SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. In plain English, it is the process of fine-tuning your website so it comes higher up in internet searches.
So, for example, let’s imagine your business sells pet supplies. The result you are ultimately after is that your website comes top for all of the search terms your potential customers are using on Google, Bing, etc. when they are looking to buy pet supplies online. If your website comes top of these searches, there’s a higher chance your customers are going to click through to your website. Conversely, there’s a higher chance your customers might buy one of your products.
Of course, this is only half the battle in getting your customers to buy from your site. Your website needs to look professional, be visually appealing, and stock the right products/services. It also needs to sell them at a competitive price, and also be set up to convert visitors into sales.
Even if your website is set up perfectly to convert visitors into sales and looks great, SEO is something you can’t ignore. If you don’t come up in your customers’ internet searches, they’ll never find your site in the first place.
“Search engines will rank the most relevant, trusted sites first. They don’t want people to have to trawl through pages of searches to find the website that provides them with what they need.”
SEO covers a range of operations – some of which you can see, but most of which you won’t.
Broadly speaking, it covers the following:
The effect of all of the above is that search engines can easily determine what your website is about, and can place it in relevant searches. These are hopefully the ones your customers are typing in, if you’ve done it well.
Search engines will also consider beyond the pure content of your site. Namely, they will look at customer behaviour in order to determine which sites ought to come top for a particular search. They are trying to pick the most relevant sites and place them in order of importance. Even if your SEO is perfect, it’s no guarantee of coming on the first page of an internet search.
So, let’s go back to the pet supplies business and imagine it’s a new enterprise. Even if your SEO is perfect, if you’re a completely new business, it’s unlikely you’ll go straight to the top of all your desired searches. After all, you’re not the only pet supplies business around! Unless you are a really niche business and have no competitors (highly unlikely!), there are likely to be plenty of established businesses that do the same thing as you.
They will have a web “presence” and have existing customers who are used to buying from them. If they are creatures of habit, and have a good relationship with their existing pet supplies company, chances are they’ll continue to click on their website (through a search or just typing in their website). The more customers that click on their site and stay on it for a meaningful amount of time or purchase something, the higher “authority” search engines are going to give them.
Search engines will observe this behaviour and rank these websites higher for searches from potential customers. This is because they think these websites are the most relevant to customers. Therefore, they don’t want them to have to trawl through pages of searches to find the website that provides them with what they need.
You may now be thinking that you have no chance in ranking high in searches. It’s easy to believe that SEO is futile if there are existing established businesses around.
However, don’t fret – we can still come high in the right searches. This is where keyword selection comes in. From our research, we identify which keywords customers we believe we have a chance of selling to will input into Google, Bing, etc. We then choose which of these have the least competition (i.e. fewer competitors rank highly for them), and target those to begin with. In this instance, we have every chance of coming high in our customers’ searches. If our website is designed well, and set up to sell, we have a shot at them buying something from our site.
Generally, these searches tend to be more specific to what a customer wants, rather than generic, broad searches. For example (using our pet supplies website), this could be “50 inch pink rabbit hutch free delivery” vs “rabbit hutch”. In the first search term, if we sell that item and our website communicates this, search engines could place us high in a search for these specific terms. This is because less websites potentially sell this specific type of item. However, in the second search term, search engines are going to probably place the largest, most-established websites top of this search. This is because there are probably thousands (or more) websites that sell rabbit hutches. Therefore, the only differentiating factor search engines have to go on is previous customer behaviour. As a result, they will pick the most popular websites to go top of these searches.
SEO is definitely a long game. We can’t optimise our site and expect to come top of our desired searches (even the niche ones). This is because we need them to store our changes to the site and reassess our website in order to come higher in desired searches. It will, of course, also take into account customer behaviour over time too. So, let’s ensure we do our best to convince website visitors to become paying customers with a well-designed website.
Search engines are a bit of an enigma and don’t actually tell us what they are doing and when (or why). Therefore, we can’t be assured of when we have been indexed for the changes we have done. We can submit our site for indexing manually, but then we don’t actually know when this has been done. It’s not like it happens in real time, so we have to keep monitoring it.
Realistically, we need to wait two or three months to see if our SEO changes are having an impact on search ranking. Be aware that SEO is not an exact science, and tweaking will be required. Not everything you try will work, and there is no guarantee. Good SEO consultants will tell you what is working, and build on what is working. They will also tell you what isn’t working, and discontinue those practices.
If you are patient, SEO can have long-lasting results. It will yield sales from customers you would never have reached otherwise, for very little money per customer. This is as opposed to the ongoing, relatively high cost of PPC advertising (pay per click) – those search results that say “Ad” next to them. The advantages and disadvantages of PPC is a discussion for another article though. However, think of SEO as an initial investment that will pay dividends in the end and eat into your profits far less than PPC.
Be very wary of any SEO specialist who guarantees specific results. They are unlikely to deliver on these, and you are setting yourself up for disappointment. They are probably just using this tactic to try and win your custom. If they genuinely believe they can guarantee specific results, it shows they don’t actually know SEO very well. Consequently, you’ll be wasting money on their services.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t set targets – these are good for managing expectations on both sides. If targets are not achieved, you can look at why and change course in order to reach your goals. You want your SEO specialist to be able to explain why things haven’t worked, and to suggest fixes or things to try next though. They should be coming to you with this information – you should never be left in the dark. Good SEO consultants offer reports at set intervals, and explain what all the figures mean in understandable language for you. Don’t let them hide behind jargon!
If targets are being met, great! You can then set more ambitious targets based on what’s working and look to build your presence on the web. Eventually, you can even target those generic searches if your company becomes successful enough!