SEO: An Acronym We’ve Learned to Live With
There’s no doubt about it, SEO is a TLA (Three Letter Acronym) that has stuck. The letters SEO stand for “Search Engine Optimization.” I suppose I should clarify: at least in my circles it does. Depending on your career choice it could also stand for Sewage Enforcement Officer, and many SEO’s do seem to shovel a lot of, er, well, sewage. But that’s the subject of another blog post I suppose.
However, even when it comes to the world of Google, Bing, Yahoo and “the rest,” I believe that most people use SEO a little too freely. In my 10+ years of experience as a search marketer and web developer, I’ve noticed that “SEO” has become shorthand for something that goes beyond the realm of search engine optimization.
Let’s start with the gritty task of defining Search Engine Optimization. If you come to this blog post with a business-person’s mindset, you might think that it has something to do with making a search engine as good as it can be – in other words, “optimum.” Ah, but there you would be wrong. The term has nothing to do with search engines doing a good job, and has everything to do with you showing up well on the search engine results pages. In this context, SEO means making your site perform at an “optimum” level in search results when compared to your competitor’s websites.
A Definition of SEO
Here’s what web dictionary Webopedia has to say about SEO:
Search engine optimization is a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine (SERP) — including Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines. (Emphasis is mine)
I would tend to agree with the above definition. Unfortunately, that’s not usually what a company needs in order to succeed on line. Or at least let’s say it’s not the only thing that a company needs on line.
Let me use a real life example from one of my clients. In this case the client has a high-performing website devoted to a very specific market niche, namely workplace safety training. In the 4th quarter we had a number of popular pages, but I want to discuss the 3rd most popular page, as illustrated in this screen capture from Google Analytics for that period:
Great SEO, Lousy Business Results
By the standards of Webopedia, this page had a great SEO return. I’ll tell you right away that the client’s site ranked number 1 for a highly competitive term that landed directly on this page. So their visibility on search was terrific. Not only that, but the net result was a large number of visitors. High ranking placement in the search engines, an increase in the amount of visitors. Isn’t that what Webopedia was talking about? Doesn’t that seem like an SEO success story?
Hold on there for a minute. Here’s the proverbial rest of the story. The search term that this page ranked highly for was “whistle.” And the page itself showed nothing more than the following picture:
What does the whistle have to do with my client’s business? Absolutely nothing. So what happened with all those visitors that followed the search result to my client’s website? Right. Absolutely nothing. They bounced. Actually it was worse than nothing, because bounces and short engagement can actually hurt your long-term performance in search results.
Beyond SEO: the Crying Need for Web Marketing
This illustrates the difference between SEO and Web (or Internet) Marketing. Web marketing doesn’t care about search engine visibility or visitors…UNLESS they bring more results to a client’s bottom line. For this reason most businesses really need an Internet Marketing professional who knows how to do SEO as merely one part of the service he or she offers.
In my experience, most businesses need the following services more than they need a merely mechanical approach to search engine visibility:
- Definition of their Website value proposition
- Market research in the form of “Keyword Research“
- Conversion rate optimization
- Engagement strategies
- Allocation of marketing dollars to achievable priorities
The list could go on and on. Suffice it to say that your business most likely needs SEO as only one of several Internet marketing services. (If you’d like a bit more explanation about each of the above terms and how it might affect your business, please give us a call.)
At this point naturally I’d like to sound the horn for Horizon Web Marketing. Unlike companies that care only about search engine visibility and traffic, we care about whether you succeed online. Isn’t that what you’re really after?