There’s 2 things that we get asked most often, “how do companies track me and serve me ads?” and “what is SEO really?”. Both are extremely important and relevant questions for digital marketing success. The first question is answered by talking about retargeting and giving them a visual on how it works. All you need to do in this case is search something like a make of cars, go to their website, maybe 1 more site and then watch yourself be targeted by car manufacturers all day. It really isn’t too much more complex than that. It just involves codes and tracking cookies. Now the second question requires a much more delicate approach. Since the idea and role of Search Engine Optimization comes up daily, I decided to bring you into a typical conversation.
You mean SEO not SEM right?
We must start here. Since there is only one letter difference, so many people get confused or use them in the wrong context. The difference between Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization can begin by providing a visual.
For simplicity, consider the listings in blue SEM and the listings in red SEO. The blue box is Pay Per Click Ads (PPC) being generated by Google AdWords. The red box is organic search results being served by Google as well but is not paid for. Since SEO cannot be purchased from Google, then we can begin to see who it’s purchased from and what it’s all about.
SEO isn’t just backlinks or meta-tags.
Ok I just lost some of you already. Backlinks are links on other websites that refer to your website. Meta-tags are keywords in the header of a website that express what your website is about or what your company does (typically completed by your web developer). SEO is so complex that discussing it in depth is beyond the scope of this blog post. SEMrush (semrush.com) did a massive analysis on SEO earlier in the year, here was the outcome summary:
So there’s 17 major factors that are a part of SEO and Google Rankings. This bring us to the first major major lesson about SEO; it’s not just about one thing, it has many factors. So having good SEO means you have to do them all together, not just 1 at a time or 1 total.
Black Hat vs White Hat
Black hat is doing SEO in a way that potentially gives you a quick rankings boost, but is likely to hurt you in the future. Google has become very smart in how it sees and reads websites. If you try and scam the system, it doesn’t take long until you are penalized. These penalties are called manual actions and are death to your website. It doesn’t make sense to link your website to anywhere and everywhere. Google knows that if you are listed in a medical directory and you’re an auto repair shop, something doesn’t fit. You can pay someone to build you thousands of links for just dollars. Cheap links (black hat tactics) will either do nothing or worse potentially cause you irreparable harm. Once you receive a manual action the process to get it removed is long and annoying. White hat tactics on the other hand take into consideration all of the factors above and slowly but surely expand your digital identity in a safe way. Don’t hire someone to do SEO for you without asking what it is that they even believe SEO is. SEO is not filling in some terms in a plugin on a website.
All Backlinks Are Not Created Equal
We have seen sites with 150k backlinks that don’t even rank for anything worthwhile on the first page of search engines. Conversely, there are sites with 50 backlinks that dominate the organic searches. This is because of 2 things; the relevance of the sites the links are in and the perceived relevance of your site. For example; buying a .99 domain and then putting your website as a link in a website on that domain won’t do anything for your SEO, but putting a link on time magazine’s site will. Our second major lesson is that good SEOs have connections and understanding about where to list your website, and who can help them list it there. As with many other things, if an agency is doing SEO and it works consistently, they have someone with experience and that’s a major factor in the cost of the service.
Content Matters, A Lot
There are so many websites that having one doesn’t mean anyone will visit. On the other hand, not having a website means NO ONE can visit. So it means you have to have one, but having one doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. The very first thing you need to ask yourself before you build or contract a site is “why do I need a website?”. How you answer that question will have a big impact on what you need to do. Ultimately, your website needs to be your voice, your summarized explanation of why you are relevant and what unique qualities you exhibit. Without this, Google will never see you as an authority leader and won’t boost your search rankings. Blogging isn’t talking about your business, it’s explaining your particular viewpoint and how you help. If you aren’t passionate about it, don’t blog on it BUT it’s important to have content for quality scores.
Traffic Matters, The Most.
The most important factor to your organic ranking is website traffic. That makes sense though since if people are visiting your site, they find something about it to be interesting or relevant. Based on that, you can also understand how using SEO and SEM together makes so much sense. SEM is sending traffic to your site via ppc ads and SEO tactics can be used to bring those visitors back and to spread your digital influence based on the habits of your visitors. If your website is terrible or not user friendly then it doesn’t matter what you do. How your website is fundamentally built and functions is a major factor in long term digital success. Cutting corners on the initial site creation will lead you to all types of disappointment.
Ask for Explanation
If there is one piece of advice that I would give above everything else is that if you have questions after meeting with your agency about the services you are proposed, you agency isn’t doing their job. We LOVE to explain how things work, from as high or granular level as a client wishes. I cannot tell you how many clients we pick up because they come to us just to investigate if their current agency is even doing anything that they claim they are. There are tools to check and see everything about your website and what it’s doing. We are always available for free consultation and are more than happy to tell you all is well or that you’re being scammed.
It’s your money, it’s your right to know how it’s being spent.