It is amazing how many businesses exist online and yet, how little these business owners know about something that could help them turbo-charge their traffic. I am referring to start-ups that depend on the number of prospects that visit their websites, either because they are an e-commerce set-up and transact business online or they have offline businesses where relationships are initiated online. Either way, qualified online traffic is essential for the success of many start-ups.
The Case for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
To achieve this traffic, I am advocating the much-maligned and much-misunderstood technique of Search Engine Optimisaton or SEO. Millions of internet users use search engines such as Google to reach their preferred web destinations. Sure, we visit some of our favorite websites directly and others by clicking links posted on Facebook and Twitter. But when we want to find something, we have no choice but to, well, just Google it!
And if so many people use Google to find what they are looking for, would it not be fantastic if Google listed your website right on top of its search listings? Makes sense, right? That's why SEO is important.
But How Does One Go About SEO?
Naturally, search engines use a wide range of signals to decide who gets ranked where. If you create the right signals, then you will rank higher in the search results. In simple terms, this is SEO.
But SEO Is About Gaming The System, Right? Wrong!
I must confess that, historically, much of SEO seemed like it was about gaming the system. Quite literally, here's the catch: Google has rapidly evolved its algorithm to trap scammers and spammers. As a result, many SEO techniques that once worked, do not work any more. Moreover, many of them now lead to results that are quite the opposite of what you had intended!
'I Don't Believe in This SEO Nonsense'
I have been a search engine optimiser for about a decade, and I often come across people who have a rather poor opinion of SEO. Although I understand where they are coming from, they are wrong. Here are some reasons online businesses stay away from SEO despite its obvious benefits:
• Most people do not understand SEO. They think it involves dodgy methods. Take it from me, SEO is about good business practices. For instance, if you are a blogger, one of the strongest SEO techniques for you would be to write great content and interact with contemporaries in the blogosphere.
• Unlike Search Engine Marketing or SEM, which involves gaining traffic by advertising, SEO often requires you to make changes to your website. Some of the biggest search-suicides arise from having a content management system that is search engine unfriendly. Search engines try their best to figure out the content and evaluate it for ranking. But some websites just do not give them a fair chance. Thus, publishers who are averse to making changes to their software or work processes invariably lose out.
• Many have poor experiences with earlier attempts at SEO. The past couple of years have seen Google make hundreds (literally) of algorithm changes every year. Some of these were so significant that thousands of websites lost more than 90 per cent of their traffic overnight. Interestingly, many of these websites had performed SEO! The natural inference was that the SEO had caused the ranking disaster. Although dodgy SEO techniques can cause severe, often irreversible, damage to a website, this was not the case.
So, What Exactly Is SEO?
Here's how you can optimise your website:
• Publish content (text, images, videos) on your website that are valuable to a visitor
• Ensure abundant information and value on your website that is unique (e-commerce websites that merely republish vendor's data take a big hit here).
• Participate in social media so that genuine visitors interact with you and your website
• Stand out in some way that creates a buzz online
• Follow the technical guidelines that search engines publish for webmasters. Several of these are necessary for search engines to rank you accurately.
Of course, all this is difficult. But I never said that SEO was easy or quick. In fact, when I talk to publishers about SEO, they are worried about the fact that return on investment or ROI is so tough to measure, and that it is delayed.
But if online entrepreneurs really get SEO, they can create an entire business model around it. I recently attended a pitch by an entrepreneur who runs a coupon website with a million-dollar turnover. Believe it or not, most of the portal's traffic comes from search result pages.
A Final Word
Search engines are the largest source of online traffic. An open-minded approach to SEO can yield outstanding results, even with a small investment. In fact, SEO expenses can be as low as 1 or 2 per cent of your marketing spend and can yet be effective. But make sure any SEO technique you implement has a direct benefit to human visitors too, and is not designed to simply hoodwink search engines.
Note: In this article, I have used 'search engine' synonymously with 'Google'. Sure, there are other search engines like Yahoo! and Bing, to name two others. But Google has such a large share of the search market that it is pretty much synonymous with it. Also note that this is just a beginner's article on SEO. If you want more specific advice, ask a question in the comments section below and I will be happy to respond.
The author of this article, Ajeet Khurana, mentors start-ups. He enthusiastically performs SEO on the large number of websites he owns. In addition, he has provided SEO services to publishers in India and overseas. Khurana is on the boards of Carve Niche Technologies and Rolocule Games. You can reach him via LinkedIn and Twitter.