It's important to think about SEO when planning your internet marketing efforts, but be cautious when considering an SEO consulting agency.
If you’re building a new website, or looking to bring new visitors to an existing one, your natural inclination might be to consult an “SEO expert” with dubious tactics to help with optimizing your content for Google and other organic search engine rankings.
Unless you’re a huge e-commerce site, don’t: For most businesses, it’s not a good use of marketing dollars.
In the early days of Google, companies could game the system by filling their pages with nonsensical articles that repeated the same keywords over and over, and buying and trading links with completely unrelated websites. These days, it’s game over for companies that don’t play nice: Google’s recent Panda algorithm update punished “content farms” like EHow and Demand Media, and the search engine is about to launch another attack on overly-optimized pages. Google’s made it clear that it’s prioritizing content that’s designed to appeal to human readers, not robots.
If you wanted to buy a wedding ring in Austin, Texas, would you be Googling “buy wedding ring Austin,” or would you be searching for “purchase a jeweled token of my everlasting love”? If you're a jewelry store, you're likely to have far better results by targeting users with the first set of keywords. In general, good SEO is simply about choosing the simplest, most intuitive words and phrases that people will be likely to use when looking for a company like yours, and using those terms in the headline and story summary instead of trying to be overly complex or clever. Take advantage of free tools like Google’s Keyword tool to see what people are searching for, and educate yourself with the wealth of information available at sites like Copyblogger, Search Engine Land, SEOMoz.
Never trust anyone who claims to guarantee you a first-page Google result for a particular term: If it can be done, it’s either a term that hardly anyone is searching for, or they’re using shady tactics that are likely to hurt your site in the long run. Increasing your pagerank mostly comes down to the effort you put into both creating and promoting your content. It’s all transparent—no magic tricks involved.
While search-engine optimization shouldn’t be ignored, it’s a small part of an overall content strategy that should include a focused approach to topic and format selection, social media promotion, blogger outreach, article syndication, guest-posting, and other important elements. Including relevant keywords in your articles is important, but if those keywords aren’t placed organically in high-quality articles, they won’t do you much good. As Brian Clark of Copyblogger writes in his helpful free e-book, “Google won’t treat you as relevant until others do first.” While choosing good keywords is important, your main goal should be in creating compelling content that provides genuine value to readers and will attract links and attention from influencers within your target audience.
So are all SEO agencies bad? That’s not what I’m saying at all: You’ll find a decent number of search marketing consultants who understand the importance of creating high-quality, highly relevant content that uses key phrases in moderation, and promoting that content through legitimate efforts. However, if you’re working with an agency, choose one that focuses on helping you build a comprehensive content strategy instead of focusing on keywords alone. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a site that even the robots won’t want to visit.
Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than a decade.
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