Searching smarts

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Back when I was still in high school, my buddy and I started a lawn care business. I still work for our company when I’m home during the summer, and my friend works there full-time (he’s not in school anymore). I’m busy with school, so my friend is in charge of the day-to-day business these days. That includes our website. He’s not a tech guy, so he outsources that work. Lately, he’s been paying a contractor for “SEO.” Our company doesn’t show up very high on Google results (not even for our own company name!), and apparently this work will make us “easier to find on Google.”

I don’t blame my friend for outsourcing the tech work, but I’ve never heard of SEO before and I don’t know if what the contractor is promising is possible. Is it? What is SEO?

While I cannot vouch for the specific contractor that your friend has hired, I can assure you that SEO is very real – and absolutely vital for modern businesses. SEO is short for “search engine optimization,” and it’s the art and science of making your company’s web presence as search engine-friendly as possible.

That is a very important thing, as you might imagine. Experts know that modern consumers use technology to make decisions. About 68% of us carry smartphones around, and still more use technology in other ways, such as on laptops or tablets. Customers use search engines to find everything from food to auto shops, and moving up higher on the search engine results page (insiders call it the “SERP” for short) can mean a lot to your business. Google fields 3.5 billion queries a day, and that is to say nothing of Bing, which is the next-largest search engine by search volume (Bing has 9.9% of the market, while Google has 79.8%). And 88% of the search traffic on these sites goes to the “organic” results (the ones that aren’t ads), say the experts at Bambrick Media. Of those, the most-clicked ones are near the top.

Google and Bing have a goal, of course: they want their users to find whatever it is they are looking for. But by figuring out how Google and Bing do this, experts can discover strategies that help companies move up the SERP (“search engine results page” – remember?).

We say “figure out” because Google and Bing keep their methods largely a secret. But SEO pros know what works and do extensive experiments to track changes in Google’s secret algorithms. Google and Bing read the text of your page, so we know that keywords matter. SEO pros are the ones who figure out just how many times keywords should appear in the text. They also track things like Google’s “conversational search” efforts.

Of course, good SEO and good website content go hand-in-hand. But some decisions matter more to SEO than they do to the customer. For instance, the very name of your company has SEO implications. A descriptive name like “Provo Auto Parts” has some SEO advantages, because it puts your keywords right in your name. It also has risks, because other companies attempting to draw in Provo-based auto parts customers will focus on those same keywords, potentially leading to a problem you mentioned: other businesses outranking yours in searches for your own brand name! By contrast, kitchen appliance firm Dacor doesn’t have to worry as much about protecting its home turf (few other companies would want to rank for “Dacor”), but has to try correspondingly harder to rank for kitchen-related keywords. The same questions arise with URLs (after all, there is nothing to stop you from naming your company “Ted’s Discount Parts” but reserving the URL “ProvoAutoParts.com”).

Ultimately, it is up to each individual company to decide how much to invest in SEO, which strategies to use, and which trade-offs to make. But you can be sure of this: SEO is very real, and it is something that your competitors are no doubt looking at, too. Perhaps you should speak with your friend and try to learn more about how he and his contractor are tackling the problem.

“Ask your customers to be part of the solution, and don’t view them as part of the problem.” – Alan Weiss

Written by Suzanne Hite, former publications editor serving the technology services sector.

 

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