SEO vs. Internet Marketing, Which One do You Need?

SEO: An Acronym We’ve Learned to Live With

picture of the word SEO to illustrate search engine optimizationThere’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:

picture of google analytics screen capture


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:

 Whistle illustrates the value of a broad SEM strategy


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?


Blended Search Results: The Impact on Your Local Business

It’s now possible for you to rank well in traditional search results on Google and yet be almost invisible.  This video explains why this phenomenon occurs for some businesses, and what you need to do about it.

SEO Consultant Ross Barefoot describes the impact of Google Local search.  The result of Google’s emphasis on providing local results to searchers is that many search engine results pages are heavily impacted by something known in the industry as the Google “7-Pack,” A block of local search results that can appear above all but the top 1, 2, or 3 traditional search results.  The 7-Pack will often show up for searches that have something Google calls “local intent.”   Here are the important take-aways from the video:

  • First, you need to be paying attention.  Do a search for your type of business (for example, if you’re a general contractor, do a search for “general contractors”) to see if the Google 7-pack is a factor for your business website traffic.
  • Secondly you need to understand where these local search results come from, and why you need to treat local search a bit differently than you’ve thought of it in the past.

Although the video doesn’t give you an in-depth lesson on everything you need to know about local search optimization, it lays out the way for you to determine whether you need to take action now.


Google Webmaster Tools and Blocked URLs

A Case Study in the Subtle Meanings Behind Webmaster Tools Verbiage

photo of a checkup illustrating website health checksWebsite “health checks”  are one of the standard services we provide to our online marketing and SEO clients.  The purpose of a health check is similar to that of a check-up in your doctor’s office: to alert you to any serious problems that can and should be caught as early as possible to prevent catastrophic problems later on.

Some basic health checks don’t require advanced experience to do, and a lot of in-house webmasters and even website hobbyists can keep their finger on the pulse of their site this way.

When we try to help one of our clients become a more active partner in managing their online marketing, we will occasionally introduce them to one of Google’s most powerful customer support mechanisms: Google Webmaster Tools.  You can perform some of your own Website “health checks” using Webmaster Tools, which is the primary tool we use for determine pain points in any website.

However, if you indeed are one of those intrepid DIY’s, there is a note of caution that you need to hear: Google Webmaster Tools can be notoriously open to misinterpretation.  Let’s take for example a recent request from a client to explain why they were showing a bunch of blocked URLs in Webmaster Tools.  They were understandably concerned.   Wouldn’t you be, if you opened up Webmaster Tools and saw the following:

screen shot of Google webmaster tools warnings

Click on the image to see it larger

But hold on there, you’ve run into one of the first gotchas of peering into the Webmaster Tools dashboard, especially if you only log in once in a while.  There might be a dire warning, but check the date.  Note the next screen shot:

Expanded view of Google Webmaster Tools dashboard showing warning messages

Click on the image to see it larger


In the case of this real world example, we can see that the notice is 2 weeks old.  So how do we find out if it’s still valid?

Simple, navigate to the “Health” tab and click on the (appropriately named) “Blocked URLs” tab.

An image of the health and blocked URLs tab in Google Webmaster Tools


So now we have another intimidating warning.  This notice says that Googlebot was blocked from 35 URLs, which in this case is basically the whole site.  Not only that, but notice that date, I don’t know what it means but it’s dated yesterday, so this is really bad, right?

Once again, not necessarily.  Notice the little question mark next to the “Blocked URLs” column heading.  Well, if it’s too small here’s a larger image, and also I’ve hovered over the question mark so we can reveal its secrets:

closeup of blocked URLs informational warning

So now we know: Blocked URLs are any that have been blocked in the last 90 days.  Again, this shows that the problem might exist, or it might already be an obsolete issue.  There’s one last place to go for us to render a pretty fair decision on this, namely the “Crawl Errors” tab.  What we see eases our worries, although there’s still some head scratching that needs to be endured:

screen shot of the crawl errors tab in Google Webmaster Tools


So here we see the report from Google, showing only one lonely “Access Denied” error.  If we really had 35 pages blocked, each one would show up as triggering an error.

The head-scratching comes in when we try to reconcile these screens.  Why does the Blocked URLs tab show 35 errors in the last 90 days, but this tab, even though it is covering the same 90 days, only shows one.  And not only that, but if you try to find that error in the blue line where error events are tracked, you won’t.  The blue dotted line shows 0 errors on each of the days in this period.

So the conclusion of this is simply not to immediately jump to a conclusion based on Google Webmaster Tools warnings or errors.  Take the time to look for dates and details.  In the long run, you’ll be ahead.


SEO or Web Marketing? Is There a Difference?

Otherwise Known as “What’s in a Name”?

Indian Guru ponders SEO and Web MarketingAfter long hours of contemplation and meditation, discussion, disputation, and argumentation, and finally after consulting a guru in a lonely cave in India, we decided on a new name for our business.  We are now “Horizon Web Marketing.”  Whenever a business takes the risk of re-labeling themselves, a hundred different conflicting priorities emerge.  As well as alternate choices.

As a company, we are heavily focused on SEO, or Search Engine Optimization (if you’d like a brief introduction to SEO, check out this video and transcript).  So the obvious question might be, why not “Horizon SEO”?

The Limitations of the Term “SEO”

This is what opens up the philosophical discussion of where Internet is taking today’s business marketplace.  Obviously search engines (read “Google”) have had a key role in driving Internet traffic and dollars, so it’s no wonder that the process of optimizing a site for better visibility in search engines has become a popular, controversial, and hotly contested profession.  However increasingly it’s obvious that the term SEO, while still very valid, is a bit too limiting to describe what we need to do for our clients.

Instead of making this blog post overly long, I’d like to take a look at just one example that we were discussing around the digital water cooler today (in other words in a Skype conference call): the complementary areas of usability design and search engine optimization.

Relevancy, Authority, and now Engagement

Increasingly Google, and no doubt Bing as well, is not just looking at things like authority and relevancy in determining how much or little they want to push your site up in the search engine results pages (SERPS).  In addition, Google is looking at the quality of the content on the site.  And in their quest to better identify the “quality” websites in a set of search results and favor them, Google will look at metrics that express “engagement,” which is basically how engaged a typical site visitor is with your website.

This brings us to usability.  Your site might be highly relevant to a search term, but filled with pages and pages of densely packed and confusingly organized text.  If this is the case the fact that your page is relevant to the visitors search will mean little, because they might click away, screaming, when they see your encyclopedic content.

Or if a visitor comes to your site and can’t see the point, can’t take action, can’t wait for the page to load, or experiences any other engagement killers, you’ve lost them.  This will then, in theory, disfavor your site in the eyes of Google.

Web Marketing: the Correct Paradigm

Therefore, (and I am getting to the point now, really) when we work with a client we can’t just focus on traditional SEO techniques, we also have to work with our clients on non-SEO factors such as usability.  It seems like the best way to describe the broad spectrum of what we do for a client as “Web Marketing.”  Thus was decided our naming question.  Well, that along with a coin toss by the Indian guru.


What is SEO?

Riddle: In What Way is a Professional SEO Like Alex “Hitch” Hitchens?

In this video Ross Barefoot discusses how SEO is like a professional date doctor.  Find out more about this “Fresh Prince” take on Search Engine Optimization by either watching the video or reading the transcript.  Post any questions you have in the comments, or simply contact us for more information.

Transcript of Video

Hi, welcome to Horizon Web Marketing.  One of the things we do is SEO, and that stands for Search Engine Optimization, but even when I tell people that they don’t know what I’m talking about.  The purpose of this video is to tell you very basically and at a very high level what is SEO, and if you’re a business person with a website that’s very useful information.

Before I do that though I’m going to ask you 3 questions to qualify whether you need to spend any time with this video.

Question number 1: Do you have a website?

Next question: Do you want people to visit it?

3rd question: Do those people that you want to visit your website use Google?

If you answered no to any of those questions, you have better things to do than to listen to me.  But if you answered yes to these questions then you do need to know what SEO is and the effect it can have on your business website.  Instead of giving you a technical explanation about SEO I thought I’d rely on popular culture and use an analogy from the movies.

Have you ever seen the movie “Hitch”?  In the movie Hitch Wil Smith plays a character named Alex “Hitch” Hitchens, and Alex Hitchens is a profession “date doctor.”  What that means is, he helps awkward, unpopular guys get the girl of their dreams.

So, let’s break this down and use it to describe what we do in the process of SEO.  We do very much what “Hitch” did.  Think of the girl of your dreams as Google.  Think of the awkward, unpopular guy as your website.  Think of the SEO consultant or company, like Horizon Web Marketing, as Alex Hitchens…Hitch…the date doctor.

So, if you remember the movie (and even if you didn’t see the movie you’ll be able to follow this analogy), there are three basic steps to go through in helping the awkward, unpopular guy become the guy who will land the girl.  And the first is, to make the guy tolerable.  This is the same with your website, and it translates into something that we call in SEO making your site “search engine friendly.”  I’m not going to go into a big explanation of what that is but to say it’s to remove those things that tend to drive Google away, tend to make your site the “dog.”

Second step, after that’s done, is we need to make your website likable.  And so for the likable part we engage in a practice called “Content Development,” because after all, we need your website to be more than just a pretty face, and so you need quality content that offers value.  To the type of person who’s going to visit your site and we help you to accomplish that.

The third part is let’s go from likable to highly desirable.  Highly desirable corresponds to something we do called link popularity building.  That’s a process of attracting other websites to link to your website.  Let’s face it, if you’re the popular guy at the party you’re going to attract attention; if you’re sitting over in a corner, nobody’s talking to you, nobody’s going to talk to you.  So when it comes to your website, we do things that help your website attract links from other websites in order to raise your link popularity.

No matter what stage your website is at right now, our process as SEO experts is to take it from tolerable, to likable, to highly desirable so that you can catch the eye of that girl of your dreams, namely that pretty Google search engine sitting in the corner.

If you want more technical explanation, or if you want us to take a look at your site and see how you could benefit from the SEO that we do, please contact Horizon Web Marketing, we’ll be glad to follow up, give you a bit more explanation and, we hope, get you where you need to be.

Obviously, there’s more to SEO than this…

This video was obviously not meant to be exhaustive.  It doesn’t cover things like keyword research, tracking results, determining goals, and tons of other stuff.  To find out more, browse around our site or simply give us a call.