I imagine every organic traffic builder and search engine optimizer shares this dream that I have. It’s the glimmer of hope that somehow, someday, one of us will crack the code of the search algorithm and find a way to optimize our way to the top of every SERP at will. That person could write an “Ultimate Guide to SEO” that would teach people of any experience level, step by step, how to rank well in Google. They could tell every client with 100% certainty that they guarantee #1 rankings across the board with a minimal up-front investment.
Would be nice, wouldn’t it?
The sad fact of the matter is that, while there are technical best practices that can be listed and carefully abided by, there is no step by step guide that will consistently direct business owners and webmasters towards SEO nirvana. No simple or easy way to manipulate rankings to your liking that are worth the inevitable penalties they’ll cause later (I’m lookin’ at you, black hats).
OK, OK. I get it; if you are in the market for SEO services or are looking into understanding SEO on your own, you’ve most likely read something to the tune of this a hundred times, and you’re probably tired of hearing it.
This post is not about the mystery and intangible returns of organic search marketing. It’s about how to understand the overall goal of what has come to be known as “search engine optimization” so you can write content that effectively and consistently generates organic traffic.
What is SEO in marketing as we know it?
The popular opinion of SEO, from those who are not well-versed or involved in the industry, seems to be that it is a way of manipulating the search algorithm to rank desired pages highly for target keywords (WRONG). Looking at it this way, optimization seems pretty simple; you either know the secret formula or you don’t. Many a small business owner who’ve decided to begin investing in their online presence have this perspective, and many get taken advantage of.
This is where “black hats” come in. They prey off of the popular misconceptions of SEO, guaranteeing results that no other agency or specialist could. They claim to have this alleged secret formula and they’re not afraid to use it (for a price).
Don't be taken advantage of!
The problem with the old black hat approach is that Google (as well as every other popular search engine) does not like its algorithms being messed with. Search results are Google’s product, and they pride themselves on the quality of their wares. So if you think a rogue agency or consultant can outsmart some of the largest and most successful businesses in the 21st century, we wish you the best of luck. Black hats are constantly trying to outrun search engine updates and, in the end, they always fall behind. The worst part is, while they brush themselves off and move on to the next client, business owners are left with an invisible online presence and a website riddled with webspam penalties that they’ll have to start from scratch with.
Knowledge of the algorithm is only one part of the SEO equation, and assuming that it alone will drive your search marketing is about as silly as assuming knowledge of the rules of football will make you a star quarterback.
We’re still left with that burning question:
What is SEO really all about?
When I made my beginning in the field of internet marketing, I struggled with how impossible it seemed to crack the Google code. I was dead-set on the idea of technical “optimizing” or, as I saw it, learning how to bend the search algorithms at will. In all of the striving to understand and control rankings, I realized I was putting the search engine giants on a pedestal.
They were companies with goals and challenges, too, right?
I started to think about what a company like Google’s employees grappled with on a daily basis.
This consideration was pretty enlightening since it gave some insight into what really determines whether or not a page will rank organically in search engines. When it comes down to it, what makes any search engine useful or better than another is its ability to answer a question. Since it was founded in 1998, employees at Google have been toiling to find a way to get pages containing appropriate answers in front of people with questions. If we can create web pages that provide a good answer to a question or search that hasn’t already been answered in the same way a million times, that page will have a high potential to rank well for related queries.
I like the way SEO columnist Casie Gillette put the gist of this in very simple terms in her article on keyword analysis:
“... search really comes down to creating something that’s accessible, useful and important to your customers.”
If I had to break the elements of SEO down into the most comprehensive and understandable terms possible, that trinity would pretty much cover it. SEO is a process of managing the experience potential customers have with your company through search engines by creating content that is:
- Accessible - The technical algorithm-related bit. The best content in the world will do no good if it isn’t technically accessible to search engines.
- Useful - The question/answer bit. Does the web page or content answer a question or put a definitive end to a search?
- Inspiring - The conversion bit. Does the content encourage the user to continue to other pages on the site? Does it inspire curiosity in your product or service?
Answering the Call for User Intent
Search engine marketing is not all about optimizing; it’s about answering! When creating content for your website, listen to your customers and delve into the questions and concerns that matter to them. Instead of targeting keywords with optimizations, identify pain points and satisfy user intent. Rather than seeking out new customers, put yourself in a position to be found and you’ll begin to understand the true potential of SEO.
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