July 12th, 2012

Sowing The Seeds Of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Scene: The Boss knows all about Google and how important it is that your organization appear at the top in search results. She just did a search on a term related to your business and 'Guess what?', you are not appearing at the top of the page. This needs to be fixed!

The good news is that it's 'fixable' the bad news is that it's not a simple as flipping a switch. And because of that, organizations sometimes over spend on services, consultants, time and effort trying to implement a quick solution to a long term initiative.

In this post, I will talk about realistic expectations of organic search engine optimization (SEO) results and the importance of a balanced SEO strategy. One analogy that I like to use in talking about organic SEO is that that it's like farming. It's a slow process that, when done correctly, over time yields positive results.

In a culture of instant gratification, it’s understandable that there is a perception that something rooted in technology and logic is something that can be quickly changed. And because of that perception, many organizations end up overpaying for some ‘Secret Sauce’ or ‘SEO Snake Oil’. Here are a few tricks of the trade to watch out for:

  • We Guarantee You #1 placement on Google.
    • There are a number of companies that solicit business using this claim. In some cases these companies are really selling pay-per-click advertising. For small businesses that are less technologically fluent, they may not realize the difference between ad placements and organic SEO results. They just see their company appear at the top of the page as promised. This isn’t a terrible thing, they may be getting quality impressions and clicks but they are mostly overpaying for a service that they don’t truly understand. And, the moment they stop paying for the marked up ads, their presence disappears.
    • In other cases, these agencies are doing the organic SEO work of implementing the correct meta data – page titles, keywords and descriptions. In that case there is no real way to back up that ‘#1 placement’ promise. But the chances are if you narrow the search enough, any organization is #1 for something. Do a search for [organization name] and [organization city] of any company with any type of web presence and the chances are, the company you are looking for will appear at the top of the search results. It’s the more generic terms that are harder to capitalize on for organic search.
  • Here’s a big heavy report of SEO recommendations.
    • Some more reputable organizations can sometimes overdo it with organic SEO by overloading clients with in-depth analysis of every page on a site that goes through every word, image and HTML tag. The analysis may follow sound SEO principles but it’s important to focus on the content that is of priority to potential visitors/customers. Do you really need an analysis of the privacy policy page? How about that press release from 2008?

The fact is that implementing an organic SEO strategy that returns long term results is a long term process. It’s something that needs to be built into the communications strategy for an organization as a regular task. At the heart of good organic SEO is good content. Content is king!, would be the appropriate buzz phrase here. You need to have something to say or display that people want. It may be information about your organization. It may be commentary on your industry or cause. Whatever it is, it needs to be currently relevant to your audience.

Once you have the content, then you can get into the meta data. Most marketers have a good understanding of the importance and fundamentals of page meta data:

  1. Use ‘keywords’ in content
  2. Include relevant meta – keywords, titles and descriptions
  3. Use common sense URLs that include related keywords

If you need a primer, here is a great resource from Google: Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide

If your organization understands and is already on top of keeping clean and relevant meta data, then you can go a level deeper and look at page structure and HTML tags. Some of this can be handled dynamically by content management systems and some of this is a manual process. It’s important to understand how these items are implemented in your site.

  1. Prioritize your heading tags in pages so that the more important content contains a lower heading value. If your page title is about ‘How to Make Better Widgets‘ than ‘How To Make Better Widgets’ should appear as H1 tag in the HTML. If you think of the page in an outline format, the tags act as your bullets.

< H1 > How to Make Better Widgets< /H1 >

< H2 > Decide on you Widget Size< /H2 >

< H3 > Widget Size Considerations & Restrictions < /H3 >

< H3 > Previous Widget Size Examples < /H3 >

< H2 > Design Your Widget< /H2 >

< H3 > Widget Colors < /H3 >

< H3 > Widget Materials < /H3 >

  1. Include image meta data. For images throughout a site, include a brief description of the image. Image searches are very common and can drive site traffic. By including related data as ALT, TITLE and DESCRIPTION attributes.
  2. XML site map. Ideally, a website content management system can generate an XML sitemap on the fly as pages are created, edited and deleted. Without that functionality, there are tools that can generate a site map for you - and - but you have to manually upload it to the appropriate location on your server

Finally, after you have your site structured appropriately and have a process for generating and publishing content, you need to expand the reach of that content with a linking strategy. You can follow all of the best SEO practices and still come up short if there are no links to the content you create. Search engines crawl your site to see what’s there but they also rank pages according to popularity based on number of links to the content and how often people click on links to that content when they see it. This is where social media can be a huge benefit to traffic. By sharing and posting your content and encouraging sharing and re-posting, you help generate those links.

These are just some of the important factors to keep in mind for generating relevant organic traffic to a site. Organic SEO is not a quick fix and should be implemented as part of a long term business strategy. So, the next time you hear about a competitor beating you in the rankings, plan to start planting the seeds for organic search growth.

Some great resources for additional reading: