Search engine optimization has changed drastically in the last few years. What was once the province of confused webmasters has migrated into the hands of web development companies who know where to go and what to do. How so? What’s changed about SEO that makes it so vital?
At first, search engines like Altavista and Dogpile weren’t very sophisticated. Getting better rankings was done by creating pages that only a search engine would love, by loading up a page with piles of keywords so that it was totally unreadable by any normal human being. From time to time you’ll see these pages on less-reputable sites, but they don’t get any attention from modern search engines at all.
When Google began search criteria based on its PageRank algorithm in 1998, the game changed for good. No longer could you make a spam page, because what mattered was how important your page was to other pages and to the internet at large.
Some people decided that since it was important to look important to the internet, making a page where you had several outbound and incoming links to other pages would make a difference. You’ll probably still get a few emails from people telling you that they noticed your page and wanted to exchange links. Some search engines were easy fooled by these “link farms” and would accept this as a credible method of determining the page’s importance. However, practically every modern search engine worth discussing will ignore them. In fact, Google will actually penalize your page for belonging to a link farm, so clearly it’s not the way to go.
So what actually does search engine optimization measure nowadays? It’s not complicated. Here’s an example:
Let’s say you have an advertising blitz for your small business that’s advertising a special sale for a certain day. You hammer every type of media: Print, radio, TV, internet, skywriting, smoke signals, screen-printed beer cozies, everything you can think of.
You get everyone to pile into your store on the appointed day, and what do they find? Nothing worth buying. Your store is a dilapidated mess, the product is old and poorly merchandised, and your salespeople are rude and under-informed.
What’s going to happen? All that money and work that you put into getting customers through the door is for naught. If you have nothing worth selling and don’t know how to display it, no one will buy.
SEO has changed to the point where the search bots look for the same thing you look for when you search: Information that’s usable and worthwhile, product that’s merchandised well, and a place that seems to know what it’s talking about. Quality content is the key.
“But isn’t being #1 the most important thing? I mean, I need to have that #1 ranking or no one will choose my site, and I don’t care how I get it!”
Having a #1 ranking is never a bad thing, but you don’t want to sacrifice your site’s long term viability for a shot at the brass ring. Even if you get a top ranking temporarily, is it worth being put on Google’s naughty list just for a few brief moments in the sun?
On top of that, there’s no guarantee that everyone will get the same results when they search. Search is becoming far more personalized. Heck, even ads are. I’m sure everyone has seen ads that say something to the effect of “Search for singles in (insert your city) here!” or “Check mortgages in (insert city here) now!”
So, if it’s so easy for a simple ad to find out where your general location is, what stops a search engine? The answer: Nothing at all.
In fact, search engines use local rankings now more than ever. The top result you may get for a search may not be the same result someone across the state gets, and certainly isn’t the same result that someone across the world gets.
On top of that, Google keeps tabs on what you search for in general. They have an extremely complex system that determines what type of results you specifically will choose. They record how long you stay on page results, what kind of things you’re interested in, what types of searches you do and where you finally end up.
Since everyone has their own unique set of interests and search engine rankings are so personalized, is it any wonder that SEO is a much more complicated science than it used to be?
Here’s a quote that really explains what we’re talking about, and it comes from Bryan Eisenberg, online marketing expert:
“I’ve never met a search engine spider with a credit card! Would you prefer to have a number one ranking page that never converts any visitors or a page that ranks 129th but brings you 1 conversion a week? I’ll take the conversion any time. Rankings are for egos, conversions are for dollars!”
See, you can have the best SEO guy in the business (we like to think it’s us, but whatever), the best SEO packages and be stretching for the best keywords in the world, but in the end the point of all this has to be servicing your customers and providing them with something they can use. Search engine optimization requires a very synergistic approach, including the layout of your site and the content you provide. Once those things are rolling, you can finally start working on the rankings. Become a place where your customers are willing to come regularly, and focus on converting the customers that you do get.
Remember, SEO can get your customers to the door. The point is to get that customer through the door and keep them there for good.