If the concept of ‘search engine optimization’ (SEO) completely overwhelms you, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most misunderstood areas of online marketing. Like The Force in Star Wars, SEO has a dark side. It’s easy to get sucked in to all sorts of underhanded (and ineffective) strategies that promise the world to your business but actually put you at risk. So how should you approach SEO for your business? Here’s our take:

First, understand what it is: ‘Search engine optimization’ refers to the process of making your content easier to find, display and rank in Google and other search engines.

Understand what it isn’t: SEO is not witchcraft designed to magically grow your business. It isn’t a magic bullet that will fix your lack of new customers. It can help, but if you give it an inappropriate amount of investment and priority, you’re probably wasting your resources.

Before you invest heavily in an expensive SEO consultant or lose sleep over the fact that your website isn’t perfectly optimized, consider this:

  • If your goal is to rank highly on the first page of Google search results, check out this screen shot for the Search-Results-Exampleresults of a search for real estate help in Denver, CO. The top FOUR results are paid ads. This means: You could invest a ton of time and resources into improving your organic ranking, only to have all the top spots on the first page go to paid advertisers anyway. Even if you rank very highly organically for this search term your business would automatically be relegated to page two. If search rankings are your end-all, you could be setting yourself up to lose a game that’s rigged against you from the start.
  • Google changes their algorithm that chooses how search results are ranked frequently. That means: You could spend a tremendous amount of time setting yourself up to rank highly in the current system, only to have that ranking system change and immediately lose most of the traffic you spent so much time trying to earn. With SEO, you need to realize that you’re at the mercy of decisions made at Google more than anything you do on your end. What works today is not guaranteed to work tomorrow.
  • Investing in ‘shady’ SEO services, also called black hat SEO, (for example: buying links from a vendor who promises getting your page to rank higher) will actually hurt your rankings over time. Google is great at finding these shady links that try to game their system, and they de-rank all sites involved (including yours).
  • Obsessing over keywords can be counter-productive. Recent research suggests that more than 70% of the keywords Google ranks your page for are semantic, meaning this: Google decides for itself, based on the content of your page, what keywords you should rank for. Most of these keywords are not the ones you pick. Keyword lists that you can spend hours on mean less than ever in terms of how your site is ranked.

In light of all this, we’ll ask the original question again: How should you think about search engine optimization for your business? Take this as your official permission to stop obesssing over it. We advocate a ‘good enough’ approach, where you can get good results without a lot of stress or investment in expensive consulting or drifting close to the ‘dark side’. Here are a few things you can do to cover your bases to make sure Google bots can find and read your site generate some decent search traffic, without going off the deep end and allowing SEO to consume your life:

  1. Create your site on a platform like Squarespace or WordPress (with an easy SEO plugin like Yoast) to automate the majority of your formatting for search engines. Since search optimization is a built-in service, you won’t have to worry about keeping up with every little update Google makes. Rely on others to automatically roll out SEO update to your site, without paying consultants or spinning your wheels trying to keep up with every update yourself.
  2. Don’t freak out if you aren’t number one on Google search results for your particular topic. Here’s the reality: The top few results are increasingly likely to be paid spaces anyway, so it’s unlikely that you’ll ever find yourself at the top of the search results (unless you buy the space with a solid search advertising strategy). Take some of the valuable energy you’re putting towards ranking number one and put it towrads a broader strategy of getting the right people to the right page on your site through multiple online channels.
  3. Don’t ever buy links from people who promise to make your page rank higher in search results. This is a complete waste of money, and is actually detrimental to your ranking. Google is getting better at identifying these shady link suppliers. If they catch you, they’ll flag your page and won’t display it in any search results. So you actually have a lot to lose if you buy links from people.
  4. Build links the legitimate way. The best thing you can possibly do to grow your page traffic and search engine rank simultaneously is to collaborate with other quality websites in your niche. Write guest blog posts, do some media interviews, exchange content resources like e-books with other site owners, and make sure that these projects include links from other sites back to yours. The more quality links like this that point to your site, the more the search engines will love you. This is the only search strategy that will withstand the test of time and stay relevant through any future update Google may make to their search ranking algorithm.
  5. Write more. Google can’t rank you if you don’t give them anything to rank. Write blog posts or create additional web pages designed to answer the questions your potential customers are searching for. As you publish more high-quality, vauable content, you’ll see a continual increase in valuable search traffic.

Here’s the bottom line: Stop obsessing about SEO. Do the basics we mention here and you’ll be on the way to growing your search traffic. Put SEO in its proper place: It should merely be one part of your broader online marketing strategy (including refined messaging and solid email, social and paid advertising strategies). If you prioritize it above all else, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of stress and disappointment. Don’t leave your business growth entirely at the hands of Google search results. Diversify your marketing strategy to protect yourself from any rankings changes or future drop in traffic you may experience.


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