An Introduction to Search Engine Optimization: What it is, why you need it, what to look for, and how much you should pay
In this article we’re going to talk about the following:
- What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?
- The importance of Keywords and Titles
- Intro to Backlinks
- How and why SEO is an ongoing process
- SEO takes time
- The costs associated with SEO
- The important of good content
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search engine optimization, which we will refer to as SEO from here on, is arguably the most important part of launching and maintaining a successful website.
- Remember this: SEO is the backbone of getting your website out of obscurity and into the spotlight.
- What is SEO? Here is what it does: SEO is an ongoing process that puts your website as close to the top of search engine results. For example, if you’re interested in a specific topic like men’s oxford shoes, you will probably go to Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo and search for key words and phrases like “oxford shoes for men.” The results of your search will be ranked in order of relevance by the search engine. Each search engine has its own unique algorithm that ranks websites in a descending order of relevance. In one sentence: SEO makes sure that our website is at the top of search results, which means that your website will receive more exposure and more visits
- The number one goal of a website owner is getting the highest amount of relevant traffic. Traffic
means business. You want people to visit your site because visits translate into purchases and
Optimizing your website for search engines like Google and Bing is an on-going process that takes months. Optimization takes a while to learn, and because it is an on-going and evolving
process, many (if not most) business owners tend to outsource the optimization process.
Keywords and Titles.
Virtually every website has written content like a Home page, an About page, and articles. What search engines, like Google, do is “crawl” webpages, looking for keywords and phrases.
Search engines analyze every single page on the internet and then hierarchically rank and categorize each site according to the number of relevant key words on each page. Take for
example a website that is about men’s oxford shoes; such a website will feature keywords related to men’s shoes: men’s shoes, large men’s shoes, dress shoes, men’s dress shoes, and
so on. Websites that have a relatively high occurrence of relevant-and-specific key words will rank higher.
This means that content creation is one important part of SEO. Active websites that are routinely publishing quality content with relevant keywords are more likely to appear first during searches. A good SEO manager will make sure to regularly publish relevant content that uses the right key words.
Website titles and meta-tag descriptions are also an important part of SEO, namely for two reasons: search engines tend to place a high priority on keywords in titles; and search engines
list titles and descriptions of webpages in their results, and it’s important for users to be able to quickly sort through accurate descriptions.
Content creation, titles, and descriptions are not the only important part of SEO. Search engines become increasingly sophisticated every year; this means that there is more to the process than just using relevant words. Another aspect of SEO is backlinks, which we will be talking about next.
The idea behind backlinks is simple and genius, and it’s what initially made Google into a multi- billion-dollar company. Backlinking was inspired by how research papers are cited referenced).
The best research papers tend to be cited the most. Google applied this idea to web pages: if a page is cited (read: linked) by pages on other domains, then the page is then ranked as more
relevant than pages that have fewer or no links.
Search engines rank pages according to the number and quality of backlinks. For example, if you’re selling men’s oxford shoes, an unaffiliated website, like a blog, may link to your website. When a search engine detects that a website has linked to your website, your website’s page rank increases. In other words, the more backlinks you have, the likelihood of your page being
the first search result increases.
Google, Bing, and other search engines are sophisticated and constantly evolving. This means that not all backlinks are weighted equally. Another important factor is the page rank of the linking site. A backlink from a high-volume site like BBC.com will be more valuable than an obscure blog; but even this depends on the nature of the website. A good SEO manager is able to keep up to date with the latest best-practices, which makes SEO an ongoing process.
SEO is a competitive and dynamic process that requires ongoing communication. SEO is not a one-time service. It is an ongoing and competitive process that involves communication between the SEO manager and the website owner.
A good SEO manager will communicate with the owner to develop a good understanding of what the owner is trying to achieve with their website, and they should be able to communicate
what they’re doing. For example, an SEO manager can communicate and translate web- analytics to help attract the right kind of visitor which should then translate into sales, ad-clicks,
phone calls, or other services as well as providing future estimates.
Additionally, SEO is competitive. An SEO manager must look at other relevant websites and must continually out-maneuver other SEO managers. All of this means that SEO is an on-going
process, and successful SEO involves some trial-and-error. Because of this, SEO may take some time to be effective.
SEO takes time. As we have already mentioned, SEO is an ongoing process that takes time. The full benefits of SEO take an average of three months. This means that a bad SEO manager can stall, leaving you waiting for results in perpetuity. Remember, a good SEO manager will explain in detail what it is that he or she is doing. (There aren’t any real big trade secrets.) If your SEO manager isn’t being forthright in their communication, it might be time to find a new one.
The process of SEO comes in two parts. The first part is optimizing for the search engine itself, which is often done using tools (often provided by engines like Google and Bing); this is usually
a process of trial-and-error, making sure that the right keywords and titles are being used in the right places. The second part is analyzing web-traffic analytics.
After an SEO manager makes a change to a website, they will use a tool to determine how search engines have responded to the changes. Once search engines are responding appropriately, the next step is to wait to measure changes in traffic; this step requires real visits, so note that low-traffic websites may take longer to provide a sufficient sample size.
Usually an SEO manager will be deciding between several potential strategies at any given time, but they will only be able to implement one strategy at a time. Determining the optimal strategy is an iterative process: after a new strategy has been implemented, the manager will measure changes to web traffic; then the manager will select another strategy and measure
changes to web traffic. After they have measured the relative success of multiple strategies, they will choose the strategy that brings in the right audience.
Optimizing a website to bring in the appropriate audience may be an involved and complicated process. Depending on the nature of the business there may be a lot of factors that go into
perfectly tailoring a website for search engines, factors such as seasonal markets, changes to search engine algorithms, changes to the business. A good SEO manager has a lot of research
and has to be familiar with a wide variety of fields.
Cost of SEO
A wise man once said: You don’t get more than what you pay for. (But sometimes you get less.)
Our rule of thumb at Empire Strategists is that SEO services that cost below $500 a month are likely to be predatory. There is no shortage of hucksters who will offer what looks like affordable
SEO services, but really, the only effort they make is telling their clients about all the hard work they’re doing.
SEO services are not cheap. You can expect to pay at least between $1000 to $2000 per month for a small to medium business website. Having an optimized website is crucial for websites
selling their products and services online.
Good Content Theory
There are no secret-hacks to instantly get your website to be the first result on a search engine. Anyone who promises that their services will get your website into the first spot should be
looked at with close suspicion. Good SEO is a series of small changes that optimize search engine results. Optimization is closely linked with accuracy—not just page rank. Search engines
are built to help people find the best and most relevant content they’re looking for.
If you want to maximize your website traffic, you need good content. The way that search engines stay in business is by providing their users with content that is both high-quality and
relevant. Search engine companies like Google spend millions (if not billions) of dollars every year to make sure that their algorithms are returning what people are looking for. So, if you want
traffic, you first need to publish content people are looking for and then optimize your site.
Certain SEO managers will promise quick-and-dirty hacks that may show near-instant results, but “black hat” hacking only works for a short time. And simple hacks like spamming keywords
throughout meta-tags isn’t a sophisticated enough technique to outsmart search algorithms.
People who are caught trying to beat search engines are usually penalized with an indefinitely page lower ranking.
A good SEO manager works with search engine algorithms, not against them.
The internet functions best like a community or an ecosystem. It’s best to cooperate with the
online community as it continues to grow.
The Value of Local Networking
In this article we’re going to talk about what local networking is, why it’s important, and some
ideas on how to do it. We’re going to cover these topics:
- Your surrounding area
- The value of your fellow local independent business owners
- The value of doing business with locals
- Why you should attend and/or host local events
- What your local Chamber of Commerce can do for you
The basic idea behind local networking is pretty simple. It involves getting into contact with local businesses and organizations to connect with people, attract customers, and expand your knowledge base
Your surrounding area
Tobler’s First Law of Geography says, “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.”
If you are an owner/operator of a brick and mortar store or if you’re running an online business, you will spend a majority of your productive time in a physical location. Businesses, services,
and amenities that are within visual, walking, or driving distance from your location should be seen as meaningful opportunities and influences; they are the geography that your business
A classic Urban Economics lesson explains why this is: travel takes time; time is money; so, there is a relation between distance and money. This is why large cities become increasingly
dense and land becomes more expensive closer to the city center. (This can be expressed by a geometric/exponential relationship.) Conducting business often requires travel between other
local businesses; dense urban offices decrease travel time, which makes travel cheaper.
Businesses rent offices in skyscrapers because it’s a financially sound decision—not vanity.
The lesson a small to medium sized business can learn from this is that it’s more expedient (and often cheaper) to both pay attention to and do business with nearby businesses—whatever the business may be. It’s easier to build a relationship with a nearby business if they’re right next door, and you can pop-in and ask if they would like to join you for lunch.
Your fellow independent local business owners
Your fellow local business owners are some of the most important resources that can be tapped into: they can offer referrals, expert advice, and (perhaps discounted) services.
Developing a relationship with local businesses is an investment of time, effort, and a willingness to initiate conversations.
Starting relationships (whether it’s with businesses or making new friends) is more of an art than it is a science. But it’s an artform that can be cultivated. The most commonly recommended
book on developing this skill is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. (Check out Wikipedia or this blog for a good summary.) Starting relationships is an investment. This means that it comes with a price and that there is a risk associated. Not every effort will yield results. That is fine. Opening up the door to start conversations and collaborations with businesses should be a routine part of your conversations. Of course, it’s important to really get to know the people behind the business; don’t be the obsessed business owner who can’t see beyond their own identity as a salesperson, etc. If you’re trying to start a new conversation, remember the classic acronym FORD.
Do business with locals
Building relationship may cost money, but it can yield stable, long term results.
If you’re a business owner, we at Empire Strategists believe that it is worthwhile to spend more
money to purchase goods and services from local and independent businesses rather than
cheaper alternatives from large companies.
Here is an example. Suppose you need business cards. Your cheapest option is to design and buy bulk business cards from an online retailer. But we believe that an independent, locally
owned printshop is the most valuable option. We can almost guarantee you that a local printshop will charge more for their services. If you’re thinking in the narrow short-term, then you
should go with a cheap online retailer. However, if you’re willing to invest time, money, and a few conversations, a local printshop can become more than just a place to get business cards,
signs, and placards: it can become a place to network.
Spending extra money to do business locally can yield referrals and contacts. Networking is the opportunity to establish and build a reputation. Likewise, being proactive in referring people to
local businesses means that everyone wins and the local economy becomes more prosperous.
The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, once said, “War is the father of all things.” Competition will keep you active and looking for new ways to improve. That being said,
competition shouldn’t be hostile. It’s a chance to learn.
We suggest visiting your local competitors, establishing friendly contact, keeping up with how they do business, and even offering referrals. Competition is good; at the end of the day,
competition is what moves the market as a whole forward. It’s better to meet competition head- on with all your attention rather than trying to fight it or suppress it. Better yet, we suggest
joining or building communities of related business (hypothetical example: Seattle Printshops Association), which we’ll be talking about next.
Attend events that are related to your industry, like tradeshows. We’re going to say this again in all-caps because it’s important:
ATTEND INDUSTRY RELATED EVENTS, AND IF THERE ARE NO SCHEDULED EVENTS, HOST ONE.
The value of attending, or better yet, hosting industry related events cannot be overstated. This will put you into contact with local experts, potential customers, and potential employees. Even
a small event with a handful of people can lead to deep conversations or long-term partnership.
If you’re the owner or operator of a brick and mortar store, we suggest hosting an event. Even if your business is doing exceptionally well, be the person who leads the charge. Other
businesses may refer you clients or prospective employees.
The advantage that small businesses have over large businesses is networking and personalized/specialized services; it’s important to leverage those advantages because large
businesses can operate on thinner margins at larger scales. Teaming up with local businesses and competitors is a way to out-maneuver larger businesses.
Your local chamber of commerce
Your local chamber of commerce is another, often untapped resource.
Small businesses are often frustrated by government because of the obvious impact of taxes and regulation. However, it is also in the interest of the local government to help local business
grow because it makes the local economy wealthier. Your local chamber of commerce is a useful resource. It’s their mission to provide local businesses with the tools, expertise, and other
resources they need to succeed.
This is especially useful for people in the beginnings of starting a business. Licensing, certifications, and taxes can be difficult, tedious, and frustrating. Your local chamber of
commerce can help you get started.