Why is SEO Important

Why is Search Engine Optimisation SEO Important

Did you get tired one day from everybody’s continual insistence that the Internet would revolutionise the way companies do business? Therefore, to ?get with the times’ you hired a company to produce a tasteful, professional and up-to-date website. You integrated it with your backend accounting and financial systems so people could order products directly from the website. You then sat back and waited for the cash to roll in, right?

Now raise your hand if it didn’t turn out to be that simple.

In the mad rush to get something (and anything) onto the Internet, companies made the leap unprepared. Many businesses forgot to ask one simply question: How will customers actually find our website?

Since you literally share the Internet with another million websites, it is an important question. Being a perceptive marketing person, you realise there are four ways Internet users typically locate your site:

1.   Learning it from traditional media such as TV, print, radio, brochures, business cards etc.
2.   Link from another website
3.   Recommended by someone

Found using a Search Engine (SE) such as Google, Yahoo!, MSN etc.

You only have major control over the first method – throw enough money into advertising and everyone will know about the site. You can even buy links from other websites such as the Yellow Pages. For companies that don’t have the marketing budget of a large multi-national corporation, the fourth method is the only real manner of attracting new visitors.

To make SEs a viable method, your website must appear in the top ten search results. Why? Nine out of ten Internet surfers do not go past the first 30 search results. Many do not even proceed further than the top 10 results.

How do you get your website into the top 10? An industry has arisen with the means and knowledge to answer this question. The process they employ is generalised as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

SEO is a methodology (some would argue art) employed to improve a website’s rank in SE results given targeted ?keywords’. Keywords are the phrase(s) your target market uses to limit search results to locate your product or services. For example, you want your website to have a high rank when someone searches for ?ipod accessories’; but you don’t really care if it rates highly for ?tropical fish’ – that is not your target.

The key to this industry lies in the fact that SEs are actually very limited software programs. They don’t have the intelligence to understand everything they see on the Internet. They use ever-evolving rules to score and rate a website’s ability to answer a particular question. Armed with this knowledge, we can break the SEO process into three general categories:

1. HTML code optimisation:
The first stage is the checking, and re-writing if necessary, of navigation and content structures on your website. SEs do not understand objects such as images, Flash, JavaScript etc. They will simply ignore them. There is no point proceeding any further if the SE cannot understand what it is seeing.
Programmers undertake this category of SEO. A deep understanding of current web coding standards and techniques is necessary. Software packages often produce very poor results, and it usually takes a lot of human intervention to ensure optimum accessibility.

2. Content tailoring:
A SE rates web pages according to their relevancy given a set of keywords. You must therefore tailor your content with these keywords in mind at all times. Fundamental to determining which keywords are relevant is an understanding of your target market. You must know the typical questions they ask to find answers. There are websites such as WordTracker (www.wordtracker.com) that can help you to determine commonly used keywords.

Remember: this is not a race to see how many keywords can fill the page. There is an optimum keyword density. Too dense and it is considered stuffing or spamming – you will be penalised. Too little, and you are not considered an authoritative source. Choosing to hone in on a specific set of keywords per page is also prudent. You are not trying to optimise for everybody on the Internet – only those who ask a specific question.

3. Cutting-edge optimisation:
SEs use algorithms that are proprietary secrets and continually evolve over time. Categories 1 and 2 focus on making your website accessible to SEs and ensuring you have high quality content. These are well-established principles guaranteed to improve your rankings – regardless of how the SE algorithms advance.

To give their clients an advantage, SEO practitioners can sometimes try to abuse the SE algorithms. They may take advantage of loopholes or shady methods.

A simple example is ?stuffing’ a page with invisible text – white text on a white background. This is invisible to humans, but SEs used to index this content. If taken one-step further by stuffing the page with unrelated (but popular) keywords, it becomes ?spamming’. SEs are smarter today and will notice these devious tricks. Websites using them will be heavily penalised.

Category 3 is a moving target – and hence carries risk if poorly executed. What works today is innovative, but may be heavily penalised in the future once people abuse it to skew results. You should always be wary of introducing any initiatives that fall into this category.

So if you decide to give your site the SEO treatment, how long before you see the results?

Google re-indexes websites everyday of the year. The process it follows ensures every entry in its database is re-indexed every 4-6 weeks. Google will re-index ?news’ sites much quicker – almost daily – to stay current. Other SEs use roughly similar periods between re-indexes. Therefore it can take up to 4-6 weeks for changes in the ranking to be observed.

Will the three categories in SEO improve your ranking? Yes. Will they keep you there? No. The SE algorithms evolve over time. SEO is a form of marketing and is therefore an on going process of monitoring, obtaining feedback and tweaking. Most companies do not release a ton of advertising material with getting feedback as to how they can improve it in the future.

Please remember that SEO is not the ultimate and final word on creating a profitable web presence. It is only one aspect of your Internet marketing strategy. A good SEO practitioner understands this. They realise that there is more to the Internet than just search engines. Obtaining links from reputable websites, advertising using traditional media and ensuring your customers recommend you to their friends is just as important. If they don’t reflect this in their overall strategy, consider someone else who does.

For more information on this topic, please visit our SEO information page, where can you download an extended version of this article, including a Search Engine Optimisation Whitepaper.
Samer Shami is the Client Advisor for Communicat Business Solutions. His role within the company is to help companies increase sales and decrease costs by improving the latent potential hidden within the Internet.