Novices tend to think SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is all about getting your website to the top of the first page of Google Results. Unfortunately, focusing solely on what happens when you type your favorite phrase into a search engine can be both frustrating and misleading.
SEO Tips: Perception vs. Experience
Did you ever hear the story of the businessman who was pulled over by a State Trooper? When told he had been going more than 20 miles per hour over the limit, the man gestured toward the traffic zipping by and quite reasonably observed “Officer, everyone out there is doing the same thing!”
Unimpressed, the trooper asked a question of his own. “Sir, have you ever gone fishing?” “Yes, of course,” the speeder answered, somewhat confused by the turn of conversation.
“Well,” continued the officer as he handed over the ticket, “did you ever catch all the fish?”
SEO in Practical Terms: You Can’t Catch All the Fish (But You Don’t Have to)
By some estimates there will be 90 billion search queries in 2012. Now think of all that Internet traffic as uncountable schools of fish in a sea teeming with aquatic life. Whether you have a fishing fleet, a trawler, or just a boat with a few good lines, you can catch something. But catching the right thing may be the difference between success and failure in business.
Let’s put this analogy to work. Your website is your boat, the content (what’s on each page) represents the fishing lines, and your keywords are the bait. Web statistics let you know if you’ve caught anything. (A visit counter won’t do – you need to know what phrases people entered into a search when they found your site. If you do not have a web stat program on your server, install Google Analytics to get this information.)
OK, assuming you can fire up your statistical/analytical program and get a look at the fish you are already landing, the question becomes: what are you catching?
SEO Strategy: Catching the Right Fish
Recently we redesigned a website for a manufacturer of screw machine parts. Looking at the stats before we made any changes showed the traffic they were receiving was largely from searches about “metric conversions” and a variety of related phrases, including “metric to English charts.” This was like a fashion shoe shop showing up in queries for bunion therapy. Both may be related to the foot, but bunion sufferers are probably not the best customers for fashion footwear.
In short, the screw machine website had been accidentally optimized for the wrong phrases. It was using the wrong bait.
In the redesign we made sure that page titles, page descriptions, metatags, and on-page content all reflected keywords that would be useful to the site. A look at the web statistics today shows this site is being found for hundreds of phrases related to its actual purpose. These include “precision machine products” and “grinding and turning of large parts.”
No, the site is not at the top of Google results for every keyword they would like, but let me stress- the site now is found for hundreds of phrases by thousands of visitors for keywords directly related to the products and services they sell. This is one of the most difficult psychological points to overcome, but you need to look at what’s actually happening on the site, not what happens when you type in some word or phrase over which you are obsessing.
It is, of course, fair to look at what’s happening with your actual sales too, but even that won’t convince some people. We’ve encountered clients whose business has grown significantly after optimizing their site, but since they don’t see results at the top of Google for their particular obsessive phrase, they don’t think the optimization is as successful as it should be.
SEO is Ongoing: Fishing Never Ends
Whether you’ve caught a record trout or just spent an afternoon with your line in the water, if your entire fishing experience is limited to a single day , no experienced angler would ever take you seriously.
Similarly, SEO is about a lifetime of trips to the lake. It’s about exploring different fishing holes, trying out new baits, and listening closely to the old timers for tips and tricks you can use along the way.
That means making a commitment to pay routine attention to your website’s success over time. Even if you are getting good search traffic now, changes out in the world, including the activity of your competition, will affect things over time.
If a new species enters the lake and drives out the local catch, you may need to adjust your lines and bait. You may even need a bigger boat.
One thing we tend to recommend is finding a way to increase the informational depth of your site. Remember, making a new page is like throwing out a new line, and that line can have its own keyword bait.
For example, we work with an attorney’s website that continues to grow over the years with routine additions of articles on bankruptcy, child custody, injury claims, etc. These days, those articles bring in a hefty chunk of the search traffic for the site.
(Yes, searches end up on those pages directly. All searches and all visitors DO NOT start on your home page. We have seen websites where less than 13% of overall traffic came in on the home page.)
Each new article or new service page may only bring in a handful of searches each week or each month. But all together they add up. Another thing to consider is that those searches are very specific, and their focus has value. Going back to our example, if you are a young mother looking for an attorney who understands the ins and outs of child support, what will prove more compelling – the home page of a lawyer’s practice, or a page/article speaking directly to your individual situation? In such a case, the page/article makes the sale, with the home page merely providing validation information.
SEO Take a Way
Comparing SEO to fishing teaches us some very important fundamentals. Like fishing, search engine optimization is an ongoing practice, not a one-time event. Like fishing, the more lines (pages) you set and the more baits (keywords) you try the greater the odds of catching something. Like fishing, you need to monitor your success and make changes based on experience until you catch the kind of fish you want.