20 December 2011
What Does SEO Involve
SEO has changed constantly since search engines were first introduced in the early 90's. Just as web design has changed, so too has the activity, scope and responsibilty those responsible for attracting visitors to a site.
SEO often get’s a bad reputation – I am happy to admit that there is a lot of extremely bad practices out there and much of this is a legacy of what used to work with old search engine algorithms and the success of "old school" manipulative practises. Many business owners and even web designers have reservations about employing an SEO (people like me!) to work with them on promoting their sites online.
But ask them how (or more importantly why) they think their site is going to attract web traffic and drive sales and there is rarley a coherent answer. Unless you have a superbly unique proposition, web traffic doesn't just happen. Trust me when I say you aren't the new Zuckerberg and even a beautifully designed website with a great product won't do well (or at least as well as it could do) if you don't have a way to encourage and direct people towards it. Google owes you no favours.
So just as much as web design and search engines have evolved, (the image of google above really isn't that old) so have the responsibilities and attitudes of SEO's. It encapsulates a raft of skills and activities that most business owners and developers never consider and what we do is a vital component of any online marketing activity. Whilst what we do is made up of many small elements, they fall into three broad catagories.
SEO in its purist form is exactly what it says on the tin, Search Engine Optimisation. New sites, built by developers who understand SEO should be largely ok. Unfortunately in my own experience, I’ve seen “SEO” friendly sites that are anything but. It used to be the case back in those early days, when web standards were non-existent that just getting this bit right was enough. These days, pure onsite SEO is not enough on it's own - getting it wrong on the other still remains catastrophic. There is light at the end of the tunnel though as search engines evolve to handle non-optimised sites far better and on-site factors are likely to become less important in the coming years. Three words...Googlebot is Chrome! (probably)
Most importantly, SEO is about working out your promotional strategy. It’s perhaps more accurately referred to as SEM (Search Engine Marketing) or a more generic web marketing. There are hundreds of tactics that can be implemented to help get your message across and attract visitors. Very few websites will implement them all: Social media, content marketing, link aquisition, pay per click, affiliates and a dozen other buzz words are all tools in our armoury. There a countless companies looking to take a share of that marketing spend and the average business owner really isn't best equipped to make those decisons without the support of an SEO either directing them or carrying out the work.
These tactics though have to fit in within an overarching strategy that fits in with your site’s design or purpose as well as your businesses resources and target market. It is also not independant of offline activities and great campaigns work best in harmony. The distinction between strategy and tactics is an important concept and bad SEO’s are likely to focus their time on singular tactics hoping that will be enough – These guys tarnish our industry and their activity is often designed to “trick” the search engines and usually has a total disconnect between marketing, design and user experience.
Finally, SEO is about analysis – just because it may seem cool to tweet, blog and hang out in Wi-FI hot spots, we’re still massive geeks at heart. But through this data, we can see how people are finding your site and interacting with it. The data we are able to collect is what makes online marketing so powerful. Unlike traditional marketing formats, there is a clear path to determining ROI and web marketings effectiveness.
The numbers don’t lie (they sometime confuse but never lie) and there are few things I enjoy more than walking through Google analytics for the first time with a business owner and letting them see what we see. The analysis part is where the art of marketing and the science of digital technology meet: It is a great place and it's where business owners tend to begin their understanding of our activity.
All of what SEO's do above is what our clients see. But part of the reason we are so valuable because we keep up to date with the webs landscape. This at times is a full time job in itself and whenever I speak to another SEO, he or she is likely to have something new that I myself have not come across or considered. In that sense, it’s about continual professional development and because things change so quickly, if we fail to keep learning (and testing) we are doing our clients a disservice. That isn't to say tactics should change as regularly - there are certain key prinicples which are enduring (white hat marketing) but many are still evolving. Some on the other hand are revolutionising and let's face it, more importantly than selling a few "widgets", social media is helping bring down entire governments.
We are in a fortunate position in our roles - to coin a term from my dusty old business degree, this is the industries barrier to entry. The sheer amount of time we spend on-line helps us to keep at the head of that curve. A U.S study revealed that the average time that adults spent online is between 30-40 hours a month. I've never timed it but I'd be confident that is less than a weeks worth of online time for an SEO. We see, explore and critically evaluate hundreds of web pages in the course of our working week - add to that a large dose of passion for what we do (there is a blur between work time and leisure time) and our understanding and experience of the web, the opportunities it presents and how business can and should market themselves is overwhelming.
We have come a long way in the last 10 years and SEO is far cry from simply being related to optimisation and is certainly involves a lot more than the "crap hat" techniques employed by many in the industry. It is not the be all and end all of web marketing, but it ties in every aspect of a websites ability to be all it can be. It isn't an easy role and it isn't a silver bullet. Business principles still apply but for any business wanting an online presence (and that should be every business) a good SEO is invaluable.
We're always keen to get feedback so please let us know what you see as the role for what SEO's do below. Alternatively, follow on twitter and join in the conversation.
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