What is SEO and What is its Purpose
SEO is a much bandied about term. It gets a lot of interest because it is recognised as a means to achieving success on your website. But because it is an overused term it has become highly misunderstood as to what it really is.
If asking a group – what is SEO? there will be several different answers and amongst them will be ‘getting on Page 1 of Google'. If then asked what is the number one method for effecting good SEO then again, different answers will also be forthcoming but consistently keywords, identifying search terms and content are commonly cited as top responses.
What is a Website?
A Website though is a well-understood entity. It is a location on the internet where a business can reside to set up an online presence for promoting its services and products.
When asking the same group, what is the purpose of your business website, there will be several different responses.
It doesn't matter that there will be several different answers to this question as long as each answer embraces the concept of it being a go-to-market channel for your business.
A quick search for ‘Definition of SEO' on the internet will return thousands of results but looking at some of the top results, which are provided by considered experts, shows a consensus that SEO is a methodology for increasing the number of visitors to your website from free or organic search results.
Types of Traffic
Similarweb, an internet monitoring tool, allows us to get a view of worldwide desktop traffic broken into the six main categories, Direct, Mail, Referrals, Search, Social and Display Ads. The breakdown shows how important the category of search traffic is as it is the second highest category of traffic received by websites.
The category Direct can often be considered as a catchall that could not be attributed correctly to another category and experience has shown that many of these will be organic searches so the value for Search could be considered to be higher than shown.
These figures are for desktops only so when mobile traffic is factored in we can see that the search category traffic is fairly dominant.
Types of Search
A visitor that arrives at your site is considered as the result of that visitor clicking through on a paid for search result or a free organic search result. These are the only options.
Paid for search is a highly profitable industry worth billions each year to the search engine companies. However, Similarweb also tells us that organic search delivers substantially more visitors to websites than paid for search does.
Additionally, industry reporting tools show that a text-based search is dominant over all other forms of search the internet provides including image, video, news, shopping and map.
Anatomy of a SERP
A SERP is a Search, Results Page. It is the page presented following a search in a search engine and is fairly common in format across all search engines.
Using a simple search term such as, ‘washing machines', on a desktop we are returned a SERP that shows a set of results that unfortunately consist of mostly paid adverts as they cover approximately 80% of the viewable page.
Included within the numerous paid adverts, Google have inserted their own advert response in the top right-hand side of the page showing their own sales offering for washing machines.
On a smartphone, such as an iPhone 6 the screen, known as the viewport, is completely taken up with adverts and once again Google take the prime top spot.
On an iPad or similar tablet, the story is still not good, but in the view shown we can see that the options provided are even more limited as there is poor targeting by the advertisers who are competing directly with their own products that appear naturally in the top of the organic searches as well.
But in all cases the search experience is not great as we are not really given a lot of choices or options.
Perhaps, in this case, we should rename a SERP to a SARP or Search Adverts Results Page.
However, one word can make all the difference.
The results provided are totally dependent on the search terms that are entered but the concept of presenting adverts in such dominant places is common and so organic results must fight hard to get seen within the view of the online browser.
But one word can make all the difference, just by adding a single word to our search term our SERP can be devoid of adverts. The beauty of this is that such terms can be easily identified.
This is an opportunity!
Pay to play seems to be the way to go and every single search platform offers to provide an advantage to those who pay to advertise.
The list of opportunities to advertise is endless starting with Google's Adwords, Bing Ads, Yahoo Advertising, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and almost every other social programme or online business directory.
Each one competes to take a position on the SERP and so getting a good position on Page 1 is not easy at all and if you are on an in-demand keyword, you may be paying a very high premium to acquire the visitor to your website.
There are many competitors who will also compete for traffic and for the top slots on a SERP but as in the case of Google's Knowledge graph sometimes it is not possible to get the number 1 position as Google provide top search result answer themselves.
With all this focus and intensity for advertising, overall, it still only accounts for less than 2% of traffic to a website. This makes digital advertising a gamble and potentially an expensive one at that.
So we can now see how SEO can help us to be successful.
Getting to Grips with SEO!
There is nothing wrong with investing in paid for search as part of your overall marketing campaign to generate business but if you decide to ensure that you do not miss out on the majority of search result activity then the first thing we must consider is, what does the business need and require from the website.
If we consider what the business purposes are of the website, then we have the basis of where to start in our SEO activities.
This is the only place to start and it is what will determine all of the next steps that will need to be taken.
Define Outcomes and Measurement
Using our identified business objectives, we will be able to determine what the desired set of outcomes that are required from the website.
Depending on the business and the defined business objectives, the desired outcomes will be different but they fall into similar types of categories such as generating new leads to be contacted, generating topic or business awareness, establishing loyalty, making commercial sales, drive marketing programmes and so on.
These outcomes can be measured in business terms and as such can also be assigned a value which makes it possible to be able to establish a funded business plan to drive the SEO programme.
The business outcomes can also be determined as activities that must occur on the website and so a technical level of reporting can also be established that aligns directly to the business reporting processes.
Select SEO Strategy
This is the tricky bit. Once you have your business objectives and outcomes identified you must now align the correct SEO strategies and tactics to deliver the outcomes.
This is critical as selecting the wrong strategies and tactics can mean that you are expending time, energy and money into areas where you will get a minimal return.
There are so many different aspects of SEO that can be incorporated and each one has its own risk/reward profile.
The major categories of SEO that should be considered include:
- Plus many more
In reality, you will need to exploit most of these categories to get the maximum benefit but you should also consider how much you invest into each categories as the 80:20 rule will most probably apply.
A successful SEO strategy will depend on more than just the SEO strategies and tactics you employ. This is because search engines will take into account many other factors about your website and its overall health when determining the ranking position for a web page for any given search result.
Attention to ensuring that search engines receive positive signals for your website are often ignored or forgotten about and as such can make the difference between success and failure on placing well for any given search term.
Considering the investment made in your website and the effect it can have on your business, it is worth considering paying attention to the overall website health as part of your business-as-usual website management discipline.
Summary and Take Aways
In this discussion, we have covered many topics about SEO and SEO strategy and the key message is that if you intend to invest in a website and want to benefit from search engine optimisation techniques, then you must approach it from a business and not technical perspective.
As we have shown, SEO is much more than dealing with keywords or writing content. Care and attention to these strategies is important but there are many other things that you must attend to that can have as much if not more effect on the levels and type of traffic your website receives.
Although SEO is about gaining benefit from the free organic traffic a search engine can deliver, implementing SEO is not a free discipline because as a minimum it requires time, knowledge and patience and possibly you will need technical expertise to implement your SEO plans as well. Therefore setting a pragmatic and well-defined budget is essential.
Our premise is that SEO is a business issue and, therefore, needs a business management approach, such as Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA). Such a paradigm can then implement the four key points of a successful SEO strategy as outlined:
1. Establish the business goals
2. Define the outcomes and how to report them
3. Select and implement your strategies
4. Include ensuring good website health