Clichés are a funny thing. We don’t like to hear them… especially in movies, TV shows, or blog posts, but we frequently use them in everyday conversations. Clichés are a great way to make a point because the meaning of them is pretty much universally understood, even if not entirely true.
Just because something is a cliché doesn’t mean it can, or should be, disregarded. Here are some clichés that we can use to help us better understand SEO.
Good things come to those who wait
We’ve all heard the expression, “Good things come to those who wait”. Whether you’re waiting for your Heinz ketchup to pour out onto your burger, waiting for Christmas day to open your gifts, waiting for summer vacation to be let out of school, or waiting in line at the BMV, good things will come if you simply allow them to come in their own time.
But, under normal circumstances, this cliché is largely untrue. You’ll still get your ketchup if you shove the butter knife into the bottle and drag it out onto your burger, you’ll get all of your gifts if you choose to open them all on Christmas Eve, you’ll get your summer vacation if you skip the last few days of school, and you’ll still get your drivers license renewed if you go to a BMV express.
The real lesson behind this particular cliché is that patience is a virtue. And that much is true, especially in search engine optimization.
Unlike placing sponsored ads via Google AdWords or Microsoft Advertising, where results are almost instantaneous, SEO does not produce immediate results. You won’t get your return on investment a week after SEO starts.
Optimizing your site for your targeted key phrases won’t get you to #1 overnight. You won’t find all your keywords rankings in the top 10 on Google in 19 days (despite some claims you read), nor will you get significant traffic improvement after an hour of SEO consultations. To use a simple analogy, SEO is like boiling water: you don’t get a hard boil the moment you turn on the burner… you have to wait for it.
The process of optimizing a site can take weeks and, in some cases, months or years, depending on how big the site is. In most cases SEO is an ongoing process with growing measures of return. The return in SEO is good, but you’ve got to be willing to invest the time to let it happen.
Can’t Hit the Broad Side of a Barn from the Inside
The front end of the optimization process can include hours and hours of research, site architecture, and fixing usability issues. This isn’t even considering the actual optimization of specific pages. Everything from keyword research, industry research, competition research, marketing research, and more, all need to be completed before any optimization can begin.
We often get asked if research time can be shortened if we have performed optimization work for another site in the same industry recently. The short answer to that is “no”. Every site has different construction, design, layout, history, and each speaks to it’s audience differently. These are all factors that are considered in the multiple levels of research performed. No two sites are the same; therefore no research is the same.
Sure, some elements of the research can be applied, but you can’t just take what works for someone else and apply it to your site. Cloning a competitor never works. But, outsmarting a competitor does.
Nothing to Write Home About
A good SEO will actually write or re-write content to properly (and effectively) work in your targeted keyword phrases. We often put “SEO writer” and “copywriter” into two different categories, with the SEO writer being someone less skilled than a “real” copywriter. This is a fallacy.
An SEO copywriter is a “real” copywriter that also understands how keywords get worked into content. Any copywriter can be trained in writing SEO copy. But, if you’re not already a writer, forget trying to write SEO copy. Any programmer can throw keywords on a page and call it “optimized”, but that doesn’t mean it is.
A professional writer should be able to take the SEO recommendations for keyword usage and incorporate that into existing content in a way that reads naturally (i.e. does not look as if you just tried to insert keywords here and there for search engine relevance) and maintains the ability to convert your visitors to paying customers. This is no small task and should be done with the utmost time and care.
You Can Take It or Leave It
There have been times where we have had to nearly rebuild entire pages, removing tons of excess code. These changes may only add fractions of seconds to download speeds, but those can weigh heavily against other sites that may be running much faster.
Even a Broken Clock is Correct Twice a Day
Validating your SEO code has no effect on your search engine rankings. I want to make sure you’re clear on that… so I’ll say it again. There is ZERO SEO benefit to having your code validated. However, as an SEO, I’m a big proponent for using valid code.
When code isn’t validated it means there are coding elements that are incorrect. While browsers and search engines can be extremely forgiving on these errors, there are some coding errors that can stop the search engine spiders cold. The error may prevent them from reading the paper properly and, consequently, not assign values of your content correctly.
Again, validating your code won’t achieve good rankings, but it can help prevent you from getting poorer rankings due to confusing and improperly created code.
If you validate your pages, it is easier to find potential problems as you continue to make edits. If one of your pages has 50 warnings but no problems with the search engines, great! But, let’s say you edit the page and you now have 51 warnings, and this new one is crippling. That error is just another one in the group and, unless you’re paying attention, you won’t even know it’s there.
On the other hand if you have zero warnings or errors and after an edit you see one pop up, you can correct it before it becomes a crippling issue for you.
All Things Being Equal
“Site maps”, “custom 404 redirects” and “robots.txt” files are all important to the overall construction of your site, even if they don’t necessarily have a direct effect on the actual on-page optimization of your site. Site maps help both search engines and visitors quickly and easily get to the information that is important.
A “custom 404 redirect” eliminates that annoying “page not found” error and lets you keep visitors on your site if they somehow access a page via a bad link. The “robots.txt” file is useful to communicate with the search engine spiders about content they should or should not index. This allows the search engines to focus its time on the good stuff instead of the irrelevant portions of your site.
Up against a similar site, these things can help you keep visitors engaged with your content and prevent them from jumping off to a competitor. It’s often the small things that can make the biggest difference.
There are a lot of nuances to SEO and, with that, there is often a lack of understanding from those that are not directly involved. Even still, quite a bit of bad information is easily spread. You don’t have to know SEO well in order to understand it, but having a basic understanding of SEO can help you converse intelligently with your SEO provider. Turning a blind eye to the work they do often leads to incorrect assumptions and false expectations. Having a better grasp on the needs of the SEO will help you ensure that you’re both working to keep the SEO project on track and not chasing after pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.