To the untrained eye, the world of SEO can be a minefield of acronyms and snake oil salesmen, and having worked within the industry for the past 15 years myself, I can speak from personal experience that I too have seen and done most SEO techniques, many of which now considered unethical, in the interests of delivering results for my clients. Of course, the SEO landscape has changed significantly since those times and become arguably much more complex.
So for those who are considering including search engine optimisation into their business’ digital marketing mix, the following will help to prepare you for some of the things you should be considering when taking on SEO services for your business.
Local vs Organic SEO
The first question to ask yourself, which could save you considerable time and money, is to establish how broadly you need to market your services online. For most businesses who operate from a physical premises or where they are only able to service a prescribed area, the market scope will typically be local to that region only. For these types of businesses, a local SEO campaign will significantly reduce the degree of competition that they’ll be up against in the online market place.
For online merchants however which can ship products or perform remote services, such as eCommerce sites, the scope will often be much broader, along with the degree of competition. For these styles of business an organic SEO campaign would be required to provide the reach they would want to achieve.
Most SEO’s will talk about keywords in terms of long-tail and short-tail terms. It’s a common trap to get lured in by the short-tail terms with large search volumes, however often over-looked or neglected is the consideration of a user’s search intent which accompanies these short-tail terms, and where that intent lies within the context of a typical consumer buying cycle for that product or service.
With this in mind, consider a search performed on “business coaching”. The term itself yields a large number of searches every month which at face value makes it an attractive candidate to target for SEO – but there’s a catch. Given the large search volume, there is also a corresponding large number of competitors attempting to rank for these terms, and the higher the degree of competition, the greater the amount of SEO that will be required in order to rank for this.
The problem being however that often these short-tail search terms represent a user who is at the very early market research stages of the buying cycle. These searches are typically broader and less defined, as the user’s intent at this time is to merely to gain an understanding of what “business coaching” actually is, what benefit it provides and whether it’s even of interest to them to pursue. These terms are also often considered to be informational in context, by contrast to being commercial in intent, requiring even greater volume of content based marketing in order to rank for this. Imagine performing a search on any informational term, then look at the top 3 results – to out rank these, your content would need to be considerably more comprehensive to stand a chance at competing as an authority on this term.
So let us now consider a long-tail approach to keyword selection. Long-tail terms, as the name suggests, are often even keyword phrases in terms of how many words these may comprise of. By way of an example, consider “Business coach for women in Brisbane”. Comparatively the search intent is immediately more commercial in nature, as it is much closer to the purchasing end of the consumer buying cycle. Being that the search is also more specific, there will also be a smaller search volume and correspondingly much less SEO competition taking place for this term, making it much more achievable to rank well for in a shorter period of time.
More important than the glory terms within your industry, are those where the commercial intent is unambiguous. Provided that there is still a search volume associated with these terms, a long-tail keyword approach will provide a much more robust SEO strategy that will see a better ROI on your SEO investment sooner.
Black hat vs White Hat
As I had mentioned earlier, and as most experienced SEO’s would also I’d expect, I have done my time with SEO practices that would now be considered to be “black hat” or unethical in nature. In actual fact, my background in black-hat SEO was during a time where such practices were quite common place, and to be an SEO during that time simply meant doing what works best to achieve results for our clients.
It should be noted at this point, that Google does not make money from SEO. Their business model is built upon providing users the most accurate search results for their query and search intent. Only then will people continue to use their search engine, and only then will they continue to generate revenue through their AdWords online advertising service (which is how Google makes money). This is an important piece of information to note, towards understanding why Google often changes how and why it ranks web pages.
Now consider that the process of SEO is to influence these search results in favour of an SEO’s clients, then it should come as no surprise that Google would, over time, take such SEO techniques which were once effective at ranking sites, and flag these as no longer being ethical under risk of being penalised in the search results for using them.
The lesson to be taken from this being that SEO techniques evolve over time as Google becomes more advanced in identifying strategies used by SEOs to influence their search rankings. A good SEO will be acutely aware of the latest algorithm updates and recognise that current strategies are qualitative over quantitative. Quality requires unique content that provides value, which also comes at a higher development cost. Beware of cheap SEO with the promise of thousands of back-links, as these will most certainly still be using old SEO techniques which will get your site into trouble. They may be effective in generating short term rankings for you, but longer term you may be putting your domain at risk of ever ranking again if Google detects that you’re using low quality SEO techniques.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are over 200 ranking factors that contribute how your website performs in the Google search results. These factors evolve in both complexity and weighting as Google continues to release updates to its search algorithm in order to try and maintain the integrity of their search engine.
Given this complexity, and the sheer volume of websites that exist on the internet, it is an incredible feat of computing engineering that Google is still somehow capable of crawling the entire internet looking for changes and new pages on almost a monthly cycle. While this may be the case, the crawl process is only the first stage of bringing any SEO improvements to Google’s attention, with the entire process taking generally between 2-3 months for any SEO efforts to be fully realised. Over this time period, Google first needs to pull this information into its index, then assigns it meta data and any inherent SEO value, which it then passes onto your website to be reflected in its next round of search rankings updates.
Depending upon the degree of SEO competition for the terms you are targeting, and of course how aggressively you are undertaking your SEO activities, most SEO engagements will usually span 3, 6 or even 12 months (or more) before your search terms will start to hit the first page of Google. It’s definitely a long-term strategy, with undoubtedly with some turbulence along the way, but for those few who can withstand the test of time, it also something which can offer incredible pay offs in terms of ongoing fresh leads for your business.