When I began my journey in internet marketing in the early 2000s, SEO was king. It seemed every company with even one toe in the digital pool enthusiastically sought out the latest and greatest in SEO solutions. The object of the game was to get one’s business to the top of Google’s organic search rankings by any means necessary. In those days, Google’s algorithms were still maturing, which left the door wide open for fly-by-night digital marketing companies to invent creative (read: unethical) ways to serve their clients. It was a virtual arms race of SEO trickery.
Understanding SEO’s Past
In the short term, shady digital marketing firms and their unwitting clientele enjoyed easy SEO outcomes that quickly placed them at the top of the world’s most relevant search engines. However, Google improved its algorithmic process and swiftly punished companies for abusing its system. Many organizations realized that their once-stellar rankings had fallen straight into the gutter. Moreover, these businesses discovered that their presence on the web had lacked real substantive content and genuine links pointing to their website.
These unfortunate victims of bad SEO practices found themselves struggling to recover. Fast forward to today, and SEO remains a bit of a dirty word in many circles. But SEO is not only alive and well — it’s thriving. These days, responsive website development, reputation management and meaningful content distribution reign supreme as key solutions to optimize a company’s presence on search engines.
Improving Your SEO
Let’s get into some specifics. Responsive website design is vital to a good user experience. When websites do not function well on smartphones, users will quickly leave the site to locate a search result that does. What’s worse is Google analyzes and records this user behavior. Websites with high bounce rates will lose their rankings and be kicked off of Google’s first page. If you’re a small business owner, you should request feedback right away from your customers. If they say your mobile website is confusing or unpleasant, you need to act immediately to remedy the situation.
The importance of having a good reputation is as old as time. As such, having a good online reputation is an indispensable asset to any business. Online reviews are the manifestation of a company’s reputation, and they’re now the most significant ranking factor for local businesses. The reason companies with more quality reviews outrank companies with fewer or no reviews is because Google assumes that consumers would prefer to work with highly-rated businesses. If your company’s website is not ranking well, take a look at your reviews. Do you have a place for customers to leave reviews online? Do you have an effective strategy in place to acquire feedback from clients?
Finally, quality content distribution is another avenue for increasing rankings on today’s top search engines. For small businesses, the most beneficial type of content often comes from their own websites, blogs, social media posts, videos and newsletters. When companies produce meaningful content designed to truly inform and bring value to users, they enhance their website’s rankings. Companies that do not create quality content associated with their online presence are pulling the rug out from under themselves. Marketers and companies of all sizes alike should be laser-focused on producing genuine online content on multiple platforms.
Consumers trust brands more when they appear naturally at the top of a search. At this point, people understand that companies with high search rankings likely got there for a good reason.
One of the biggest pushbacks I currently receive from clients is that it takes too long to implement effective SEO. They are used to the instant gratification of PPC campaigns and would like SEO to be similar. The fact remains that properly executed SEO takes time, but it’s worth it. When a company ranks organically, it can expect to see exponential increases in traffic to its website, with long-lived outcomes, often outperforming the PPC campaigns that came before them.
Businesses can and should take some basic steps toward their SEO gains, with or without a digital marketing team behind them. To avoid penalties from Google and increase organic rankings, you need to ask yourself a few fundamental questions: Is my website aesthetically pleasing and without excessive ads or popups? Furthermore, is the content on my site written with the intent of truly helping my customers find what they’re looking for? If you answered no to one or all of these questions, then you need to promptly take action.
Modern SEO campaigns are multistep processes that might be best thought of as the planting of virtual marketing seeds in a digital garden. If a company uses tried-and-true SEO methods to properly cultivate the land that is their website and digital footprint, they can expect to eventually reap the rewards of a bountiful online harvest. To continue the metaphor, black-hat SEO was like haphazardly created, genetically modified digital crops. In the long run, these aberrations of digital marketing grew and morphed into mutant species that destroyed the online presence of thousands of unsuspecting companies.
It’s no wonder businesses today are still wary of SEO, and I don’t blame them. But just because SEO has a complicated history doesn’t mean it’s unworthy of redemption. Do search engines still matter? Yes, in fact, 40% of all e-commerce transactions begin with a search engine. Do organic rankings really matter? Yes, the majority of consumers’ clicks go to companies in the top three organic search results.
So, does search engine optimization matter? Absolutely, and unless some seismic shift occurs that replaces the search engine completely, SEO will remain a fixture of any good digital marketing campaign. Businesses just need to make sure they are in it for the long haul.