SEO still matters

05 November 2012

There are plenty of articles covering the hows of search engine optimization. Plenty of gurus like the legendary Bruce Clay talking about it. I can write about how you have to build good SEO into a site from the beginning, not as an after thought or a tack on service. What I really want to cover is why you want to do it.

Search engine optimization for those living under a rock is improving how your site communicates with search engines. That is it, the entire goal. When you do that, search engines are more likely to rank you more highly for terms and therefore you get the clicks from the users. Some will argue that you give up design at the cost of SEO, which is like arguing that you can't have a car that is safe and good looking. You don't have to build a site completely in Flash or as a giant image to make it attractive.

Sites that are Flash heavy do poorly in search engines, a search engine can't read Flash. Flash menus are dead space to a search engine, it is why you often see links on the bottom of a page. It is also why you want to avoid using pictures for text. Even with alt and title tags you get less value from that image. Flash is dying a quick death due to smartphones and we aren't really sad about that.

If you have good SEO practices the benefits are really more than just in search. Your site should be more compatible with portable devices and for people with limited vision. Your site also won't be a huge hassle to update.

Some advocate pay-per-click instead of search engine optimization. No matter what, you can't get the same results with pay-per-click advertising. I'm not saying to drop PPC, I think you need to balance both. Google seems to look at your authoritativeness when judging your ad. So SEO now goes hand-in-hand with your PPC efforts.

If you are the number one result for your company name, great. However that doesn't get you new business. Those people who already know who you are and what you do. You want those other guys, the ones entering a concept or semi-targeted entry into a search engine.

A concept is a phrase that will get a relative needed result, such as "restaurants in wichita kansas". That is what someone visiting the city will look up. A targeted search would be "Pizza Hut in Topeka Kansas", that is someone that isn't headed for the Papa Johns site. Semi-targeted would be "pizza in wichita kansas". People very rarely search for single terms. Terms like "restaurant" or "gourmet food" sound good on paper, but no one really hops onto Google and types in "restaurant" that is really looking for a place to eat.

Getting the targeted search is easy. There are generally just one or two perfect results for those. Semi-targeted and concepts are more difficult because there is more competition for them. This is where the bulk of your visitors will come from.

Pay-per-click hits all three, the problem is you may not know what terms you need to bid on. Google is great at filling in the blanks, but it can get pricey in a hurry. The good terms will have competition and that drives the cost up.

If your SEO has you ranking well for most of your concepts then you will have visitors coming in on searches that combine multiple concepts, also known as long-tail search results. The ability to be the most authoritative result for an esoteric search gives you the advantage. It is also the reason why SEO produces, you start capturing those visitors who never saw your site before.

We see it everyday at Ecommerce Mechanics. Our site gets a lot of traffic from people doing searches for ecommerce taxes. We've written two articles about it and see people from all over the world reading them. The visitors aren't coming in on our name, they are all coming in on a long-tail search concerning online taxes in one form or another. Another indicator that while ranking on your name is nice, it doesn't drive new business.

Something else I want to note that happens to me all the time. When looking for a manufacturer there are too many missing sites. I put a dot com at the end of their name and don't get their site. I go into Google and put in their name and instead of them being number one, all I see are retailers offering their goods. As a manufacturer you should be the best result for your name. If you're not, your site is failing you miserably. This happens about 25% of the time, and is irritating 100% of the time. Your entire site should be a beacon to a search engine. This amazes me since often when I do SEO the first thing I usually do is minimize the company name so it isn't out performing what the page is about. I know the site will still get the company name overall.

It all boils down to relevance. You need your site to be the most relevant in the most places, places that are becoming more crowded every day. That relevance is important because people are using the web to find and communicate with new businesses. Most people couldn't tell you where their nearest phonebook is, the generation in middle-school right now may have never used one in their lives.

Personally I am reminded of the time my 20 year old son saw a dial telephone, "Wow, retro. How do you use it?" How soon until someone hears that same question over an old phone book. As I always do, I often wonder what happened to companies that didn't embrace technology. Were there businesses in the mid-20th century that didn't see the need for a telephone? I spend a lot of time in little towns in Kansas, which are filled with 100 year+ buildings. I wonder what business was the first to put in electricity, did their contemporaries consider it a waste of time and money? Now we would stare slack-jawed at anyone attempting to run a business power-free.