Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a vital component to any successful business’s digital marketing strategy and it’s also one of the most rewarding components with an excellent return on investment (ROI). But for an outsider, it’s also a daunting aspect of marketing online that’s difficult to understand and can often be seen as a nebulous concept that can be ignored. However, while the term SEO might find it’s way into a lot of conversations with your website developer, its not because its a wishy washy term that the industry likes to overuse.
It’s because modern SEO has an incredibly wide scope, and so many of the actions that a business takes online can have an impact on their website’s viability in search results. This scope can be sorted into two overarching kinds of SEO:
- Onpage, that is optimising the pages that make up a website to improve their visibility in search results and;
- Offpage, that is increasing the visibility of your website and its pages through increasing the number of references to it as well as their average quality.
When talking about SEO its important to understand that it is not just a science but rather a hybrid of science and art that is constantly evolving. As a result, its impossible to reproduce the same results when doing SEO between websites, because external (like competitors) and internal factors (like content & industry) can be so influential. This ultimately means that we know that certain actions that impact a website can result in a negative or a positive outcome, but we can’t quantify the exact outcome of any single SEO change or practice.
The main driver of this ambiguity beyond the external and internal factors already mentioned is that search engines are the dominant gateway to websites; and how these search engines individually decide what websites show up in search results and their positions in those search results is not known. The reason for this lack of information and general secrecy is because search engines don’t want to reveal their competitive advantages but they also don’t want people to exploit their search engine algorithms. As a result, we only know what works through trial and error, as well as search engines like Google hinting at possible ranking factors and their weighting. In total, there are over 200+ ranking factors all with varying weighting that helps decide how your website will performance in search results.
So when we talk about offering SEO services, we are referring to improving how your website scores for these 200+ ranking factors.
So what are the benefits?
As you might have guessed from the above content, the benefits are going to vary dramatically between each business and their websites. For some businesses, SEO is a going to be an ongoing expense with often frustrating results. For others, it’s going to be a very cheap way of increasing sales. The general cause or term for the latter is called niche marketing, where one or more search results are undeserved or completely ignored by competitors. For example, being in the industry that we are in, the likelihood of being on the first page results for “website design Hobart” is very unlikely because we would be competing against 100s of other equally skilled website design companies. While for other keywords, that we keep secret to avoid our competitor’s attention, we rank number 1.
If you want to know if either onetime or ongoing SEO services is right for your business and industry, you can ask your current developer and they should be able to provide advice as to their benefits for your business. Generally speaking, a reputable website design business will not give misleading advice as to the suitability of SEO services because of self interest and hopefully also ethical considerations. However, decision makers should be extremely careful of choosing the services of SEO dedicated companies that you have no prior experience with, particularly those that have contacted you via email. This is for a variety of reasons, but typically the short term results that they provide often fail to yield a positive return on investment and they often use questionable methods to achieve these short term results that if discovered by search engines like Google could result in your website being blacklisted for an extended period of time from search results.
A real world example of the first steps involved in SEO
Now this all might seem very technical and dry, and so I am going to show how this works in practice with a real world example for a client called Bruny Island 4×4 Forest to Coast Adventures:
The first step is to consider what organic searches might be made that could be beneficial to rank number 1 in for the purpose of driving customers to our website. The must common mistake at this stage is making assumptions about what customers want. In this case, we can’t assume that people are searching for 4×4 Tours Bruny, they might even search for 4wd tours in the huon for example. Using this example, the tour services that Bruny Island 4×4 offer are just as relevant and likely desirable to tourists looking for general tour companies in Southern Tasmania but their not going to showup on the first page.
When we choose an organic search term like “Bruny Island Tours” and look at the hard numbers from Google itself in the last 12 month period we get the following search data:
We can see that seasonally speaking demand peaks in December and January, but we also see the emerging trend of the winter downtime being a thing of the past, with August being the only clear downturn. Now that we have this data, we have to consider the impact of user behavior beyond simply searching for Bruny Island Tours. When we look at the search results the top 5 lists shown to people searching from Hobart are:
We know that the first result gets 32.5% of all the search traffic, 17.6% goes to the 2nd and 11.% to the 3rd result. Now for this particular example, the Bruny 4×4 website is on the 4th page, so its easy to anticipate the volume of traffic that it will get. Looking at the data we know that less than 0.4% of searchers will ever go to the 4th page. Therefore when we go back to figure 1, we can determine that for the month of December where 170 people searched for bruny island tours only 1 person searching would ever reach the page that the Bruny 4×4 website is shown on.
Now, what contributes to this poor performance? If we use a very simplified grading system with A+ being the highest we get:
These 5 categories above relate back to the 200+ ranking factors we referred to before. We can see that there are a variety of factors that can be improved to yield better performance, chiefly social media content, and the website’s performance. But how does this compare with the top ranking website in our example search result?
We can see that from a technical perspective the Bruny 4×4 Tours website achieves a better result than the top ranking website in search results. But all these scores are chiefly concerned with onpage SEO, the biggest impact on how the Bruny 4×4 website performs is the lack of back links to it. What is a backlink? A banklink is just where another website links to your website. Google and other search engines use this as a method of determining the desirability and credibility of your website. In the case of the Bruny Island 4×4 website, it only has 1 link to it, from our AIC Technologies website. In contrast, the number one result has 100 page links from very credibility sources such as local and international newspaper articles. As well as some very synthetic looking links that likely exist solely to boost SEO. You can view the complete list here.
So using this worked example we are able to see that Bruny Island’s performance in search results and therefore its ability to attract more customers can be achieved by:
- Improving the performance of the website
- Improving its social media presence
- Refining its technical onpage SEO and;
- Most importantly, increasing the number of links to the website from other websites
Now, of course, this quick worked example, is only looking at one single search result, and perhaps the most competitive one of all. While in practice, any SEO changes would yield benefits on every search term searched by possible customers; and as I demonstrated improving where the website sits in search results by just one position can yield incredible results over the space of 12 months.
Note that with the search result example, we choose to use search data from just Hobart and its surrounding area to keep numbers much smaller in anticipation of a much larger and technical article. If we look at the same search result (Bruny Island Tours) for the entire world we get the following search data:
We can see that the same trends and observations are apparent but the peak in December for the search term Bruny Island Tours for the entire world rather than just from Hobart is 1300 searches. Therefore over the space of a year, the benefit of improving the SEO of the website even if it results is just one additional group booking is going to result in a positive return on investment.