NEW YORK, NY – About twelve years ago when “search engine optimization” was beginning to get popular, a competing news publisher invited me to lunch at his restaurant to brainstorm about collaborating. It never materialized, but while there and after getting to know each other for a little while, he then turned to me, changed his posture in his chair a bit, sort of gathered his thoughts, and asked me straight out, “sell me on search engine optimization”, “what is it” and “how does it work” he asked, with a smirk and conniving smile on his face as he glanced over at my beautiful wife sitting across the table (I’m sure he was wondering what in the world she was doing there with a schmuck like me). His restaurant is now out-of-business and he sold-off his publication.
For some reason I was thinking back to that cold winter day this morning while driving to my office in Commack, NY. I was wondering what I had told him at that lunch and did it even sink in at the time? Did he act on the information I readily and very willingly handed over? Or how well did I explain search engine optimization back then? How did I articulate the actual process? Did I get deep into it, or did I even “sell him” on it at all? These are the questions I asked myself. (I probably did, as some time afterward he had hired a full time “SEO Guy”, achieved much sought after [for news publishers] Google News listings and began lurking up in the rankings and traffic.)
It was a year later before I took notice, but it had worked; I had indeed sold him on SEO that day; he bought-in, hook, line and sinker. Either that or he effectively took me for a virtual-ride, and sucked-up as much information as he possibly could at that meeting, and used it for his own benefit, all under the pretense of working together. That’s business. More power to him; I’d expect nothing less and I love helping people which is why I share as much information as possible with others, even at times, competitors; I too learned everything I know with shared-knowledge and help from others. It’s my way of giving back; and I am not threatened by the success of others.
So what is search engine optimization? How did I explain it back then, and how would I explain it now? In Layman’s Terms
Search engine optimization is the process of optimizing a website to perform better in search engines as far as where a site gets listed in a search engine – placing it higher on the results pages returned after a user types in their desired search words (“restaurants near me” for instance). The list of links that comes up (on the next page after pressing search) are all websites that match what a user is looking for (at least that is what they are supposed to be).
Optimization to a website helps it’s individual website pages or even its homepage rank higher, at the top of the search results; such as in the number one or number two spot on the list when users search for stuff online. You could, or should be able to imagine how better search engine rankings (placement higher on the list) equals more clicks and more web site traffic.
Being on top of the list is not something new.
Back in the days of the Yellow Pages, especially the older printed Yellow Pages, often times businesses which were listed first, received more calls and being that Yellow Pages were always in alphabetical order, this spurred numerous businesses with odd names such as A1 Autos, A+ Trucking, AAA Plumber, etc; their owners wanted to appear first in the list, and would name and even rename their businesses accordingly.
That’s how important being first was back then. Although the game has changed some as search engines don’t place listings in alphabetical order; they list them based on quality and as an answer to a user’s specific question (their search).
But make no mistake about it; being first is just as important if not more important now than ever before.
Getting to the virtual top of the list through search engine optimization is done by tweaking a websites pages to contain certain characteristics and elements, such as keywords and tags – both “meta tags” and today, things like “rich snippets”, which are little pieces of website code that better explain the parts of the web page to search engines and give little tid-bits of information about the items on the web page, what they are used for, and what they offer the reader of the web page, such as reviews on the page, maps, images, etc.
Search engine optimization works because most search engines, especially huge ones like Bing, Yahoo and Google, prefer website pages which contain these items and tags so that they can better understand what the pages are about, such as what the images on the page reflect, and how those images or other elements such as a PDF, links, reviews, or even just some contact details on the page would fit the persons search request, and at the end of the day, return what the user was looking for (keeping users happy with that particular search engine).
Sometimes these tags and pieces of code could simply tell the search engine that a string of numbers is definitely a telephone number or that a string of words is a physical street address or location, a longitude or latitude of a location, and/or that it is used to load a map. This way a search engine knows that someone searching for a phone number, address, or map, will definitely find one on this page; sometimes the search engine will even use it for its own map service and take it from the page for its own results.
This is the sort of SEO that web developers can add to their pages to optimize them and help search engines figure out what is on the page, and how valuable the information is on that page, and most good search engines prefer pages that make this task easier because they equal better results for all.
If a search engine doesn’t understand what a user will find on the page, or it does not feel the page will offer what the user wants, it will just return a different result which it is more confident fits better (show a different website, as in, not yours).
Since search engines are the main way people find things on the Internet, and that “traffic” to your website determines “revenue”, mastering this process has become one of the most desirable aspects of learning about optimizing and operating an Internet business, even if that business is primarily, an offline or brick-and-mortar business; if it has a website, it behooves its owners to maximize these opportunities or at least address the issue of optimization and traffic building. To not do so would be to ignore what can ultimately make your business a success or a failure.
This is why search engine optimization has become so important to not just web developers, but ordinary business owners. Today, many executives and owners want to know how to do “SEO” but is SEO even possible for the ordinary business? Is it all a fairy tale, snake-oil solution, or some scheme at getting you to spend endless amount of money? Is its cost really equal to the price quotes business owners likely receive in order to get the search engine optimization process completed?
The answer is a little bit of Yes, and a little bit of No.
I use Yes, because it is still possible to do search engine optimization, although, much more difficult then it used to be in the past. I say No, because it’s not a fairy tale, but can be that far-from-reach if you do not set realistic goals, fully understand how it works, and hire the right person to perform this extensive work for you. You must also understand that real search engine optimization is a long-term investment in your business. It doesn’t go away when it is over because it is never completed.
Instead of looking at search engine optimization as a single one-time cost, or a completed endeavor, its cost needs to be factored into your overall business operation and thus web site traffic generation for the life of the business. You do not fix SEO like you would fix a rip in your swimming pool-liner. It’s better compared to running your filter for the life of the pool. To have a clean pool which can be enjoyed at any time, you have to keep the filter going at all times, otherwise, if it shuts down for a while, you might not notice immediately, yet your pool’s water will certainly deteriorate over time, and eventually a fix will become not just desirable, but necessary. So you would be much better off just keeping it running at all times.
Realistically, search engine optimization is not something you pay for once, or even a few times, so that it works better for you tomorrow. It’s something you invest in all the time, for the life of the business, because SEO techniques, web site optimization and code-characteristics change with the times. For instance, when SEO first began to be used, “rich snippet tags” and “open graph data” did not exist, so there was no use for them at that time, but they are important add-on aspects of optimization today, especially for sites that focus on reviews, addresses, phone numbers, and other important elements of a page. This is why SEO is not done and completed one time; it’s done all the time, and it is updated as requirements change and as new search coding characteristics become desired or even required by search engines.
Search engine optimization is also becoming much more linked to a deeper socially evolving and connected Internet.
Today, social media marketing, again something you just never finish, is contributing to search engine optimization, and traffic building – both somewhat intertwined and creates a work-flow that brands and site operators need to maintain and update consistently.
There is a little war going on right now between Google and Facebook, and in some regards, each is winning a little bit. Both of them have their own adverting programs for businesses to use and both deliver massive amounts of traffic to websites depending on the circumstances. Both would also love for you to never figure things out too well – and just pay-to-play, and yet again, both will benefit from your ad dollars.
So if you are planning on being in business and that business involves the Internet, to any capacity (which most businesses do these days), start learning everything you can about optimization processes and social media, while figuring out ways you will be able to implement them, not once, not twice, but all the time, for as long as your business exists.
About The Author: John Colascione is Chief Executive Officer of Searchen Networks Inc. and Internet Advertising Inc. He specializes in Website Monetization, authored a ‘how to’ book called ‘‘Mastering Your Website’, and is a key player in several Internet related businesses through his holding company Searchen Networks®