SEO, SEO, SEO. If you’ve done any sort of online marketing in the past five to ten years (and of course you have) then you’re probably familiar with the concept of search engine oprtimization (SEO).
Also called search marketing, SEO is the science (or art) of getting a website to the number one spot on a Google search. Sure, there’s also Bing, and Yahoo, but most searches are performed through Google, so if you want people to visit your website (and buy stuff), you need to make sure they find you when they search Google.
As the 2000s wore on, search engine marketing got more and more complex, and many people got good at gaming the system — that is, to rig it so that their sites would always top Google searches, whether or not they even had anything of value to offer. So, Google got in the habit of changing its search algorithms every few months, to thwart these parasites (and, no doubt, to keep everyone else on their toes, too).
The rise of social media like Facebook and Twitter has changed SEO’s dominance in online marketing a bit. In 2010, Facebook became the Internet’s most-visited website, beating out Google for the first time. Attention began to shift. Many online marketers began to focus more on social marketing than search marketing.
And as for SEO in 2012, well … that game’s gotten a lot harder. Google has worked to personalize its searches, meaning that searchers find results specific to them, and not universal to the entire Internet. That upends the traditional SEO game plan in a huge way, although it’s arguably beneficial to small businesses, since it favors more local searches.
Over at Search Engine World, Adam Stetzer wrote a great piece outlining in more detail just why small businesses hate search marketing. To wit:
- “The Rules Keep Changing.” Every year — in fact, several times a year — Google changes its algorithm. And nobody knows what those algorithms are in the first place. So, even if you have great SEO today, it’s unlikely you can maintain that top spot unless you work at it every day.
- “The ROI Calculation Is Difficult.” The standard advertising complaint, but still a big red flag for many economy-minded small business leaders. “According to Google’s rules, SEO vendors can’t promise ranking,” Stetzer writes. “Therefore, vendors can’t really promise ROI. In what other business is that acceptable?”
- “Fear of Ending Up on Google’s Blacklist.” If the SEO expert you hire uses “black hat” methods that don’t have Google’s official sanction, you run the risk of having your entire site blacklisted and banished from Google altogether. Remember what happened to JCPenney last year?
- “SEO Seems Overly Technical.” It doesn’t help that most experts speak in an ever-changing jargin that’s probably designed to elevate their perceived value. And it needs frequent updating; most small businesses simply don’t have the time to do it — or the resources to hire an expert.
- “SEO Doesn’t Work.” Particularly if you’re just starting out with SEO, you’re facing a ton of challenges. It’ll be hard to grab that top spot on Google; you’ll have a ton of competition. “On a competitive keyword phrase you can be looking at years of effort to make it to position 1, if ever. For a Fortune 100 company with billions of Wall Street dollars at its disposal, this may be OK. But not on Main Street.”
What do you think? Do you work to make sure your company’s website ranks high on the search engines? Is SEO an issue for you — or do you dismiss it, or perhaps focus your online marketing efforts elsewhere (like Facebook or paid advertising)?
Nathan Denny is a professional writer who’s published articles on business, technology, politics, travel, and many other topics. Contact him at email@example.com.