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Industry Insights

Let's Get Real About Search Engine Optimization

Are you concerned about losing potential clients to your competition because your website does not rank high on search engines? Are you struggling to understand how you can benefit from this latest tactic? Perhaps you’ve heard about it but don’t quite know what it’s all about. Maybe you even feel like you’re missing out on some great advertising secret. You’re not alone. Although search engine optimization, or SEO, has become increasingly popular, confusion reigns.

Search engines, such as Google or Yahoo, use highly complicated algorithms to determine a website’s rank, or placement, in their results. Search engine optimization is the process in which you try to both increase and improve the traffic to your website through better search results. But while SEO can certainly improve your online marketing it is not a magic bullet or quick fix for deeper organizational issues. It requires thought, focus, and ongoing attention.

Here then are some of our ideas on the topic.


Most people assume that SEO is the use of technical tricks to “magically” force your website to rank higher. A quick Google search will reveal thousands of websites all claiming results through various techniques including:

  • Submit your site to as many search engines and online directories as possible
  • Carefully pick important phrases for your keywords meta tag
  • Buy multiple domains and forward them to the same website
  • Repeat keywords in your content to the point of sounding unnatural
  • Include lots of links to other websites on your site
  • Trade links with other websites

In reality, most of these techniques have absolutely no impact. In fact, they may even hurt you! Some of these may have worked at one time. That is, until people exploited these methods. For example, the keyword meta tag was used by search engines in the early days. So programmers started jamming them full of keywords that had nothing to do with their website content. Search engines got smart to this and changed the way they valued these tags. Before long meta tag keywords became useless.

Dangerous techniques

Search engines are increasingly difficult to manipulate. In attempts to trick them, unethical SEO programmers use “black hat” techniques, such as:

  • Keyword stuffing – Packing long lists of keywords into your site with no other content
  • Invisible text – Listing keywords on your website in white on a white background for search engines to see but not users
  • Doorway pages – Creating “fake” pages that users never see

Google takes great issue with “black hat” methods and goes to great lengths to weed out the perpetrators. Even if you manage to fool them for a while you run a high risk of being blocked permanently! Google has openly stated:

“Practices that violate our guidelines may result in a negative adjustment of your site’s presence in Google, or even the removal of your site from our index.” —GOOGLE WEBMASTER CENTRAL

How search engines really work

It’s important to remember what the goal of a search engine is. Like any good business, they are looking out for their customer. Their primary goal is not to drive people to your site. Their primary goal is to help their users find what they’re looking for.

**It’s not enough to make your content readable to search engines, it must also be relevant. **

There are basically two main factors that determine your site’s rank/placement. Both of these criteria must be met for your site to hit those golden spots in a search result. They are

  • Content and
  • Trust.

One you control and one you don’t.

The one you control is content. It’s what you place on your site – your messaging, copy, images, videos, etc. Dramatic improvement in search results can be realised by developing compelling, truthful, relevant content. Search engines actually care about what you’re saying. Can you help the person running the search? Remember, they are ultimately interested in helping their user(s). If they don’t think your site will help, you will not be shown. It seems obvious that good content comes from having something compelling to say in the first place.

The second factor is trust. Search engines determine trust by the age of your site and how many people link to it. This is much the same way individuals develop confidence in someone or something. We base our trust on a combination of what people say about themselves, our own experience and what others say about them. That is to say – it’s earned. So how do you get people to link to your site? By being remarkable! The links will come naturally.

The key to SEO

The key to search engine optimization is a strong brand. A strongly positioned and differentiated brand informs your identity, messaging and communications. In the same way, telling a unique and inspiring story on your website will naturally strengthen your search engine success.
SEO is not an answer for poorly positioned companies. SEO is not a gimmick that can be tacked on the end of a website development project. Don’t believe SEO myths, or worse, engage in dangerous techniques which could get your site permanently blocked. Rather, get real about who you are and what makes your business unique. Innovate, differentiate and demonstrate your positioning through rich online content.

Be remarkable. Remarkable search results will follow.

December 8, 2009