With shopping and searches for local services increasingly moving online, it’s vital for all types of businesses to be positioned to capture this traffic. SEO is the tool you use to do it.
What is SEO?
“SEO” is short for “search engine optimization.” It’s made up of a variety of techniques that change over time, but the end goal is always the same: helping a website to rank as highly in the results of search engines, such as Google and Bing, as possible.
SEO is an ever-evolving field, such that professional agencies are dedicated to keeping up with it and consulting with businesses to help them improve their search traffic. When the first search engines launched in the mid-1990s, they simply counted the number of times a word or phrase appeared in a page and promoted the pages that had the highest totals. That was soon exploited by listing target search phrases hundreds or even thousands of times at the bottom of a page. The introduction of Google in 1998 was revolutionary because it was the first to attempt to rank the relevance and quality of pages by looking at how many other pages linked to and referenced them.
However, the early versions of Google were exploited in a different way. Since they simply counted the number of sites linking back to a particular page, people soon gamed the system by spamming links everywhere they could: free website builders, comments on other pages, and so on.
Over the past two decades, Google has constantly refined its search algorithm to try to promote the best and most relevant results to users. SEO is all about understanding what Google, and similar search engines, does and does not like to see pages doing.
So what does Google like to see? It tries to evaluate the intent of a search query, and it wants to see the best and most helpful content in response to that intent. That’s the core principle, but if it was that simple there probably wouldn’t be much need for an SEO industry!
Google actually has in the neighborhood of 200 “ranking factors” that determine where your site winds up in the results for any given search. So what are they? Well, there’s the rub. We only know a small subset of these factors for certain because Google keeps this information closely guarded to discourage gaming and exploiting the system.
Among other things, professional SEO agencies do various comparison tests to figure out what search engines like Google and Bing prefer to see. The total package of ranking factors includes types of content, ways in which it is presented, page design elements, credentials, and contact information among other items. It’s a complicated web that requires dedicated attention to keep up with, as the search engines make continual tweaks to their algorithms.
And ever since smartphones became common, there has been a subset of SEO called “local search” that is particularly important to brick-and-mortar businesses. Search engines no longer only compare global results, but will factor a searcher’s physical location in if they appear to be searching for a local service. That means that a small local business can potentially vault over big websites in the results if what they offer is more relevant to someone who is searching for something nearby.
Why is SEO Important?
When you’re looking for a product or service, the first thing you usually do is run some kind of search online. It might be through Google or Bing, it might be a voice assistant query via Alexa or Siri, or it might be a direct search on an e-commerce platform such as Amazon. But people overwhelmingly go straight to a computer or phone as the first step when they’re looking to spend money on something.
Search traffic is the modern lifeblood of business. SEO is about directing that traffic toward you; not just in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality. SEO puts more overall eyeballs on your product, but when done right it also filters for those who are your most likely customers.
Let’s say that you run a plumbing service in Poughkeepsie, NY. An SEO professional isn’t going to just draw general plumbing searches to you, they’re going to draw people in the greater Poughkeepsie area who are specifically looking for a plumber. And they’re going to position you so that Google and other search engines view you as a better result than your local competitors.
So what happens when two Poughkeepsie plumbing companies with great SEO are both in the market? Honestly, it’s a bit of a toss-up at that point. But it’s much better to be one or two spaces below a competitor in the search results than it is to be buried on a second page that no one ever clicks through to.
At this point you might be asking, “why not just pay for an ad that’s automatically placed above all the search results? Why fuss with all this SEO stuff?” Because studies consistently show a very strong searcher preference for organic results over paid advertisements. This is particularly true when they’re asking a question of a search engine, like “How do I do X?” or “Who does Y specific service in my area?”
SEO is also all about bang-for-the-buck. Maintaining paid ads is much more expensive over the long haul than creating “evergreen” content and SEO strategies that continue to draw people over time with little to no added expense once set in place. And it has the added long-term benefit of enhancing your brand and positioning you as an authority in your field.
All of those things hinge on SEO being done the right way, however. There is definitely a wrong way to do it! Do a little reading on the subject and you’ll soon see the terms “white hat” and “black hat.” Black hat SEO is something to avoid; it relies on the sort of unethical tricks that Google is always looking to shut down, and any site built with it is a house of cards just waiting to fall.
Doing SEO Right
BizIQ, experts in local online marketing, provides small businesses with the tools they need to capture search traffic including SEO, reputation management and optimized online business listings. Call (888) 416-9800 or fill out our contact form to learn more.
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