Search engine optimization is a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine (SERP) https://www.webopedia.com/TERM/S/SEO.html
Being found in search can have a huge impact on business, so it’s no wonder that SEO is a very competitive and lucrative industry.
While most small business owners and operators know this, most business owners also worry about whether they are doing the right things for SEO, or what they should be doing, or if they should be hiring people to work on their SEO.
I’m going to suggest an alternative perspective. In my opinion, small businesses should not be focussing on SEO. If this sounds a little counter-intuitive, keep reading, and I’ll explain.
I’m not at all saying that businesses shouldn’t strive to appear at the top of a search results page. On the contrary, what I’m suggesting is that many small businesses may benefit from approaching this challenge from another perspective.
The problem is that SEO is orientated from a bottom-up perspective. The term SEO focuses on the methods, tactics and metrics that are often discussed and reported to influence search engine rankings.
Subsequently, the practice of SEO involves addressing many of the technical indicators that go into Google algorithms.
The problem is that there are literally hundreds of indicators, and just as many tactics, to contend with. Attempting to make a breakthrough by approaching it from the bottom-up, through metrics and methods, requires much more effort and resources that most small businesses have.
This approach effectively pins you against Google. Google is constantly changing their algorithm to provide more authentic search results, so by attempting to beat the system by manipulating the metrics, you are attempting to convince Google that your site deserves to come up sooner in a research result.
But does it really? If you are focusing on the indicators rather than your customers’ experience, then it might not.
What should small businesses be focusing on?
My recommendation to small business is that instead of focussing on “Search engine optimisation”, businesses simply focus on their business and creating a fantastic online experience for their users.
Google’s ever-changing plethora of indicators and algorithms exist to serve a simple purpose: To provide relevant and high-quality search results.
The indicators and algorithms are simply the tools that Google uses to determine which web pages should be presented, and in which order. While these measures may have been easy to influence in the early days, with link farms and keyword stuffing, these techniques simply don’t work anymore. In fact, you can bet that any technique that is relatively easy to pull-off will have little-to-no weighting, (or even a penalty!) on your search results.
Google is smart enough to see through the cheap tricks.
Instead, Google’s algorithms place weight on indicators that are typically very difficult to fake or manipulate. The most impactful indicators are typically those that can only exist organically, and those that provide the highest level of confidence that the content on your webpage is relevant and of high quality.
Therefore, doesn’t it make sense that business simply focus on ensuring their websites are relevant and high-quality, rather than trying to battle with complex metrics and unknown algorithms?
With this approach, we can let the tech giant worry about their algorithm, while we worry about what matters most – our business and customer experience.
How to succeed in search without SEO
Focus on achieving a great online presence, and you’ll achieve great search engine ranking as a by-product.
Having a great website with a great online reputation, an engaged audience, and overall, a strong web presence will naturally yield great search engine rankings.
Ask yourself: what does a “relevant” and “high-quality” website look like, and you’ll find that you already know the answer. But just in case, let’s break this down a little.
Of course, “relevant” is content-related and is specific to your industry. Being relevant first requires that your website is loaded with great content and that Google can understand your content. Google has a hard time understanding the content on images, so use text to describe things, and give images an appropriate title.
Relevance is also highly related to specificity, and specificity is usually what people want when they are searching, so it’s a good idea to have more pages on your website, with each page covering a specific topic or niche (rather than fewer, more general pages).
Google will look for indicators from humans to determine if your content is relevant or not. For example, if people visit your web page only to find that it is a page filled with keywords that form no sensible meaning, they will probably exit within a few seconds. Whereas a decent article (like this one!) will hopefully have people spending more time on the page, scrolling down, sharing the page, or visiting it again.
Again, performing well in the most important indicators should be a by-product of a great online presence, not the other way around.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to truly delineate relevance from quality, however, in the world of SEO, quality usually refers to the authority and trustworthiness of the website.
There are some obvious factors associated with quality websites such as being served over a secure connection, fast loading times and mobile responsive and accessible designs. However, these are expectations, not opportunities.
Again, Google will look to humans to be the judge and will look at how people and businesses interact with the website.
If people are searching for your business by name, for example, typing in “Pete’s Auto Parts”, or spending time visiting several pages of your website, and ideally interacting in some way (purchasing something, filling out a form), then it’s a good sign that your business and website are seen as being valuable to your visitors.
However, as it’s fairly easy to manipulate what happens on your own website, the stronger factors typically come what happens on other websites. Naturally, this becomes a lot more difficult to manipulate, and therefore these indicators carry more weight. In the SEO world, this is usually called “off-page optimisation” (https://www.rankwatch.com/learning/content/31-what-is-off-page-optimisation)
For example, if links to your website start appearing on other websites, then this can be a sign that other website owners see your content as being of a high standard. However, as backlinks are relatively easy to buy (never do this, by the way), these indicators only have weight if they are from websites that have some authority, are known to be authentic, are relevant to your industry, and are followed by the readers of the referring website.
Since Google’s job is to find the most relevant and quality results to present, then my recommendation is that businesses focus on having great content, developing a quality online presence, and promoting your business through relevant channels to bring the right people to your website.
Attempting to improve your search engine rankings by descending to the level of indicators and tactics (aka Search Engine Optimisation) places you directly against Google’s search algorithm, which, as you may have gathered, is specifically designed to see straight through many of these techniques.
The priority of today’s small and medium businesses should be to provide their customers with an excellent online experience. Do this right, and you’ll be creating the most valuable search engine indicators as a by-product.
All of these factors combined make it very difficult for SEO to be something that can be effectively outsourced. If you are looking to invest in improving your rankings by hiring an SEO agency, then you’ll need to be willing to essentially take them on as a collaborative business partner; it isn’t a quick fix solution. They would need to represent you and your business, and engage with your audience, partners and stakeholders in an authentic way. Again, in my perspective, this is more about good business strategy than it is about SEO.