Most business owners with a website will tell you that they want to be on the 1st page of Google (as well as Yahoo and Bing) for the relevant and highly searched keywords related to their business. For example, if I own a painting company in Atlanta, then I would want to be top ranked for keyword phrases such as “Atlanta Painting Company” and “Painting Companies in Atlanta.” That way when prospective customers search for a business in my industry, they’ll find my website.
However, with potentially thousands of websites competing for top rankings for their high-volume keywords, earning that coveted first page spot can often be tough to accomplish. So, this is where SEO comes into play.
Search engine optimization, a.k.a. SEO, is the process of getting website traffic from the organic (i.e. free) listings on search engines. The search engines each have their own algorithms to determine which relevant and authoritative sites should be ranked at the top of the listing for each keyword searched. When it comes to Google, which controls approximately 80% of the search market, most experts will tell you that the Google algorithm has historically incorporated factors including:
- HTML title tags
- Meta descriptions
- Keyword optimization of site content
- External links to the website
The process of optimizing a website and getting it top ranked for desired keywords can often take awhile to accomplish. Google doesn’t publish their algorithms and changes their criteria from time to time. Just because you got your site top ranked doesn’t mean it will stay top ranked long-term.
At the SXSW Interactive conference in March 2012, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, announced a release of an algorithm update to target sites with excessive SEO. Therefore, websites that are “over-optimized” could now be penalized in search results. Google’s efforts are believed to be designed to encourage quality, useful site content. This is opposed to rewarding sites that have engaged in keyword stuffing or other unethical Internet marketing practices.
So, is SEO still relevant? Absolutely, I believe SEO is still a key component in helping the search engines to identify useful information that is most valuable to the actual searcher. It aids the search engines in organizing what information is being presented to users. However, the days of companies getting away with implementing “black-hat” unethical SEO techniques may be over.
Any business interested in achieving top rankings for their site should begin with a comprehensive site analysis to determine the keywords they should be going after. The commercial intent of the keywords shouldn’t be overlooked. Next, focus on creating really valuable site content. I always tell clients that they need good “marketing content” on their website, as opposed to just keyword optimized content. This is important for converting site visitors into customers. Also, be sure to generate authoritative, keyword focused anchor text links from external sites. Finally, make sure you know your audience so you can bring them the information they are seeking when they land on your website.