SEO games . . . playing it straight (or not)

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google swag
Some Google swag. If you can associate with big name institutions, brands or individuals, either locally or (better) internationally, you win powerful marketing credibility.
the google phone booth
The phone booth at the Googleplex — the result of one of the company’s earliest staff purchases, before proper administrative expense controls were introduced.

Reports have been emerging about a dramatic shift in Google keyword/search result rankings on December 19. These postings contradict Google’s earlier remarks that algorithm changes were not planned in the holiday season. So what is happening? And why does it matter?

The challenge here is the SEO (search engine optimization) industry, which I consider to be in the wild west of marketing challenges and opportunities for architectural, engineering and construction businesses. Certainly, SEO is important; if your business can be ranked at the top (or at least within the first three) organic results for potential clients actually interested in your product/service, you have achieved the marketing holy grail, especially if you have achieved these results without spending a cent on advertising or consultants.  The power of effectively high search results arises from three elements:

 

  1. Path of least resistance. If your site is at the top of the search results, it is easiest to go to you first;
  2. Credibility: Google’s brand has created trust in the results; so if you rank high, you must be good;
  3. Immediate decision-making relevance: People searching for something are obviously interested in the topic; they are possibly about to make a major decision soon, and you clearly would like to be on their radar screens then.

These observations, then, explain the proliferation of SEO consultants and services. Many are crappy and many (especially spammers offering “Page 1 Rankings on Google”) are either outright frauds or (worse) advocate SEO techniques that will cause your site to lose, not gain power. Others use the ranking claims as a device to provide a service selling paid listings, which can be expensive, are less credible, and of course stop working when you stop paying. (Paid keyword advertising can make sense, in a strictly rational marketing budget, of course, because you can control and measure your input vs. output costs. But the analogy between effective SEO and paid advertising is something like getting free publicity (positive) in the news media, in place of buying enough ads to get the same results.)

So how should you manage your way through the SEO minefield?

Quality, original and relevant content on your website, blog, videos and social media should be your first priority.

The cat-and-mouse game between SEO “experts” and Google is won and lost on this criteria. Google seeks to provide a great user experience; if faulty search results dominate the page, then consumers lose trust with the Google brand and thus stop clicking on those nearby paid advertisements. So the question you need to ask is whether your site provides real value to people searching for it, whether or not they do business with you. Clearly self-promotional “company brochures” won’t do that much (unless people already know and are specifically looking for you), and equally, “search engine optimized pages” with mostly gibberish content will eventually be turfed by Google if you are caught out playing games — but if your content is relevant, interesting and rewarding, it will last through all the changes.

If you are seeking a SEO consultant, proceed carefully, and look for someone with a long, successful track record.

Here, I am a firm believer in the old-fashioned business-selection three-R models: Referral, Recommendation and Relationships. If you belong to industry associations, you may be able to connect (possibly through your association’s national conventions) with non-competing peers in other cities who have done well (SEO experts don’t need to be located in your home town to do well on your websites), consultants such as Michael Jeffries and Michael Stone have their own recommendations (mostly focused in residential SEO)  and of course you can try some relevant Google searches for the clients of these SEO experts by searching for relevant search key words, not the client business name.

Patience and continuous effort are vital (“grit” and perseverance count for a lot).

You may achieve fast results with SEO initiatives, especially if you are fortunate not to be in a highly competitive space, but generally the effort will take months and even years, and requires continuous input of new, fresh, and relevant material (and updating, correcting and removing invalid old stuff and faulty links.) SEO then becomes a challenge in your marketing budget; you need to be careful about projecting/ascribing results even as you make your investments. However, undoubtedly, over time, the reward is worth the effort.

Do you have SEO recommendations or experiences?  Please share your observations as a comment.

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