How Search Engine Optimization can bring eager customers to your (virtual) door
The Yellow Pages are now in the Living Dead category, feeble but still faintly visible, like air quotes, pagers and Regis Philbin. Today, looking for a new product or service begins by turning to Google, Yahoo, Bing, or the seven dwarfs. People under the age of Medicare expect more complete and current information than that offered by a phone book that starts to become obsolete while it’s still on the printing press.
For commodities like books or tickets or music, this can lead to a quick sale. For considered purchases, where you compete on more than price, it is the prospect’s first research step to create a selection set, e.g., they enter search term ____________ (your category), and then examine three links to sites that seem appealing on the search engine results page (SERP). One or more of these websites will be examined to see if it clearly satisfies the need. An intrepid, un-satisfied searcher may go on to page two. The really persistent, a couple of pages deeper.
In an ideal world, we can pretend rational decision makers study three to five competitors in a selection set, fill out a little table of benefits with check marks, and add up the results. Dream on. What really happens here on the planet Earth: the first site that seems like a fit gets clicked on. That website gets examined for suitability; if it passes muster, case closed, research stops. Being third in most selection sets is worth very little, since two competitors have to fail before you even get examined. If you show up 38th on Google? Stick a fork in it.
Once you get into a selection set, you at least have a chance. A prospect might knock at your virtual front door who is pre-sold, knowledgeable, and eager to buy. If you’re not in that set, the opportunity is lost; the odds that they’ll conduct the initial search again are slim. So here’s the key questions: Does your visibility help or hurt your chances of getting in that pool of finalists? Can people who aren’t specifically looking for you still find you when they’re searching your category? Or are you invisible?
Self-Googling Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of
What might seem a bit narcissistic in your personal life is just smart business when trying to build a brand. Try searching, not for your company, but for your category. (If you make widgets in Weehawken, do searches for "Weehawken widget," "widgets," "low-carb widgets," and so on.) Where do you appear in the results? Where do your competitors appear? In the first two results? The top ten? The top 1000? It doesn’t take much insight to realize that the top five results are going to get a lot more clicks than results seventy-five through eighty. Are you where you want to be?
We’ll take that as a No.
So. How did the web sites near the top get there? And more important, how can you get there? Welcome to the wonderful world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) where smart strategies plus hard work and clean code take you higher.
We know. We did it.
We have risen strongly, year by year. Searches with a million results still find us high on Google’s first page (the magical "top 10") … and we even reached the Holy Grail Top 5 on a number of relevant search terms. (We used to publish a list of results here of our rank against certain terms in free, organic search – not in paid, sponsored search – but since Google changes minute-to-minute, it got time-consuming to come back here to tweak the numbers every week. So let’s send you off to the Google Search box, to see if we really can walk the walk. Try searching for these terms to test out where we fall:
branding agency chicago
chicago advertising agency
SEO is only one small part of our branding services, of course: this exercise is, well, just showin’ off. We have, as they say, the chops. These results were reached after, admittedly, a lot of labor. We had to recode, reprogram and redesign our whole site (twice), and add lots of useful content that people really want to find. Luckily, our programmers eat midnight oil for breakfast.
The major search engines employ spiders (aka robots, ‘bots) that visit and index billions of web sites. Each search engine has its own proprietary method for determining which sites are the most relevant and useful ones. There are strategies you can use to make your site more appealing to those spiders, and there are mistakes that send them fleeing in panic. (If you read billions of pages a day, you’d get skittish, too.)
Four Myths of SEO
Ready to tame search engine spiders? The first task is to find out what doesn’t work:
Myth #1: Brute force will get the job done. Nope. This isn’t 1999. Just repeating a bunch of hidden keywords on your page or in your <META> tags no longer fools any search engine. The algorithms that propel search engine software have gotten far, far more sophisticated, and pulling cheap shenanigans is more likely to hurt your position than help it. (Yes, you read that right. Multiple repeating keywords can actually lower your score, the way owning 16 credit cards can depress your credit rating.)
Myth #2: Traffic is everything. Many people believe that search engines measure popularity by the number of clickthroughs, and so they "click themselves" repeatedly in order to boost their position in the pecking order. Total waste of time.
Myth #3: "I can buy a cheap and easy solution from those nice (and numerous) people who sent me an e-mail out of the blue." Oy. Forget it. Don’t fall for one of those phony-baloney "We’ll submit your URL to all major search engines" spammers. It’s a ripoff. You’re paying good money for a clerical job. Even if you did it yourself, you run the very real risk of getting positioned far lower. It’s a little like membership at Augusta National … if you say you want it, you’re disqualified. Key search engines regard repetitive submissions as a sign of desperation. (Robots smell fear.)
Myth #4: "But a Search Engine Optimization service guaranteed that they’d get me a top 10 spot on Google!" And would you like some moist Florida real estate, too? Guaranteeing "top position" is a sure sign that you’re dealing with a snake-oil salesman (well, besides his business card from "Billy and Earl’s No-Frills SEO and 24-Hour Bail Bonds"). The scam goes like this: they guarantee top position … but they pick the search term, which is so specific to you that only your mom would be likely to use it. Sure, you’d own a (very very narrow) category, but that’s like being, as they say, the tallest building in Wichita.
SEO is a more technically complex field than it’s ever been. The shortcuts to great search-engine positions have long since been spotted and crushed underfoot by the search-engine companies themselves. (It’s not nice to fool Mother Google.) Rising high means surviving an algorithm with at least 120 criteria, including
… how you write the HTML code to satisfy the spiders who crawl your site.
… how much truly original, relevant content you have.
… how well you avoid the "trip wires" that send spiders away.
… where on the page certain keywords appear.
… where your formatting instructions occur in relation to your text. If you depend on a code-writing program (Front Page, GoLive, Dreamweaver, etc., software we used to use in the good ol’ days of 2003) you almost certainly will get a much lower score from the 'bots. Sorry.
Thank goodness we have a team of people in place who monitor the battlefield day and night. Search Engine Optimization is not something you can take an hour out one time to work on and then forget. To make matters even more complex, all major search engines change their algorithms from time to time. Eternal vigilance is the price of high Googleosity.
What About Pay-Per-Click?
So far we’ve just been talking about organic ("free" or "natural") listings, which are totally separate from sponsored ("pay-per-click" or "PPC"), links. Pay-per-click has an important role to play in your brand’s overall strategy, too, and we work with clients to design pay-per-click strategies that are cost-effective and eye-catching. In most cases, it’s important to have a well-balanced portfolio. A high organic positioning, especially on a site like Google, with its reputation for returning relevant results, confers legitimacy on your brand that a sponsored link cannot. By the same token, weak search engine visibility, as for example, a newish brand, dictates a more aggressive PPC strategy.
Even if you score well versus competitors on Google, there are additional hurdles. Your messaging has to match the searcher’s needs. You have to tell your brand story well. And your online reputation might be investigated. See our discussion of How Buyers Really Decide.
Sound Complicated? It is.
There are lots of ways to go wrong, but the results you get from doing SEO and PPC well are both cost-effective and highly leveraged. A well-planned, more Googleable strategy will quickly yield measurable results: improved search engine positions and an uptick in eager (predisposed) visitors to your website. Hey, call us. We’ll explain it all; we’ll even do an audit/analysis of your current website effectiveness versus your competitors.
The truth is that there’s no substitute for real expertise and hard work to get a top position. Fortunately for you, Killian Branding offers you both the insight and the blocking-and-tackling labor. Want more branding mileage out of your search engine strategy? Call Bob Killian, brand guru (who really uses the word "Googleable") at 312.836.0050, or send us an email to start the process of making your brand more visible.