Pitch Perfect Marketing

Search Engine Optimization: The Linchpin of a Successful Online Presence

 

As the number of people searching the Internet for goods and services grows, the search engines remain an essential part of the process. For companies wanting to stand out from their competition, more and more are turning to search engine optimization (SEO) to enhance their rankings, their visibility and their profits. This white paper illuminates the core areas of search engine optimization, both organic and paid placement, as well as explains how it can fit into a comprehensive marketing effort.

The Ongoing Story of Search Engine Optimization

Back in the mid-1990s, as the Internet became an avenue for communication and commerce, webmasters realized they could adjust their websites so that search engines would rank them higher when users searched on certain phrases. This was the birth of SEO. There was very little in the way of spam detection early on, so many webmasters could use less-than-honest means to obtain higher rankings. In the intervening years, as the Internet has experienced phenomenal growth, the search engines have become more savvy in spotting these underhanded tactics. Currently, search engine optimization remains a powerful way to drive increased traffic to websites. Companies are either developing search engine optimization talent in-house or going to external consultants for help. The benefit of going with an established, outside search engine optimization company is they will have the wide range of knowledge in both organic techniques as well as paid placement methods. Much of this knowledge is gained through years of in-depth experience with client websites. The need for SEO continues to grow as a growing number of companies come to terms with the benefits of reaching vast yet highly targeted audiences over the Internet.

Organic SEO - What's Involved?

  • Take Stock & Eliminate Roadblocks . Before any substantive search engine optimization effort can begin, and exhaustive look at the current state of the company's website should be undertaken. Stepping back and evaluating the goals of a site and how well the web presence meets those goals must be completed. A common ailment of websites is they are not user-friendly and do not provide intuitive navigation schemes for their audience. It's important to note here that no manner of enhanced search engine rankings will solve these types of problems. People who arrive at a website and become confused or frustrated will move on to a competitor's website without hesitation. Usability testing (sessions where actual users are asked to perform typical tasks on the website) can uncover such problems as well as offer a valuable and eye-opening experience for site owners. Discovery processes such as this may result in the need for a partial or complete redesign of the website itself. If a company does not have the resources to effectively revamp their web presence, they are better off contracting out this valuable step. With the solid foundation of a highly usable web presence, subsequent search engine optimization steps will be more effective.

  • Run Keyword Analysis . The process of identifying the words and phrases that your target audiences are searching on is called keyword analysis. Keywords are at the heart of every search engine optimization effort. You have to target the correct words and phrases and leave off those that are far too competitive or have very little traffic. Once a list of phrases is decided upon, then you have the foundation for the remaining steps of the search engine optimization effort.

  • Adjust the Code and Beef Up Content . There are a number of tactics involved in modifying a website so that its rankings are enhanced. Though some of these methods have changed over the last decade, the baseline processes remain the same. First and foremost, a website should have ample content related to the keywords being targeted. Search engine web crawlers (automated programs designed to scan a site) have one basic goal, to sift through each website and ascertain what it is trying to convey. The crawlers read through the textual content as well as the underlying code, such as meta tags. Subsequently, the search engine indexes the site based on that information. Each search engine uses their own algorithms to determine how websites rank on their results pages. If a website does not have an adequate amount of text available for the crawler to read, it becomes more difficult for it to comprehend what the site is about. Though not as critical as in prior years, the HTML Title tag as well as the meta Keywords tag and meta Description tag should all be carefully sculpted using the words and phrases from keyword analysis. Using these same phrases within the links between website pages can also offer a positive impact. Other enhancement methods include creating a site map, providing custom 404 error pages, optimizing URL strings, and implementing social networking.

  • Increase Those Inbound Links . In recent years, it has become increasingly important to have a substantial amount of inbound links to boost search engine rankings. Though this is one of the more challenging aspects of SEO, it is vitally important since the big search engines add weight to a website's rankings if it has multiple relevant links from outside sites pointing to it. Links from nonrelevant websites will provide little benefit since they are not in the same general category. A search on the word "books," for example, brings up Barnes and Noble on the first page of results confirming this inbound linking effect since countless websites contain book links back to the retainer.

Organic SEO vs. Paid Placement (Pay-Per-Click)

Whereas organic SEO techniques focus on the website itself and links pointing towards it, paid placement (or pay-per-click) is focused on attaining high rankings within the sponsored listings section of search engine results pages (SERPs). Primarily built on a bidding model, that is, the more you bid, the higher you appear in the list (Google has a more complex model that takes into consideration site relevance as well ), paid placement provides an avenue for companies to attain high rankings if they have the marketing dollars to support it. It is a very popular approach for those sites that are newly posted on the Internet as well as those that need a quick boost to their search engine exposure or want to round out their organic SEO efforts. Paid placement can be a costly endeavor since you are paying for every click that brings a user to your website. It is vital therefore to track visits as well as how many people complete desired transactions to ascertain whether paid placement is delivering a positive return on investment.

A company can leverage organic SEO, paid placement, or a combination of both. It all depends on what the marketing goals of the company are as well as their budget and timeline. Though organic efforts may be more costly up front (as a website is adjusted and optimized) over time it may be more cost-effective than a paid placement campaign especially if the targeted phrases are highly competitive (i.e. expensive to bid on). Both organic SEO and paid placement require regular maintenance and adjustments based on rankings and competition.

So Why Should I Care about SEO?

If a company does not need high search engine rankings to reach its target market or to disseminate information, then SEO is probably not a high priority. For the vast majority of companies however, search engine optimization is a key component of their ongoing success. Given the overwhelming benefit of the Internet, companies who do not work for higher visibility in key market phrases run the risk of being overshadowed by more forward-thinking competition. The search engines continue to grow as a resource for people in pursuit of products and services and as such should be leveraged as a tool to reach customers around the globe.

Many search engine optimization companies are adept at convincing potential clients that they are the key to search engine success. With promises of top rankings in little or no time, these providers many times take advantage of their customers lack of SEO knowledge. It is vitally important when considering a service provider that they provide numerous references, specifically clients they have successfully helped with their online visibility and profitability. The underlying truth is that no search engine marketing company can truthfully guarantee any concrete enhancements to search engine rankings since the algorithms being used by the search engines is completely out of their control. However, as discussed in this white paper, there are numerous effective ways that have historically been successful in helping companies improve their search engine visibility.

Staying for the Long Haul

Search engine optimization cannot be undertaken once and then tossed aside. It must be an ongoing endeavor that is continually revised and revisited to maintain high rankings. In almost every case, a company that jumps into the SEO pool and promptly jumps out will over time be steadily overtaken in rankings by their competition. This competition better understands the core tenant that search engine rankings are fleeting if they are not nurtured over the long haul. The amount of ongoing maintenance and revision of a website and its paid placement campaigns will vary depending on the size of the site as well as the amount of competition.

The Future of SEO

With the ever-expanding role that search engines play in helping people find information, the need for effective search engine optimization will continue to grow. For both business and pleasure, people turn to search engines to guide them towards the information they seek. Though the search engines themselves may come and go, their intrinsic need will remain. Only with a dedicated and ongoing optimization effort can a company expects to attain those coveted top search engine positions.

Paul Kaufman
President
Pitch Perfect Marketing

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