Search Engine Optimization Demystified
Part 1 - The Players
Search engines like Google, Yahoo, Altavista, MSN Search, and others, have become indispensable as personal and business tools for finding what we all need on the World Wide Web. As web site owners, we know that to take advantage of this reality we must optimize our web sites for search engines. However, there is a lot of confusion, misunderstanding, myth, and even fraud in this area. To demystify this topic, and provide the tools to make intelligent, well-informed decisions for our web sites, it is useful to identify the main players, understand how search engines actually work and follow the money. By understanding the motives involved, one can get a big picture understanding of the issues. In business there is no bigger motivator than money.
There are two main players in the search engine optimization field - the Search Engine companies (like Google), and the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) companies (they are numerous, no big names stand out).
It is in the best interest of a Search Engine company to index as many sites as possible, as often as possible, and to have a ranking mechanism that will provide accurate results for key word searches on those web sites.
Search Engine Companies:
- How do search engine companies (Google) make their money?
- Primarily with paid advertising.
- Why would advertisers use a search engine's web site to promote their product?
- Eyeballs... lots of them!
- How does a search engine company get those eyeballs?
- By providing a tool (the search facility) that works really well, giving reliable, useful, relevant, and current results on keyword searches.
This bears repeating: yes Search Engines want to list your site in their index! Furthermore, they want to rank it as accurately as possible. There is no need to trick the search engines into finding or ranking your web site. In fact, several practices commonly employed to fool search engines into ranking a site higher than it should be can have quite the opposite result. Search Engine companies actively research such techniques and develop ways to counter them in the interests of maintaining the accuracy and integrity of their search results. So if the Search Engine companies want to rank your site well, why does getting good results seem so difficult and mysterious?
There are three major reasons for this:
Confusing the issue further are the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Companies.
- The exact ranking algorithm used by Search Engine companies is a closely guarded secret. So we, as web site owners or developers, cannot know precisely how to cater to it. In addition, different search engine companies may use different algorithms and they upgrade these algorithms regularly.
- The result of any web site optimization effort is always a trade off between maximizing your results for a particular set of terms and narrowing your potential scope. In other words, one cannot have both; every key word possible for your product or service, and a specific set of key words optimized to the fullest.
- The total amount of traffic to a web site is not solely determined by search engine optimization. Traditional marketing can significantly affect results and these would be difficult to separate from results derived from SEO.
It is in the interests of the SEO company to "appear" to be able to increase traffic to a web site in ways not available to a web site owner and seemingly being able to exceed the capabilities of web site designers and developers. In short, keeping the methods they use as a mystery is to their advantage.
We at Back2Front - The Web Site People, have worked with clients who have opted to use SEO companies in addition to the optimization we provide as part of our management service. We have also heard reports from new clients who have tried these services before coming to us. In both scenarios we have seen that there is rarely a perception of a good return on investment. Why is this?
- Web site optimization for search engines should be done as an integral part of the development of the web site. The way the site is built, coded, and written affects the results - often dramatically. Most SEO companies (since they usually do not build web sites) come in after the fact, and may have no control over how the site was built. Trying to optimize a web site with key word adjustments on a poorly built site is like trying to shore up the foundations of a building with more coats of paint.
- Optimization is an ongoing process, something that should be looked at regularly as part of the management of a web site. As new competition comes online and your business develops, changes should be made to your site's SEO to compensate. Most SEO companies do not have the necessary long-term association with their clients to accomplish this.
- Expectations of web site owners (partly driven by the SEO company's promises) are often unrealistic. Search engine optimization companies often charge $500 or more for their service. For this kind of money, expectations are understandably high. But know this: if an SEO company promises number one placement of your web site on Google, don't deal with them. Such a claim is misleading at best and down right fraudulent at worst. Just for fun you could ask them: "number one for what search term?" If their answer is your domain name, i.e., "back2front.ca," well duh! Of course they can guarantee that! You will get that regardless, since domain names must, by definition, be unique.
If they say they can get you number one for some good search terms, for example, "web design," then ask, "what do I get as compensation if I do not get number one?" Hope they say money, because it's a sure bet they will be paying! Think about this: this is a company guaranteeing results from a third party they do not have any control over.
With this kind of misleading information, it is no wonder that SEO is mysterious for many people. But search engine companies like Google do make public the criteria used in their algorithms and provide basic web master guidelines for successful search engine optimization. If you are curious, go check it out... http://www.google.ca
In the second part of this 3 part series of articles I will explore how the search engines actually work. Read Search Engines Demystified Part 2.
by Candace Carter, Back2Front-The Web Site People, 2008