The no bullshit guide to SEO every marketer needs
Crystal Wong explains why SEO is more than optimising for search engines, it is optimising for humans. Now is the time for marketers to truly understand SEO – without the bullshit.
I’m used to seeing people’s face freeze when I tell them I’m an SEO consultant. There’s the occasional enthusiast but, for the most part, people are either confused or sceptical. And I get it – between the prevalence of shysters and the trade’s unique lingo, it can be pretty intimidating.
But there’s nowhere to hide from the SEO challenge. It’s a fundamental reality of the digital world and – until the Google Gods decide otherwise – it’s going nowhere.
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably ready to face down your fears, to take your SEO challenges by the throat. Because that fear is what holds marketing teams back from achieving their potential and businesses back from kicking financial goals. And, sadly, for some in the SEO field, that fear is pretty handy. It stops you from asking too many tricky questions and setting appropriate expectations.
But here’s the thing. I was a pharmacist; a pharmacist who discovered a love for SEO. And as I learned about my chosen new career, I found I had a knack for it. So I have faith in your ability to develop enough of a foundational understanding, no matter what your background, that you can tackle a bit of DIY, or at the very least feel empowered to know the difference between true ROI and a bullshit metric.
We’ve all got to start somewhere.
Why marketers need to understand SEO
SEO isn’t just a critical component of effective marketing, it actually requires you to apply the same core principles. The term itself is in fact a touch misleading – and has evolved greatly over the internet’s lifetime. In reality, you’re not just optimising for search engines, you’re optimising for humans – your ideal customers. And that’s the delicate balance an SEO consultant should strike; making your website Google friendly at the same time as a well-oiled customer-conversion machine.
So, as ever, a lot of it comes back to knowing your customer and the problems they need you to solve. To that end, you can’t just throw money at SEO and expect it to ‘fix’ your customer disconnect – it’s a holistic process.
However, have the foundations right, and SEO can enable you to increase your authority and your site traffic, improve the customer experience and help you stand out from the competition. But most importantly, it can increase customers, sales and overall business growth which is what you really care about.
Top SEO tips and myths
This brings me to my top tips and pet hates. The things you need to know when you’re getting SEO ready, and making sure you’re getting value for money.
The only true metric: ROI
Google rankings aren’t actually what you should be aiming for. Hard to believe, I know. There’s an assumption that hitting the top spot or the first page on Google is the definition of success. And while it is a metric worth watching, like all marketing tactics, the only true measure is ROI – whatever that might be for your organisation. Usually, that’s sales or cash money. Ranking number one for an irrelevant keyword or a keyword that doesn’t have any search volume isn’t useful. So, my advice to you is, if anyone tries to bamboozle you with ranking brags, redirect to them to your bottom line. That, my friend, is the proof of the SEO pudding.
SEO isn’t a quick fix
SEO isn’t a quick fix, so don’t try to use it as a bandaid or believe overblown promises. That’s especially true for start-ups. If your website is brand new, it will take some time for Google to build authority. So, play the long game; invest in SEO for a return down the track, and look at some other tactics for a speedier return, such as Google or social media ads. While I would never advocate ‘cheaping out’ (good SEO is resource intensive, so it costs money) anyone who’s promising fast miracles in exchange for megabucks needs to be carefully scrutinised. It’s a laborious process and shortcuts only expose you to risk. In the SEO world, quick IS dirty and the results don’t stick!
Don’t make assumptions
This one’s more of a word of caution to fend off disappointment – don’t assume that your website is actually SEO ‘ready’. Pretty much every time I’ve taken on a new client, they’ve told me that their sparkly new website has been ‘optimised’ for SEO. Unfortunately, that seems to be a term bandied about by a lot of web designers who (with the greatest respect) either don’t know or don’t care what that really means. Fundamentally your site needs to be built with search engines in mind, making it easy for them to crawl and find all that valuable content your customers want. But, in my experience, that’s rarely the reality. So, it comes back to your SEO expert to rejig and retro-fit.
Be prepared to collaborate
Be prepared to put in the hard yards. Really great SEO is a collaborative process because you (should) know your customers intimately and are best positioned to ensure their needs are being met. Don’t expect to drop your demands into the lap of the nearest SEO consultant and walk away. Sorry!
Go it alone or hire a specialist?
If you put your back into it, you can do a great job of SEO all by yourself. Yes, you’ve got to put a bit of effort into learning, but after that, it’s mostly painstaking, routine work, and that’s why people ultimately tend to outsource. Put simply – like most skill-sets outside our core competencies – a specialist saves you the pain and will deliver better results.
Focus on what is important
If you do want to DIY, I’d suggest focusing your efforts on the most important pages of your site – usually your homepage and either your services or collections pages. Be selective on where you invest your time. Think about which categories and products are most profitable or which you have exclusive access to, and focus on improving those pages. For service-based businesses, make sure you have a separate page on your website for each of the services you offer and pour your energies into them.
Keyword research and mapping
If you’re not in the market to outsource an entire SEO campaign, I’d recommend at the very least handing over keyword research and mapping to someone who knows what they’re talking about. That will set you up to know what you’re actually optimising each page for.
Get to grips with the fundamentals
Ultimately, the best way to avoid bullshit services and bullshit outcomes is to understand the basic concepts. You don’t need to get to expert level, but you do need to get to grips with the fundamentals.
There are lots of free resources and glossaries out there that will give you a baseline understanding of how SEO works, and the terms that are being thrown at you! Equipping yourself with a bit of knowledge will protect you from unnecessary missteps – like keyword stuffing and dodgy backlinks – and help you to know when the person you entrust with your SEO goals is the real deal.
All that said, the biggest SEO mistake you can really make is burying your head in the sand and pretending it isn’t happening. SEO isn’t just the future, it’s the ‘right now’ and it’s time you stopped missing out.
Crystal Wong is the founder of Skyblue Search.