Any business or nonprofit with a website relies on search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, to help bring new visitors to their site. That’s why we hear so much about search engine optimization, or SEO, as an important strategy to improve your website’s ranking in search engines. However, all search engines guard their secrets carefully; therefore, any SEO technique is a result of shrewd observation and experimentation. So what happens when all your best SEO strategies and techniques seem to fail?
Why all the secrecy?
First, it is important to realize that no SEO expert knows with 100 percent certainty exactly how search engines determine the ranking of their results. No one knows for sure why one site appears above another in a search result. While it seems strange that a search engine would be so secretive, there’s actually a very good reason. In earlier days of the internet, people learned that by emphasizing keywords on their websites that their sites could climb to the top of search results for those terms. Who cared if the words had anything to with the website? It was common to see websites trying to sell low mortgage rates when people were searching for the latest big news topic (or other hot search).
When people started to take advantage of how search engines worked (using this kind of false keyword stuffing and other tactics), the search engines realized that this would be of no use to the innocent web surfer who wanted to find websites on the keywords they were searching for. This is when search engines began to develop more sophisticated techniques to determine their rankings, and they kept these techniques secret to try to prevent false results. This is why no one really knows what determines a particular ranking exactly.
SEO’s place in marketing
While no one knows exactly what makes a particular ranking, there are experts who have determined, through careful experimentation and keen observations, what works and what doesn’t. Reputable SEO firms will be able to devise specific strategies for your business or organization if a better search engine ranking fits into your marketing plan. (But be careful! There are plenty of SEO “unprofessionals” as well. Read this article for more information.) Good SEO always begins with a good website.
There’s still a problem
All of this is well and good. However, there’s still a problem, or challenge, if you will. Search engines offer free, or organic, results. These are what show up in the main area of search results, what most web surfers look for. This is also what most SEO campaigns target. However, Google, Yahoo, and Bing still set the rules for how their results are ranked, and they’re still not talking.
And then there are the ads on the sides and sometimes across the top. Anyone can purchase these ads, called pay per click, and show up in the results for exact search terms they specify. This is how search engines make their money. They want you to purchase ads from them so that your website can appear under the search terms you specify. This has caused SEO expert Jill Whalen to question if Google’s search results, for example, are close but a little bit off so that web surfers will click on an ad instead of “not quite right” results to get what they’re looking for. It certainly would make good business sense to Google!
Is this really happening? Maybe. Maybe not. But Whalen’s speculation should remind anyone with a website of this eternal truth: It’s always about the customer. A top rank in any search engine should not be the end-all-be-all for any business or organization. When someone visits a website, that website needs to meet his or her needs, or that website just lost a customer. Plain and simple.
When thinking about your website, if you keep the customer’s wants and needs at the forefront, before you even think about SEO, then you’re well on your way to success.