Once upon a time, SEO was simple. Get a bunch of links, be generous with your keyword usage on-site, and bam, you rank. I’m not a fan of people who say SEO is dead (it’s not!) but that type of simplistic SEO certainly is.
Google is implementing one or two modifications to their ranking algorithm each and every day, and that equals a lot of changes. Unfortunately, while SEO is changing, people’s expectations regarding what SEO is, what it can do, and how it should be done just aren’t keeping pace with reality.
In July I attended MozCon, one of the best SEO conferences, and one of my favorite presentations was by Wil Reynolds. It was called Real Company Stuff…It’s a Struggle. Based on the audience’s reaction and the proliferation of RCS related conversations afterwards, I’d say it was the most popular presentation of the conference.
Why was it so popular? Because Wil said out loud something that many SEO’s have been feeling for a while…that SEO practitioners need to step up their game, and that clients need to be better educated when it comes to what SEO should cost and its power if done right.
The second part is key; helping current and potential clients to understand what SEO can and can’t do, and what it really takes to do it well. So without further ado, here are 5 tips to help you get the most from your SEO efforts:
1. Define What You Really Want
In order for your SEO team to do the best possible work, they need to understand exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Are you looking for more traffic, more brand visibility, more ad impressions, more sales, or all of the above?
When you say “I want to rank well for keywords X, Y and Z”, what you should really be saying is “We really want to generate at least 500 more leads in the next 6 months” or “Guys, we need to boost revenue by at least 10% to make this a cost effective initiative for us”. If you can give your SEO team specifics, they can be far more tactical.
2. Don’t Put SEO in a Silo
Once upon a time SEO existed in a vacuum (meaning it had little to no overlap with other departments/marketing efforts). That is no longer the case, and hasn’t been for many years. Doing SEO the right way almost always requires internal company resources (copy writing/editing, design, wed development, PR, legal, etc.) and flexibility, and if you have high-level buy-in from the very beginning, you’ll be able to do SO much more.
Keep in mind that every form of marketing that your company engages, from print ads, to paid search campaigns, to TV, can potentially have an impact on your organic search engine traffic so it would be beneficial to loop your SEO team in on all of your marketing activities. On top of that, any change you make on your company website can potentially impact your site’s rankings, so any modifications to your website need to go by the SEO team as well.
To sum it up, if something involves the website or can drive people to the website, make the SEO team a part of that conversation! I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve seen a lack of cross-team communication kill a site’s ability to rank well.
Remember, in order to see real success, SEO needs support from every level of the company, including the C suite.
3. Be(come) a Brand
For good or ill, Google favors brands in the SERPs, and it’s going to keep moving in this direction. That said, becoming a well-known brand doesn’t require a billion dollar marketing and PR budget, all it needs is a formulated online marketing strategy.
Having a well-designed website that works on both desktop and mobile, being active on social media, regularly posting up great content, getting mentions from industry websites and blogs, and having an audience that engages with you regularly are all strong brand signals.
To succeed long-term in the organic search space, you need to be(come) exceptional, worth talking about, and worth sharing…and worth searching for. The number of searches each month for your brand name is definitely a signal that you’re becoming a known brand.
Coke is a major brand not because they have billions of dollars to spend on branding and marketing, but because they created something of value that people love and want to talk about and share. The money came after they built the brand!
4. Be the Best, Visually and Functionally
Because of the rapid progression of technology, new and better products and services are popping up at an ever increasing velocity. The number of options available, and the quality of those options, is advancing at an incredible pace.
The upside is that users have lots of good choices. The downside is that they have less time and attention to give to the things they choose to use, and users are forced to be more selective.
Because of this, you have to really work to stand out. “Me too” businesses that do nothing to differentiate themselves from everyone else in their space will find it harder and harder to rank well and secure organic traffic as time goes by. In fact, Google regularly penalizes websites that fail to do this. (Panda and the EMD update were all about cutting out cookie cutter, low quality sites.)
This type of thought process is what Wil was talking about in his presentation. Don’t just buy your way to the top of the search results; earn your way to the top by becoming worthy of those ranking positions.
If you build it, they will come just doesn’t fly anymore…there are far too many options. Apple has become the most valuable company on earth not because their products are unique or original, but because they win people over visually and emotionally, and then live up to it functionally…be like Apple!
5. Don’t Be Cheap
SEO can drive more value to your bottom line than ANY other form of online marketing out there. Long-term, it is still the single best online marketing investment you can make…but the key is long-term, which makes SEO an investment.
To put it in perspective, I like to classify SEO as either Souvenir SEO or Heirloom SEO. Souvenir SEO is cheap, and you tend to get what you pay for. Souvenir SEO may provide some short-term benefits, but it won’t stand the test of time.
Heirloom SEO on the other hand is quality, good enough to pass on to your kids and grandkids. If done the right way it is about building real value that will stand the test of time, but doing that level of SEO isn’t cheap. It requires hiring high quality writers, designers and web developers to create link worthy content. It requires building and maintaining relationships with writers and editors at major publications who are willing to trade favors.
Heirloom SEO is not just making your site rank better, but about actually making your site better. It’s not a trick or a gimmick.
The best SEO’s out there are artisans and craftsmen in every sense of the word. If you give them a budget that covers plywood, Styrofoam, and Elmer’s Glue then ask them to build your house, you’re going to get what you pay for. If you give them a budget that covers hardwood flooring and Italian marble…well, you get the picture. Great SEO requires an active partnership between a client and a service provider…it’s something you do together, not something that you just have done for you.
Every SEO I know genuinely wants to help make their client’s sites and businesses better. They care about the sites they work on, and they take the success or failure of a website very personally. If you keep these 5 things in mind, you’ll get more out of SEO than you ever though possible!