By Brendan Moore

Discussions with Cedar Point Consulting clients about SEO (search engine optimization) almost always involve some sense of urgency, that is, “We have to get organized around this search engine stuff so that customers can find our business online,” combined with befuddlement as to just how that happens.

To those companies that hire another company (or many times, someone’s “computer whiz” friend or nephew – no, I’m not kidding), their lack of knowledge about SEO and how it works is often replaced with misinformation about SEO. This is either because whomever they hired doesn’t know what they’re doing, or, more likely, gives the client company only the briefest of explanations about what they’re going to do and why. Because the client doesn’t know enough about SEO and the internet to begin with, they are unable to “fill in the blanks” and process the answer from an informed point of view.

With that in mind, here is a primer of things you may wish to remember about SEO that are wrong:

We’re No.1: Having the #1 ranking in a search engine is not the achievement that many make it out to be. There are a few reasons I say this; the first one being that having a No. 1 ranking is only effective as long as you’re not spending too much to get there. Like any other sort of marketing, if the money you have to spend on keywords or contextual advertising or, anything else, drives your account acquisition cost to a level higher than what makes sense, then you have achieved a phyrric victory. Second, it is a fact that searchers on the internet look at groupings of three to four search results, not just the top result. It is quite possible you could spend merely half the effort and money needed in order to get the top ranking, and get the No. 3 ranking instead, and have a much better cost-per-acquisition, and, still have more customers than you know what to do with. Third, a great header and description goes a long way towards generating a click-through if your company is fourth on the list as opposed to first. Lastly, even rankings and click-throughs together can be deceptive. If searchers are getting to your site and staying only 15 seconds before abandoning their visit, then something is very wrong. Your search-to-sale numbers are going to be extremely poor. Either you have paid for the wrong search words or your site needs a serious revamp in order to accurately reflect what you sell or what you do for a living (shameless plug – Cedar Point Consulting can definitely help you with either of these problems).

Page Rank is important: Well, sorta, but not really. Before Google had a lot of money and internal talent, this was the rudimentary way they ranked sites. The Google search engine is much more discerning now and uses highly advanced algorithms when operating, so it’s now all about relevance when search words are typed into the Google search bar. The current level of discernment will pull up a lower ranked page first if the relevance of the search word is deemed to be greater with that lower ranked page.

Trading links with other sites is valuable: No, it isn’t. It has no effect. And, furthermore, if you do it enough to trigger the internal checking mechanisms for link-trading that exist within all the major search engines, it could get your site blacklisted on those search engines. This means your business site will not ever show up in any search results. So, then you have a case in which trading links produced negative value to your business.

Repeating keywords as often as possible on the site is important: There are a lot of terms I’ve heard SEO “experts” use for this; phrases like “keyword shock and awe”, “keyword stuffing”, “keyword blitz”, “keyword density”, “keyword jamming”, etc. Some of these people reported to me, so I’ve heard these terms a great many times. The premise is pretty simple; if you’re in the plumbing business in Cleveland, then you make “plumbing” and “Cleveland” show up thirty times on your homepage. But, this doesn’t work. Again, as in the example I gave concerning rank of your page, the search engines are much more precise and selective than this, and all this loading up on a keyword (or two) is going to do for your site is make it seem disjointed and awkward and like it was written by an obsessive 10 year-old. Write good copy (or hire someone to write good copy) and you will be rewarded. The search engines use the same criteria most human beings use to pick a page, and you’re much better off being descriptive about your business and its capabilities.

Unless you’re Wal-Mart or The New York Times, SEO is all just a crapshoot, anyway: Nope, simply not true. There are things that even small companies can do from an SEO perspective to increase visits to their sites, and increase the time spent on the site. There are also things every company can do around the design of their site to increase contact rates or sales. Lastly, there are ways to increase the useful content that resides on your site, whether that is through frequent updates, writing a blog, buying or getting relevant content for free and reprinting on your site, etc. The beauty of SEO is that it is self-fulfilling: the money and time you spend on driving more traffic to your site pays off in that you get more site traffic, and it also pays off in the future as more site traffic pushes your site higher up in the search results, which means that more people will get your site in the search results, which means that more people will visit your site, which means that more people will get your site in the search results, which means… well, you get the idea here.

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting, a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area, where he advises businesses in marketing, sales, front-end operations, and strategy. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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