Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short, is sometimes thought to be a very mysterious practice. Most business owners have heard the term but have absolutely no idea what really happens when they pay for SEO services. Wikipedia gives us a very succinct definition, they state that search engine optimization is:
the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results
So, SEO is quite simply ANY means by which marketers or website owners try to manipulate their ranking for certain search terms versus other websites that also rank for those terms.
Special mention is made to the fact that this only includes “unpaid” results, also known as the organic or natural results. That is because Pay-per-click advertising can get you right at the very top of the search engines, without having to go through the normal SEO process.
SEO has been around for as long as search engines have been – yes, there were other search engines before Google. As a result there is a very colorful history to search engine optimization as well as a wide array of methods to leverage it for business marketing purposes.
While SEO can be a great avenue to grow your business in Maine, it is definitely not right for every business. Design Fire has helped hundreds of businesses in Maine as well as businesses in the top 10 markets across the country leverage search engine optimization to increase their online visibility.
A Brief History of Search Engine Optimization
SEO has taken many forms over the years. Business owners recognized very early on, as early as the 1990’s, that high rankings in search engines produced greatly increased traffic levels for their websites. This led to website owners doing everything they could to figure out how search engines ranked websites – and to manipulate them.
Back before Google, there were many search engines on the web, some of which still exist today! Web Crawler is the oldest surviving pre-Google search engine, but these days it just aggregates results from Google and Bing. Other notable search engines of the time included Lycos, DogPile, Ask Jeeves and AltaVista.
These search engines relied heavily on word density in the text of a webpage to determine how relevant the page was to a given search term. As you can probably guess, this led to “keyword stuffing” and many manipulative tactics to increase the number of occurrences of a word or words on a given page. As a result, these search engines tended not to actually rank the best, most relevant web pages for a searcher’s intent.
In 1998 the face of the internet changed when Larry Page and Sergey Brin, then just two students at Stanford University, founded Google on the back of their new ranking algorithm known as “Page Rank”. The main thing they were doing differently was that they decided to incorporate the inbound links to a webpage from other websites across the web, as well as the on page factors that other search engines relied upon, as a major factor for ranking.
This worked out well for them (obviously!), and Google was returning better, more relevant results for its users than any other search engine. Over time website owners again figured out that they could trade, buy and sell links between each other to manipulate their rank in Google’s search results. Ever since its inception, Google has been constantly trying to avoid spammy, underhanded techniques used by website owners from affecting its index.
Today, Google uses well over 200 factors in its ranking algorithm. With advances in its machine learning and natural language processing capabilities, actual, useful content creation is one of the biggest and most important factors in search engine optimization today, though inbound links to a site still play a large role as well.
Maine SEO Methods
There are many ways to go about optimizing a web page to rank well in search engines. Tactics and be broadly defined into two main categories: white hat and black hat. White hat SEO uses methods in line with the recommendations and best practices advised by the major search engines, while black hat SEO uses deceptive and manipulative practices to game search engines for ranking.
The sad truth is that black hat techniques work – for a while at least. You can absolutely get amazing results this way, but at the same time, it is very likely that your site will eventually be penalized or removed altogether from search results. Black Hat SEO techniques include but are not limited to:
- Hiding content from users but allowing search engines to index it
- Buying inbound links to a website
- Inbound link farms that are controlled by the site owner
- Keyword stuffing
- PBNs (Private Blog Networks)
At Design Fire, we have committed to operating as a 100% White Hat SEO provider. We never engage in these deceptive practices. Doing so would put our client’s livelihoods at risk, and that is simply unacceptable to our team.
White Hat techniques involve creating good, relevant content around your business, optimizing it and amplifying it. It is also important to ensure your online citations are all correct and completely filled out. With Google looking at over 200 factors to rank your website, white hat SEO is just a matter of being less imperfect than your competition on those factors. We say “less imperfect” since it is very difficult to get every single factor just the way Google wants – and unnecessary. As long as you are doing it better than everybody else, your site will rank well.
The methods we use here at Design Fire are a combination of on-page and off-page optimizations that we have seen are able to provide the biggest bang for our client’s buck. These methods include:
- Proper optimization of page title tags
- Internal page linking
- Leveraging long form content on relevant subjects
- Citation management
- Creating sharable assets like infographics
- Proper usage of schema markup for websites
- Video marketing
The list certainly goes on, but by now you should have a good idea of the tactics, both good and bad that can be used to optimize your website for search engine rankings. Hopefully, you can also now tell the difference between white and black hat tactics when you see them.
Using Search Engine Optimization For Marketing
SEO as a main marketing channel is not necessarily the best way to go for every business. It takes a large amount of time, effort and money to get a site ranking well, and to keep it there. As search engines are always changing their ranking algorithms, it becomes an ongoing battle where the goal line is constantly shifting.
SEO is not a “do it once and it’s done” marketing strategy. It is a method that you have to always stay on top of and it never stops. If you were to stop optimizing your website, your rankings would quickly be overtaken by your competitors that are continuing their efforts. This is not to say it is impossible, but it is a long term strategy.
One other thing to consider if you are looking at doing SEO for your website is the return on investment of this strategy. We find that over time, SEO becomes one of the most expensive ways to market your company online. When done well, and if your business has high profit margins, the return your company gets can be enormous. But, the flip side of the coin is that a business with small profit margins, trying to rank for very competitive terms in a competitive market is unlikely to gain much benefit from dumping their marketing spend into SEO.
Is SEO Right For Your Maine Business?
We run into business owners quite frequently that want to do SEO for their websites, but haven’t really sat down and thought through all of the above information. They have heard the buzz words, talked to a few friends and everyone says they need to be doing it. They eventually get it set in their minds that it is something they HAVE to do.
That is definitely not the case! There are so many other channels and opportunities online today, SEO is just one part of a holistic approach to digital marketing. Many companies can find great success with paid advertising, social media marketing or video content marketing, just to name a few.
The best thing you can do is sit down and talk with an expert. Go over your business model with them, talk about your goals, profit margins, ideal customers and analyze your local market. SEO may be the best way to go if you are sitting on a novel business idea, or if the market is non-competitive when it comes to search engines.
If you would like to have a chat with the SEO experts at Design Fire, give us a call or fill out the form below. We would love the chance to dive in, learn about you and your business and help you make good, informed choices when it comes to your digital marketing strategies.