What is SEO?
If I can help it, this is the last time I write about what is SEO and what it means for small business.
Why? because the conversation about SEO (for Search Engine Optimization) has been the single most irritating one I’ve been forced to have in my many years as an online marketing consultant.
Why is it irritating? While I’ll gladly perform search engine optimization as part of my work as online marketing consultant, I’ve seen the conversation about SEO derail many otherwise great online marketing opportunities.
For instance, if you’re searching for “What is SEO” you’re probably understandably curious, but if you’re like many small business owners, freelancers, and even some bloggers, you’re probably obsessed with it. You probably have SEObsession.
I have made the point before that SEO is like the phone book, no matter what you do, at the end of the day you’re still passively waiting for someone to call or walk into your business.
Why are you concerned with SEO? Do you even know if SEO is what you need? Should it be your main focus? Is your business missing out on better opportunities in Local, Social, Email, PPC, or even old school, offline marketing because you think SEO will be the answer to your business success?
That’s what I want to help you to figure out. SEObsession can hurt your goals.
An Example On How SEO Can Hurt
More than two years ago I wrapped up a massive website project for a church-affiliated non-profit. The church I’m talking about has adherents in the millions. Surely a committed audience, partially captive Sunday mornings.
As part of the project –as in all my projects– I do a simple online marketing strategy. As part of this strategy I outlined the many campaigns and tactics they could use to engage the church base to further their goals (increase donations, and conversions to help children and families).
A couple of months ago I was volunteering at an event, consulting with people on how to improve their online presence and marketing. Lo and behold, non-profit client sits down to chat, in her words, “about SEO”.
“No. We’re not going to talk about SEO”, I said.
No. We’re not going to talk about SEO”,
I reminded her how their website’s permanent, relevant pages are as optimized as it gets. That their only on-site SEO with room for improvement was their blog, and if they weren’t taking that into consideration when planning and writing, I couldn’t help.
I asked if they had reached out to churches, for them to link from their websites with carefully planned and crafted links. She said they hadn’t.
I asked if they had reached out to churches and other church organizations to be included in their email marketing, and she said no.
I asked if they had emailed or mailed their own donor and client base to encourage them to subscribe to the blog, like them and share their posts on social media, etc. She said no.
I asked if they had placed any paid advertising (AdWords, Facebook Ads, etc.) carefully targeted to their demographic and psychographic. She said no, they had not.
Yet, here she was, wanting to “talk about SEO”. My guess is someone in the higher ups though SEO was an all too convenient method to justify online marketing.
Two years, wasted, because someone there is obsessed with SEO.
What Is SEO?
The shortest answer I know I heard from Eric Highland, a true, ethical SEO professional here in Austin. He describes SEO as “Any method that helps SERP” (search engine results page).
That’s it. Any method that results in better ranking and showing on that elusive first page of the search engine (by which I mean “Google”, of course).
If you want to know what is good SEO, ask the people that make the rules: Google. Download their Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide1(PDF Download), and read their help.
Here are another couple of remarkable sources to learn what SEO is (no affiliation):
What SEO Is Not
SEO is not about tricks. Like I told another data-scraping attendee at the same conference: “If it sounds like a trick, smells like a trick, and tastes like a trick, it’s a trick, and it’ll get you in trouble.”
SEO by itself is not a strategy. If your online marketing strategy relies mostly on SEO I have very bad news for you. Read more.
SEO is not a shortcut nor about shortcuts.
SEO is not free. You pay one way or another. Either you pay with enormous amounts of your time, you pay someone else to do it, or worse, you pay with penalties from the search engines for the mistakes or trickery done for your SEO.
Overwhelmed yet? Well, we’ve just scraped the surface.
You stand to lose the SEO battle
This article at SearchEngineLand, “Simple Math To Show Potential Clients Why Local SEO Is Important” does a great job of explaining the unfavorable odds facing anyone relying on SEO for online marketing success.
The the gist of it is you are competing with many others, some of them SEO superpowers, for increasingly limited space in the SERP. The article is biased in favor of local SEO, yes, but as you’ve seen in my example above there are many other potential ways to get people to your website.
In the end, all SEO efforts lie somewhere the great Stephen Covey would probably call “outside your circle of influence”. SEO changes all the time. Do you have time to keep up with it?
SEO Is Not Enough
Online search is getting increasingly sophisticated. This article at Fast Company, “SEO Isn’t What You Think It Is” drives this point very well.
It helps to think about online marketing as a whole, not just SEO, and it helps more to think about how online marketing fits the larger marketing mix for your business.
For starters, do you even have good keyword research? That is, do you know, for a fact, if the keywords you’re wanting to rank for are the keywords your audience is using on search? (Great article on keyword research: “How to Research Keywords: Tips, Competition and Squirrels”)
How about conversion systems? What, don’t know what I’m talking about? In the words of Francisco Rosales, from Social Mouths, conversion is “the art of making your (website) visitors take action whether that means spending more time reading your content, buying one of your products or subscribing to your email list.”
Bottom line: If you drive a ton of traffic to a website that doesn’t convert all you did was drive a ton of traffic.
How about email marketing? Are you set up to collect email addresses and do something about it? No? Read “Why Email Marketing Crushes Social Media Marketing (and How to Get Started)” by Derek Halpern.
Here’s the thing, successful online marketing is typically a mix of efforts. If you don’t know how to prioritize, use MOZ’s Prioritization Tool, or at least take a look at their online marketing options visual guide.
Another way, use the diagram on the right as a guide. For practical purposes, think of SMM as content marketing (includes Blog, Social, Email)
Hiring Someone To Do Your SEO?
If by now you’re thinking about hiring someone, know this: SEO appeals to all the retired or aspiring snake oil salespeople.
Consider this article at MOZ: “How Many SEO Consultants Actually Know What They’re Talking About?” where they study the responses of several SEO experts. Overall acceptable results, but these are actual experts. Is your “SEO guy” an expert?
Because there is a very low barrier to entry, just about anyone that can make the claim, makes a claim they’re an SEO expert.
Let me give you a hint: If anyone claims they’ll “get you on the 1st page of Google”, or agrees they’ll do it, if you ask for it, run away. Run away and never even answer their phone call again.
The Last Draw: DIY SEO
So what do you do about SEO? Maybe you do it yourself. The thing about DIY SEO is, it can be incredibly difficult, and requires:
- technical expertise
SEO Is Technical
Unless you’re using a CMS like WordPress, with an industry-backed plugin like Yoast SEO, be prepared to go deep into your website’s markup. This can mean anything from pure HTML (if a static website), to serious PHP skills.
SEO Requires Creativity
This one is hard to explain, but basically you need to really think outside the box to do great SEO. How you write, how you use images, and how you make choices about what may work all affects SEO.
SEO Requires Focus
Once you have technology figured out, and feel pretty creative in your tactics, SEO will demand fierce focus. Proper SEO demands incredible attention to detail. If you lose your focus, your efforts may be worthless.
That said, one can get some fairly decent SEO results with careful work. Subscribe to my email list to get the newest version of my FREE DIY SEO checklist when it comes out again.
I’m Not Making A Case Against SEO
I know you may find that hard to believe, but I just want to bring awareness to these points, since they’re not said enough.
Be mindful of SEO, yes, but not obsessed. You may not need as much of it as you think, or worse, you may be missing out on other great opportunities in online marketing.
Do be diligent about On-Site SEO (the stuff that’s done on your website, and that you can control).
Don’t obsess about Off-Site SEO, only really good back-links count nowadays.
Do take care of all Local SEO
If you have a budget, go to town with SEO.
If you don’t have a budget, be happy with on-site and local, go about your business, provide great products or services, and focus on word-of-mouth, the oldest, most effective form of marketing.
1. Please note this document was published in 2010. Much as changed since then. At the time of this blog post this is as updated a document I found from Google.
The featured image is a satirical use of a famous scene in Pulp Fiction, a 1994 dark comedy crime film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino (read more)