a bit of a limited term, as people understand it simply related to improved keyword rankings. This ignores the realities of the methods that are used to optimize and drive those keyword rankings. The goal becomes much broader than just keyword rankings. The true goal becomes to increase our exposure across the Internet and to build inroads to your web presence from the fragmented areas where your customers are congregating. Remember, Search Engines are only responsible for delivering a small percentage of traffic. Shopping engines, professional and social networks are also driving traffic. The key is that the two are dependent on each other!
Restated, SEO is a battle of words and word association. The goal of which is to increase exposure, drive more traffic, increase Search Engine Results Page (SERP) and site usability and improve organic keyword rankings. These goals increase the scope of what SEO is and how it is truly applied to Internet marketing programs bringing it into the realm of not only content, but design, coding, domain, outside content, other web sites across the internet and more.
SEO vs. PPC
SEO and organic keyword rankings do not exist on an island. Keyword research must be done to determine not only relevant keywords to target, but also where those keywords fall on the traffic and cost matrix.
Some differences between the two are SEO is long-term and requires up front effort but pays like an annuity. Once you achieve a ranking it requires less work to maintain it and you reap the benefits for years. PPC is instantaneous; you can bid to any position you wish and has more straightforward options for control. However, the cost for keywords is ever increasing and once you stop paying you lose any rankings and traffic you had.
Since SEO is a long-term strategy that pays like an annuity, we need to determine the keywords that have a high level of traffic and high cost, but a lower conversion rate. These are the terms we want to earn through optimization programs. We also want to earn the low hanging fruit of low traffic, low cost, high converting terms. But since PPC is instant and less expensive for those terms we want to craft a program that compliments our ongoing organic efforts. Once we rank for the high cost, low converting terms we can turn our attention to the lower cost, higher converting terms.
How Does a Search Engine Determine Who and What You Are?
To understand the search engine it is important to understand their goals. Google has stated it wants to index the world’s information. To what end? To the end of remaining the largest, most popular and most profitable search engine. To accomplish this they must have the largest amount of information and present the most relevant results to each searcher.
Search engines use a fancy equation, called an algorithm, to figure out who you are, that you are what you say you are, and how users react to your content to determine what words and what rankings you are going to receive. It is not a 2+2=4 type of equation. It is a synergistic effect, with each data point multiplying the result instead of just adding to it.
Since the search engines do not share information about their algorithms, we must extrapolate and test to determine what key data points they use. We must also determine which of those data points are things we can actually control. From there, we craft programs that play to those strengths.
Some data points include site factors such as:
- Domain name
- # Years domain in operation
- # Years domain purchased
- Site traffic
- Click thru %
- Page drills
- Actions or conversions
- Site structure
Some page factors include:
- Page dates
- Text navigation
- Links and link structure
- Page names
- Keyword proximity/density
Some code factors include:
- Meta tag information
- Tagging (H tags etc)
- Technology used (flash/images)
- Code format/cleanliness
Some off-site factors include:
- Inbound links
- Press releases
- Reciprocal links
What might an algorithm look like? Let’s put this in perspective. A simplified version might look something like this.
Page name @ 2% + # inbound links @ 8% + page dates @1% X content @10% = Keyword ranking.
The equation is run each time a search is performed for a keyword.
How Do We Measure and Cost Justify SEO?
The first step is to understand that SEO impacts almost every area of a web site. How far a user drills down into your site, how many pages they view, how long they stay and whether they convert to a lead or a sale are areas of site usability. Let’s also remember that searchers must use the SERP pages. How our listing displays is integral to the success or failure of a ranking. Is it clear and concise, relevant and contain a call to action or alternate contact method?
As a result we must first get an accurate, up to date picture of how users are coming to visit a site, where they are coming from, what they are searching for to find the site externally and once they get to the site (internal search), and what actions they are taking once at the site. We must demonstrate that more keywords are getting ranked, that those rankings are drawing more visitors, that programs are driving more traffic, and that changes are improving the way searchers use the site.
Some important metrics include how many keywords are ranked, what % of traffic is from the engines, what % of traffic comes from referring sites and what kind of sites they are. How is the site performing in drill down depth, time-on-site, conversion, pages indexed, bounce/exit rates, search to call and much more. We also need to identify what a visitor/lead/conversion is worth to a particular customer. Once identified we have the tools to measure and cost justify programs and improvements.
Where Do We Start an SEO Program?
Keyword research. Before any program begins we must do comprehensive keyword research to determine what the relevant keywords are, what the long and short tail keywords are, how much competition there is, how many searches are being done for a term, how the terms convert and what methods competitors might be using to achieve their rankings.
The next step is to organize these keywords into two groups. SEO and PPC (short-tail and long-tail) while considering what terms we are ranked for and which we are not. From there we analyze rankings and traffic levels to get our baseline.
Next we need to do a site review to determine coding, on-page, content and site factors that are currently in place.
Once that is accomplished we are ready to answer the question, what do all these things look like in terms of programs and implementations?
Programs might include new site navigation methods, blogs, external site reviews, press releases, articles, email re-posting, content building, knowledge centers and link partnerships. They also include new or improved usability methods and site usability/conversion programs. Design and implementation will be different for each client, depending on their resources and comfort level with various technologies and programs.
Keep in mind, it is not just that you implement programs. How they are implemented and work together is everything!