Effective SEO: It's simple - but not necessarily easy

Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2008 1:03 pm By: Craig C. Chapman
Copyright 2008, Rare Earth Interactive Design, Inc. All rights reserved.

Many of our clients come to us wanting to improve their Search Engine Rankings, or what we in the industry call Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Indeed, clients who have engaged Rare Earth for our SEO expertise have seen impressive results. Take Aléthea's Chocolates for example, whose 2007 Holiday Season website sales more than tripled from their previous year and increased their average dollar-per-order by almost 50%, as a result of their campaign.

Unfortunately, some clients believe that achieving these results requires little more than a few keywords and some copy changes. You might even think so, too.

Respectfully: this is 100% wrong.

In fact, a recent article from Internet.com's Small Business Computing Channel provides validation to what we've been advising our accounts for years:

  • Effective Search Engine Optimization is hard work, and has to be approached diligently, vigilantly and on an ongoing basis.

A few of our accounts have been understandably resistant when we tell them they're going to have to work a bit, in order to get the results they want to achieve. One account, frustrated by their lack of advancement, even went so far as to hire a new employee who had SEO experience, only to end up hearing more of the same things from her that we were telling them for more than a year.

So what does it take to get good results from Search Engine Marketing?

Here's a simple guide:

  1. Take the time to research keywords: Proper keyword research is the absolute foundation of everything we do in search engine marketing. It often means we need to rely on our client to help us figure them out. Good research is literally like gold: treat it the way you would a new employee that's learning the ropes of your business.

    Too often, companies continue to focus on the words they sell their products and services by, when it's far better and ultimately more effective to focus on the terms and phrases your buyers are using to find you.

  2. Change your website architecture or execute a redesign: It's essential that the key areas of your site be present in the main navigation. This is the main menu that appears on every page of the site. Search engines know that the most important parts of your site are in your main structure. As a result, those pages carry extra weight in their results.

    Moreover, your site needs to be visually designed in a way that is appealing to your visitors, makes them want do go deeper and gives the important parts of your site special prominence.

    Finally, there need to be specific "conversion points" or, points on the site where your visitors do something that you want them to do, such as: request a quote, contact you or purchase a product.

  3. Don't skimp on your site's content: Using your researched keyword phrase lists, review the key pages of your site and develop between at least three phrases that define each page. Optimizing a page centered around only one keyword phrase results in a page that has poor readability. As you'll read in #4, poor readability can be as deadly to your rankings as poor research.

  4. Write your content like a marketeer, or hire someone who can: Many people are surprised to learn that Google and the other major search engines use both spelling and grammar checkers in their indexing. These tools help them determine who has good content that is relevant to their searchers.

    This means that sites that use their keyword phrases in a grammatically-correct, readable way [including correct spelling and syntax], lead to better rankings. By the same token, sites that are poorly-written or riddled with misspellings are penalized.

  5. Measure your SEO/SEM success by conversions and traffic to targeted pages, not just rankings: A common error committed by both uneducated SEO practitioners and the clients they mis-serve, is to focus solely on the ranking positions of their preferred search phrases as a means of defining the success of their SEO programs. Doing so is like saying that good gas mileage alone makes a good car. In reality, what is "good" depends on what the driver expects out of the vehicle. Specifically comfort, speed, towing capacity, cargo capacity all go into the definition of "good." But in the end, any "good" car has to accomplish its primary function - getting you and your stuff from Point A to Point B.

    As a business owner, the reigning function of your website is to make money, or to make it easier for you to make money. I often say that visitors and page views don't sell products or services. The same holds true for your search terms and phrases: good rankings don't necessarily sell, either. What's more, rankings can vary from day-to-day, hour-to-hour or even minute-to-minute. I've personally witnessed a site drop from the second position to the eighth position and bounce back up to the fifth position within 10 minutes.

    Like the car that reliably gets you from one place to another, the ultimate determining factor of whether your Search Engine Marketing program is effective or not, is if you're getting more conversions and making more money with (or thorough) your site.

Like the title of this article says: it's simple. But simple does not always equal easy, especially considering that many companies are already running very leanly in terms of available time.

Consider this fact, though: accounts who actively participate in this process with Rare Earth or whomever their SEO practitioner is, will invariably achieve great results. Moreover, if you accept that your business benefits from what you devote your attention to, then more quality time spent on your website will lead to more revenue (and presumably making your life ... just a little bit easier).