When it comes to your health you have two options – in the UK, at least. You can rely on the National Health Service and hope that the free resources of your local doctor will keep you healthy, or you can pay to go private.
Either way, you need to know someone is looking out for your health. Generally, if you pay, you get a better quality of care, you are more likely to use the services of the medical profession and you will get access to better specialists.
Search engine optimisation is a bit like that. If you think of SEO as a doctor, rather than as a sales person, you start to realise it brings benefits that are often unrealised.
There is a common misconception among marketing managers that SEO is all about lead generation. “I pay you X, I need to see X in return.” This thinking is short-sighted. Some clients believe that SEO companies are simply agents for Google – client pays the SEO company, who then pays Google for rankings.
Search engine optimisation is not something that can be delivered in a box, or created in isolation. If so, you can bet that Amazon would be all over it.
You can’t call the doctor and tell them you are ill and expect them to fix you over the phone. Neither can your doctor send you happy thoughts each day in the hope that you will stay in peak physical condition. He needs to work with you, to keep an eye on your vitals and to help you look after yourself.
Let’s think of another analogy – is it possible to leave a garden unattended? Can you throw down some seeds and then just wait to see what happens, enjoying the result of your action for years to come?
Weeds grow, bugs infest and plants become unruly and entangled until, instead of a horticultural heaven, you end up with a tangle of overgrown confusion. If a public park is untended, it will become an eyesore and people will stop using it.
Think of SEO like the doctor who keeps you healthy or the ground keeper who keeps you weed free and tidy.
Another understandably common perception about SEO is that it is about making a website appear “at the top” of Google. This is one of the biggest reasons for a misunderstanding between an SEO “deliverer” and an SEO customer – it is not only about climbing up the search results. SEO is also about STAYING in the search results.
While your website is sitting there unloved, unfed and ageing, your competitors’ websites are having new content added to them which is being promoted on social media, bringing in more traffic. They are giving the search engines lots of reasons to keep re-indexing new content. If you are doing nothing while your competitors are active, you might drop back.
Google and Bing change all the time. The way the algorithms work this month may mean you appear beautifully at the top of the results for all your favourite keywords, but next month a paradigm shift could mean you become persona non grata.
Real, true, honest SEO will help you match Google’s ideal scenario – where a website is useful to an end user and relevant to a search term. Good SEO advice will help you ensure your website meets this criteria rather than focusing on short term tricks that game whatever works on Google this month.
If you believe SEO is something you buy, where you just leave your experts to get on with delivering you positions, think again. You can’t hire someone to decorate your house then go on holiday and not give him the keys – you can’t hire someone to do SEO and then not be involved in the process.
There are SEO companies that will tell you they can get you better rank without doing much to your site – they will be doing a lot of link building. The problem with link building is that it is fluff. It is gaming Google and perhaps one day all those links will be ignored by Google and therefore your ranks will disappear.
Why do you need SEO? To get a better position on Google? Why do you need a better position on Google? To get more traffic? Presumably you want more traffic to get more customers. I try hard to reinforce the idea with clients that the key metric with SEO is whether you are getting more business.
It’s not necessarily about getting one keyword up from page two to page one, it may be about getting a lot of new traffic from keywords you didn’t benefit from before, because you created a whole load of new content.
It may be about improving landing pages to boost retention, or getting Google to point to better pages that work better for conversion, instead of your home page.
In short, if you want to compare SEO agencies, consider how much they will want to engage with you and talk about your whole business compared with those who just say they can get on with it without you being involved.
SEO does bring short term benefits – the kind that allow marketing managers to measure SEO. For example, if you pay £3,000 per month to a search engine optimisation company over a period of six months, you can measure the traffic to your website and how many leads or sales this traffic generates.
That kind of ROI is absolutely valid, but if it is the only measure by which you judge the value of SEO, you are missing some vital elements in the health of your website.
The graph above shows the organic search traffic for a website where Vertical Leap performed SEO for 12 months. The orange graph is the year prior to our work starting, the blue is the graph over the year of our activity. This was a 51% increase.
In the year after we stopped working on the site, you can see further gains happening, even without much else being done on the site.
At the end of the second year, organic search traffic was 172% higher than the year before we worked on the site.
If your agency is still talking to you about keyword rankings and link building, it’s definitely time to carry out an SEO audit on your website. Call our team of SEO experts today on 023 9283 0281 and we’ll be happy to check if you’re in good health.
Steve (RIP) was Services Director for Vertical Leap. He started professional life as a magazine journalist, working on music magazines and women's titles before becoming a web editor in 1997, then joining MSN to work purely in online publishing. Since 1999 he has worked for and consulted to a broad range of businesses about their digital marketing.