If you own a business, then you’ve likely heard about search engine marketing and search engine optimization. You’ve likely heard that by using search engine optimization (SEO, for short) and paid Google Adverts, you can climb to the top of the Google search rankings and smash your competition. You’ve probably heard all this but, being the savvy business person that you are, you probably thought that it sounded too good to be true. Heck, you may have even thought that it was just some passing business fad. The 80s had shoulder pads, the 90s had three-button suits, and now we have SEM. Easy come, easy go.
So which is it? Is SEM the cure that’s going to save your business overnight? Or is it just a whole bunch of nonsense? Neither, really. It’s certainly not magic, but — when applied properly — it certainly does work.
Search Engine Marketing is Just Common Sense
You know full well how customers find your business because you probably do it all the time yourself. When you’re interested in buying something, you Google it (or perhaps you use Bing or Yahoo, but the principle is exactly the same). In doing so, you are presented with a whole bunch of retailers. In fact, you have millions to choose from.And millions of options is, let’s be honest, millions too many. Nobody wants that much choice; nobody wants to spend hours looking at every single website selling the product they want to buy, and so — well — they don’t.
Instead, 33% of people just go for the very first search result they see, and less than 10% of searchers even make it to the second page of Google. You might have heard the old joke: “The best place to hide a dead body is page two of the Google search results”. That’s why SEM is important; that’s why you should consider both Search Engine Optimisation and paid Google Ads.
Search Engine Marketing Really Does Work…
We know that customers click on the first results they see because we’ve all been customers, and SEM is the best way to make sure that your business is at the top of the page.This is because SEO marketing is not witchcraft. It’s as straightforward as figuring out what makes Google (or Bing, or Yahoo) rank websites the way they do, and how you can use that knowledge to climb the rankings.Some of it is obvious. If your business is providing back massages to the great people of New York City and you’ve not used the words “back massage” or “New York City” anywhere on your site, how is Google supposed to know what you offer? It doesn’t, and if it doesn’t know, it won’t show your site when customers type “back massage New York City” into its search engine.
To change all that, you need to redesign your site. Make the text of your site clear, for customers and for Google, that you provide back massages in the New York City area. Put it in your headings, in your menu, and all over your layout. Whenever relevant, use those words on your site.It’s a little more complicated than that, though. It always is. What else does your business provide? What other things might people be typing into those search engines to find you? Knowing this and tailoring your online presence to match this is what search engine marketing is all about.
…But Not All Search Engine Marketing Is Created Equal
By now, you might be on board with the fact that search engine marketing works. However, you’ve also likely seen some promises from companies claiming that they can get you to the top of Google in just three days. You might be skeptical of those sorts of promises — and you’re right to be skeptical.There are no magic tricks or overnight successes when it comes to search engine marketing. There is, however, a lot of hard work. If someone is promising to get you to the top of Google by employing some “little-known secret”, they’re probably using something which we in the digital marketing world like to call Black Hat SEO.
Black Hat SEO comes in various forms, and it’s changed as the internet has evolved, but it basically refers to any attempt to climb the Google rankings by shortcut, loophole, or straight-up cheating. Some Black Hat SEO types might tell you that Google hasn’t caught onto to their particular hack yet, and they might be right.However, Google is constantly updating its search engine algorithm to make sure that it’s the best. It’s why most people use Google instead of their rivals. As a result, just because Google hasn’t gotten onto some Black Hat technique today, doesn’t mean they won’t tomorrow.As the owner of an eCommerce digital PR company, I can’t even begin to talk about the number of clients I’ve picked up telling me the exact same story. Desperate to keep up the pace in the fast-changing world of SEO, they paid an arm and a leg for some Black Hat SEO company to get them to the top of Google overnight. Miraculously, it looked like it was working. Their company started climbing the rankings for their favorite keywords and everything was going great.
Then, something monumental really did happen overnight — but not in a good way. Before their eyes, their rankings fell faster than Usain Bolt on a treadmill. They weren’t sure what had happened and that company they’d been working with was nowhere to be found.
This sort of overnight disaster is the result of Google algorithm updates. In 2016 alone, Google has updated its search engine algorithms ten times. Every time they do so, they have the same aim in mind: minimize Black Hat SEO in order to create a better, more relevant search engine than their rivals.
The same story applies to Google’s rivals, too. Their search engines may not be as good — or perhaps just not as popular — but Bing too are often (they claim multiple times a day!) updating their algorithms or search engine features, and they do so for the same reason. However, these updates punish more than just people using Black Hat SEO.Search Engines Hate Old Websites
Google, Bing, and Yahoo’s search engine algorithm updates are designed to create better search engine results, but that means more than just filtering out spammy sites. Quite often, it means filtering out sites that are slow, ugly, or — worse still — not mobile-friendly.2015 marked the first year that mobile internet usage beat desktop internet usage. This trend had been predicted for years, but 2015 was when the tables finally turned. The trend shows no signs of slowing down, either.
What this means for businesses is that the mobile version of their site cannot be an afterthought. In fact, it should be the first thought they have. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, then it isn’t friendly. The mobile internet is the internet, and desktop is now just something used by a dwindling minority.Unsurprisingly, Google’s updates reflect this reality. The affectionately named “mobilegeddon” referred to a radical update to Google’s search engine algorithm. The aim was to punish sites that were not mobile-friendly. Google didn’t do this out of cruelty; it did it because it’s what Google users want. Nobody wants to Google something on their phone and wind up trudging through to a completely unusable site. Google releases updates because it’s looking to the future, and search engine marketing is about doing the same thing. Your site needs updating to keep up with the ever-changing demands of Google’s search engine algorithms. Changes which, in the end, reflect the demands of its users and, therefore, your customers.
Search engine marketing is about making your site and your entire online presence as presentable and as user-friendly to the average internet user as possible. Sometimes that’s about using the right keywords, sometimes that’s about updating your site, sometimes it’s about blogging, and sometimes it’s about using all of those techniques together to create the kind of site that both search engines and customers will love.
By: Tim Cameron-Kitchen
Tim Cameron-Kitchen is the best-selling author of the How to Get to The Top of Google and the founder and CEO of Exposure Ninja, an eCommerce digital PR company based in Nottingham, England. Through his business, Tim and his incredibly dedicated team of marketing Ninjas have helped eCommerce businesses across the world.