The Confusion of SEO
I was recently working with a customer to get his Shopify store developed. We were migrating his site from WordPress and during this process I began to notice that every product page on his site was filled with keywords and categories. When I began questioning the customer about the way his product pages were designed, I found that he was aware of what he was doing and really thought that this would allow him to sell more effectively by reaching more audience. What he did not realize was that he was (keyword stuffing) which is an outdated practice that actually harms search engine results rather than helping it. When I tried to explain this issue, the customer almost refused to believe what I was saying. It took forever to explain this problem. I realized that this was not going to be an easy thought process to fix as he was already beginning to discuss Facebook advertising and other marketing tactics without having a firm grasp of these practices. This is not the first time I dealt with this nightmare. This problem is systemic of an industry of marketing/advertising that claims to be able to make your site sell based on SEO and social media practices, but in reality there is no guarantee that this form of marketing will work.
SEO (search engine optimization) refers to the design, content, and development of a website to make it readable and visible to search engines such as Google and Bing. While this concept seems simple, it is grossly misunderstood and is the sources of tremendous financial loss for many small companies and startups. The misunderstanding of SEO stems from the lack of understanding that people new to ecommerce have with regard to search engines and how the WEB works. To fully understand this problem and avoid it, you need to understand that SEO practices are intended to maintain your visibility in search engines and allow you to expand your site's reach. For example, using keywords in titles to identify your products or content is an important facet of SEO. If the product does not match or correlate with search results you are likely not going to rank high in SERPS (search engine results pages). There are other forms of SEO such as having relevant content. If you are putting articles on your site that have nothing to do with your products or the focus of your blog, then you are likely not going to rank. There are many different practices that are necessary to creating quality search results which can be accessed in Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. These practices are intended to maximize the ability of your site to be visible in searches, or as google says, “following the best practices ...will make it easier for search engines to crawl, index and understand your content.” That is it. SEO is not intended to be a system or practice that drives a website to the top of the search results. What it is meant for is to create a level playing field where by following certain practices, your site will be able to rank based on its readability in search engines, the quality of its content, and other factors. Herein lies the problem.
Gaming the System
Anyone who tells you that they know how search engines work and can use this knowledge to get you to the top of search results using methods that are outside of the accepted practices of Google and Bing- are full of shit. I cannot express this enough. Trying to market using methods such as this is commonly referred to as SEO marketing. This method of marketing has a certain appeal because people build websites and they are unware of the fact that they will need content to drive traffic to these sites. (You will find this in Google’s Guide under optimizing content). Once a person has discovered that now they need to start writing content this is where the problem with SEO begins. Normally when people discover that they need to start writing content the task appears insurmountable. They begin looking for content and quickly discover that this is a costly endeavor. Many people begin looking for alternatives to content and become exposed to SEO marketing. This form of marketing has developed as a means of circumventing the need to develop content and/or advertise. To be fair, in the early days of the internet, many of these methods did work. Until 2011, when Google updated its search algorithm, people could post duplicate content and even junk content and would get results. However, those days are gone and search engines continue to become more sophisticated and with the advent of semantic search, these tools can identify search results in a highly accurate manner making it even more difficult to game the system. You are not going to be able to fool the search engines by keyword stuffing or doing other practices that SEO marketers claim will work. In fact, you will likely damage the reputation of your site rather than improve it because practices such as keyword stuffing are recognized by search engines and are considered spam. Yet people continue to listen to ‘SEO marketers’ and waste time and money. Why does this occur? That’s the real rub with SEO.
The SEO Rub
It is a very simple problem which I have stated partially already. New website owners build a website, and then discover that in order to gain rank in search results, they need to obtain or write content. If you are a blog writer, then this is what you do so it is not a big deal, but if you are a business owner you are now faced with more work and/or paying for blogs to be written. If that was not bad enough, the problem actually gets worse. Lets say you follow Google’s Guidelines and make your site SEO compliant and lets say you start writing a blog or buying expensive high quality blogs- you may notice that there is little difference in your website traffic or in sales. This is the real rub with SEO- you can do everything correct and still not get results.
The reason that you can follow Google best practices and create high quality content and still not rank or convert sales the way you desire, is because SEO is not the only factor impacting your site. One of the many things that SEO marketers do not tell you is that there are other circumstances and factors that impact your SEO. For example, having high quality content is great but if no one is reading it, then it does nothing for your ranking in search engines. As ridiculous as it sounds, new websites are at a total disadvantage in search results compared with older sites with quality content. This is due to traffic volume. If you site has little to no traffic your content will not rank because no one is reading it. You need good quality traffic where people visit your site and stay on it in order to rank higher in searches. So the problem is that it takes time and serious effort to get people interested in your content. In contrast to this issue, if you have a high demand product or content that is popular or controversial, you may end up ranking faster in search results because people are becoming absorbed in your content faster due to there being demand for it. So as you can see, age of site, demand for products, and a multitude of other factors are impacting search results which you may have little control over. This makes most SEO marketing useless and a waste of money. The people who engage in these businesses are not stupid however, and realizing that many of the old practices do not work, these businesses have shifted strategies into digital marketing and advertising. Today, SEO marketers include design strategies (which is the google best practices) as well as social media marketing.
Social Media Marketing
There is an entire cottage industry that has grown out of social media advertising and marketing. I am not going to say that Facebook ads and Google advertising don’t work, but I will say that I find these marketing strategies to be dubious. To be fair, it is not just Facebook and Google. We should include Yelp, Twitter, and other sites. If these forms of marketing work I have not see the value in it for most businesses. When we look at Facebook ads, this marketing seems to be rational as Facebook has the ability to target audiences based on their interests. The problem is that Facebook advertising is not this simple. One would think that Facebook would have the capability to match a well designed advertisement with a particular audience, but no- sadly they leave this up to you. It is completely in the hands of the advertiser to pick his or her audience and amount of exposure they wish to achieve. When we think about this system critically, there are some serious issues that occur. First, the system of demographics on Facebook is not a simple system. The demographics are difficult to determine along with the amount of exposure for the ads. This system is not like mass media advertising such as television which targets large audiences at particular times. These ads are supposed to be targeted on Facebook users which should make them more effective because you are targeting their likes and interests. In reality, this targeted approach may make this marketing more difficult to use and less reliable because if you target your ad wrong you have just wasted your money. This is the same type of advertising that Google sells but is geared to keywords used in searches. One might ask the question, why wouldn’t these companies make it less cumbersome and easier to advertise to large audiences? The answer is simple- it’s not in their interest. No company that engages in this form of marketing is going to make it simple. The more complicated the choice of demographics and keywords the more you will have to spend in order to figure out what works. This is where SEO marketers have picked up the torch of social media marketing and included it in their repertoire of selling tools. Now the SEO marketer calls himself a digital marketer (because they almost all sell social media ads) and claim that you need to have social media advertising as part of your online selling strategy. He is going to tell you things like:
These marketers charge 20% or more of the base cost of your advertising in order to design and implement your ads. I have seen people charge as high as 50%. What is interesting about this form of marketing is that it is expensive and has no guarantee. I have never seen a SEO marketer who will guarantee results or who will work on contingency. This entire form of advertising is a joke in many ways. If you want to see something interesting, go list your business on Google or Yelp and watch how many phone calls you get from telemarketers selling Google and Yelp ads. This sort of begs the question, if social media advertising works, then why are these companies resorting to telemarketing? Wouldn’t it be much less expensive to simply post ads get all your clients in this manner?
Whether social media advertising works or not- is not the issue. The issue is that SEO marketers have turned this form of advertising into a cottage industry in which they are constantly charging people large amounts of money and in most cases not delivering. The funny part about this industry is that it continues altering its claims. It used to be about driving traffic to your site, then social media became the focus of giving your site credibility, then it became “a long-term commitment”, and now they talk about creating funnels and capturing email leads rather than conversion. The bottom line is that SEO and social media marketing are mostly bullshit. While it is important to implement best SEO practices for your site and to build a social presence, the bottom line is that the marketing attached to these practices is often a sham. The next time you are approached by one of these marketers just ask him or her to show you the numbers. Ask them to show you in black and white the returns that their clients have achieved. Ask them for referrals that you can email or call to verify their claims. In most instances these people will walk away because they know they are full of shit.
If you need assistance with your SEO and Marketing please feel free to contact CCI.