The Oft Repeated Folly
Closely working with the digital marketing team, the one thing that I come across most often is the impatient customer. This is most common in startups, for obvious reasons. Hence you have TV shows being taken off air smack in the middle of a season, ad campaigns which disappear within a week and mobile phone models becoming unfashionable and rather obsolete within a month! There is something rather heady about the entire scenario and it is difficult to not get caught up in the wave. SEO, however, is like playing chess in a market which is hell bent on playing Tracer on steroids! Often, rather too often, customers come to digital marketing teams like ours with an expectation of results within the month, even weeks and days.
What is SEO and understanding search engines
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. If I leave it at that, it doesn’t tell you much. So let’s delve a wee bit deeper.
Websites are your digital presence and also your (essentially your business’) most accessible avatar (to the customer). There are literally billions of websites and trillions of web pages, and everyone is jostling with the other for attention. Even for the most niche domains, there are hundreds, if not thousands of web pages. It is almost impossible for anyone to know about all of them. Discerning which one serves their interest best, out of the hundreds and thousands of websites, is hence out of question for the users. This is the very reason why search engines exist.
- Search engines not only provide us links to any and every page that are pertinent to a query, they also rank these links or pages based on the quality of content (read information) and its relevance to the query.
- The above is made possible through algorithms which are programmed so that they can act as an AI or artificial brain for the search engine.
The importance of search engine rankings
Whenever we type a query, the search engine’s algorithm looks for similar data as typed in by us across the entire World Wide Web. The results are shown to a user in the form of a list, which in turn is divided into several pages. The results that the search engine “thinks“ answer your query best are always at the very beginning of the list; which means that they will most likely be displayed on “Page 1“ of the search results. Since users rarely, if ever, bother to look beyond the first page, the first page of a search result, by default becomes prime real estate as far as websites/web pages are concerned.
The joke that is very common in digital marketing circles is “If you have to hide to a dead body, don’t bury it. Simply put it on the second page of Google!” It’s very simple; if you are not on the first page of Google results, you simply don’t exist. You might have the best looking website that there is and your product might be absolutely top drawer; and, yet, you will find, that someone with a half-decent product and a standard run-of-the-mill website design will end up doing better than you. Reason- He/she is on page 1, you are not! Hence, search engine optimization, or SEO!
The key to improving your ranking
SEO is the method to improve your search engine rankings organically, with the final aim being to become one of the top five or six results in that category, thus ensuring a presence on the first page of the search results. Whichever business manages to achieve that, the chances of getting visitors and hence leads and thus sales increase exponentially. Since it is organic, money doesn’t really come into the picture, since if there is one thing that search engines like Google maintain is integrity.
So while pay-per-click (PPC) ads are there, Google is arguably the most user-friendly company on the planet in the sense that it maintains absolute integrity regarding the search results. You cannot buy your way up the ladder and Google keeps updating its algorithm to reflect the best possible results. It has to do it, since the trust and goodwill that Google has earned is its biggest value proposition. It simply cannot afford to dilute its standards since its very existence depends on it. Hence, checks and balances have ensured that there is no quick and easy way to headline searches.
It requires deep knowledge about the workings of Google and other search engines and years of experience to chart a course to the top. Where search engines like Google are concerned, you don’t manipulate it; you can’t! You use it, since following best practices as suggested by Google will make your website better, and you will climb the ladder due to that. In a way, if you look at it, it’s rather beautiful and just. Hence the key is to make your website and content better and more tuned to the needs of your potential consumers rather than follow any set formula; and for that you need experience and patience.
How long does it take to rank on Google?
There are two things that you need to keep in mind.
- The entire SEO process is gradual, extremely deliberate and most importantly, permanent.
- Unlike PPC campaigns, which while having an immediate impact carry a higher risk of failure, SEO is more certain.
If the right process is followed, a website WILL go up the ladder and then it will stay there. Once a website finds itself on the first page in searches, all one has to do is maintain the ranking by keeping the content relevant and up to date. Traffic will keep coming automatically and you won’t have to worry about your budget because this is all organic traffic; hence it’s free. Since users generally tend to trust organic results more, leads that are generated through SEO have a much higher chance of conversion as well. Overall, if you are new business or you have started out on the SEO path only recently, give it at least a quarter to start showing actual results. Till then, one must be patient.
So, how long does SEO take to see results?
There is a misconception that simply stuffing your content with “keywords“ will get you instant results. Well, the problem with that approach is twofold.
- Stuffing keywords isn’t just futile, it will actually end up hampering your rankings since Google frowns upon such a practice.
- The word “Instant“ does not exist in the SEO lexicon.
When it comes to SEO, you simply have to let the tannins settle before you can enjoy a glass. There is simply no other way around it. As already explained above, you can go up the ladder only by following Google’s best practices. Another option is to go for the SEO low-hanging fruit.
Maximize your SEO results by optimizing the low-hanging fruit
When you are on a small budget or looking for quick wins, the low-hanging fruit or LHF optimization has the potential to make a big difference. But first, let’s understand what the low-hanging fruit actually is.
The cost-benefit ratio plays a crucial role in any business. That means, focusing on achieving above-average success with little effort. In the SEO-specific arena, it is all about improving positions with little effort. There are two key approaches to achieve that.
- Focusing on weak competitive search terms.
- Focusing on your ranking if you are in the top 20 positions
Analyzing the search volume of keywords and understanding the potential of URLs can help you make the changes that would make your webpages perform better.
This is where you need experienced SEO executives who will:
- Analyze and optimize your website
- Get rid of any technical glitches
- Build proper links
Also, the SEO professionals you hire should be able to adjust your metadata to improve click rates, make your headlines more relevant and work on internal strengthening of your pages.
They will then create a content calendar and ensure the timely implementation of the calendar.
The periodic table of SEO factors
In 2011, the SEO news publication Search Engine Land introduced a highly effective tool for SEO strategy: Periodic Table of SEO Factors. The table has emerged as a globally recognized tool for SEO professionals. With an upgrade in 2019, the table has further improved the way it can guide SEO strategies. Making use of the table and understanding its 6 key elements can prove to be extremely useful for improving your SEO rankings. These elements influence how Google defines the ranking of a page.
- Content: Quality, relevance, keyword density, uniqueness and substance play the leading role in determining whether or not a content piece would work.
- Architecture: Factors like speed, HTTPS, URLs and well your site is optimized for mobile devices fall under this category.
- HTML: The proper use of Schema markups, Meta tags, titles, descriptions etc. are essential to making your SEO strategy work.
- Trust: You need to gain authority over everything with quality links and shares. Also, engagement and the website traffic carry weight when it comes to gaining the trust of your target market.
- Links: Valuable links, anchors and backlinks can contribute immensely towards improving your SEO rankings.
- User: Country, locality, history, intent and experience are the major influencers of how well or poor your SEO strategy would perform.
I cannot afford to wait a quarter!
Understandable, if you are a new business, you want to hit the ground running. However does that mean you ignore SEO? Absolutely not!
As I had said before, SEO has no alternative, no quick fixes. However, a digital marketing plan rarely ever consists of one thing only. As I see it, PPC ad campaigns are incredibly useful to kick start a product, service or a campaign.
So, while your SEO executives slowly take you up, you should sit down with your marketing team and come up with PPC ad campaign ideas. By the time your SEO kicks in, PPC campaigns should be able to bring in enough leads for you to sustain in the long term. As SEO starts bringing in more leads, you can and should commensurately decrease your PPC budget, letting your organic leads take you ahead into the future.