The basics of SEO

For all you people out there considering building or re-designing your website, here’s a handy list of SEO FAQ’s for your munching pleasure:

    1. What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization is basically a bunch of stuff done to your website to tell Google that it’s valuable and relevant. The pay-off for this perceived relevancy by the Google Gods is that when people do a search using keywords that you have targeted with this sorcery, your website may show up in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). I.e., I search “dog slippers” and websites that have optimized for that keyword may show up in the SERP/list that Google spits out.
    2. “Organic” vs. PPC? Organic search is about the search traffic that is snagged “organically” from search and brought to your site. I.e., you get this traffic because of how Google reads organic elements of your website (content, code, etc. etc.) vs. because of a paid ad. Optimizing for paid search (or Pay-Per-Click advertising) is a different art form, but it is basically everything you do so that your ad shows up first among the paid google ads.
    3. Do I need to worry about organic SEO? It really depends. For some businesses web traffic is not a viable source of new clients. I’ve had several clients like that. They only take high-end referrals, they don’t want Joe Schmosely wandering in after a drunken round of Googling. For most of us, though, we want to at least hear from Joe.
    4. Is organic SEO the same for all search engines? Nope. There are basics that apply for all (Google, Bing, Yahoo, for example), but certain futzing that needs to be done for Bing and Yahoo. However, keep in mind that Google dominates search traffic (90% of search traffic). There isn’t much point in going out of your way for Bing and Yahoo except to cover the quick stuff.
    5. What is the “stuff” that you do to websites to optimize them for organic search? Here’s a quick overview: 1) Programmatic and development “stuff” relating to programming and web design issues. 2) Keyword strategy: Targeting certain keywords (such as “dog slippers”) on each page. Optimizers use several fancy tools to find out how competitive keywords are and how much traffic they get (how many others have already targeted that keyword, and how many searches per month it gets). At the intersection of low competition and high search volume is a viable keyword. Research is done until we have 1-3 highly targeted keywords for each page. Keywords are then used in content and in certain programming areas. 3) Other “on page” SEO (stuff you do on/to the pages of your site) such as naming images, Alt text, blogging etc. 4) “Off page” SEO: This about how other websites relate to your website (links to your website, social media and more). Think of it as your website’s virtual relationships. “Link building” (a term many people have heard) is part of off-page SEO.
    6. What are the steps of organic SEO? There are a lot of nitty gritty steps, but basically we begin with an interview about messaging, competition, opportunities and branding. We then move into keyword research, checking out what the competition is targeting and finding your low competition/high traffic keywords. After we have a keyword strategy for each page, writing begins. If we’re re-working an existing site vs. building from scratch, an SEO audit is also part of this process. We finish up with instructions to the developer (if we’re not doing) or implementing all changes through our web design and development team.
    7. What is local search optimization? That is the art and wizardry of optimizing for local searches – so searches for products or services which also include a place. An example of a local search would be “SEO, Minneapolis” or “SEO services, Minneapolis.” There, I both answered your questions and optimized my site a little more for local search 🙂
    8. Does this stuff work? Yes, but there are a lot of pitfalls. You can get talked into signing an expensive monthly contract for SEO. My approach at SNAP is to do the basics of organic search optimization, then evaluate after six months. I personally don’t like retainers, and my colleagues will now proceed to send me angry emails. I’ve seen a lot of money wasted on monthly retainers for ongoing organic SEO, in which the agencies do little and charge a whole lot. Spend the initial investment to get your organic SEO up to speed. Then hold off for a while to see what else is needed. I also usually recommend doing organic SEO first and waiting 6 months to evaluate it before you invest in PPC (paid advertising). Here’s an example of results that I got for one client. All I did was the basics for organic SEO, no monthly retainer, no ongoing fees, and traffic went through the virtual roof.
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So as not to mislead, this is a special case in which web traffic tripled after SEO. There are a number of factors that made things line up well for this client, but don’t believe anyone who promises you specific results. You do the basics, Google decides the rest.

Final words o’ wisdom: As with all areas of life, try to be sure you understand what’s going on. It’s an unregulated industry, and you can spend a lot of money very quickly without having a clear understanding because there are so many buzzwords. Don’t get bulldozed, and speak up if you don’t get it. If you have an icky feeling that you’re getting taken for a ride, stop the ride and get off. With that said, SEO can do a lot for your business. Have more questions? I’m always happy to chat and answer your questions, feel free to drop a line.