Intro: Paying attention to  SEO is all but required for anyone seeking to achieve sales online. Those that ignore such warnings may  very well find their website on page 3 of a Google search related directly to their industry (yes, even a search with the term “Grand Rapids” involved). This became especially evident when I began producing a rankings report for an SEO company (Corporate Conversions LLC). Watching their client’s website jump from page 3 to a #1 search result ranking in a fairly short time was exhilarating.  Especially when such results are bound to directly impact the client’s bottom line. With that in mind, I set out to interview one of the partners who founded Corporate Conversions LLC – Max Friar (and a GRAPE member to boot). 

What does Search Engine Optimization work entail?

SEO work entails analyzing, discovering, repairing, aligning, and promoting. Specifically, the infrastructure of a website must be examined closely to ensure that search engines are able to effectively crawl and index a site’s content.  For example, if your site is missing an sitemap or robots.txt file it could affect how efficiently your site is accessed by SE robots that crawl the web.

On the marketing side, every company needs to discover its keywords. Specifically, there is a set of general, unbranded keywords people are typing into Google that your site is relevant for, but that you aren’t being found for today.  For example, that could be “doctors in grand rapids” or “auto insurance agents grandville mi”.  So, how do you discover your keywords? There are two primary ways: 1) Use Google Keyword Tool or a software that accesses the Keyword Tool and simplifies the process, like Market Samurai or Long Tail Pro; and 2) Once you have an idea of keywords that may be relevant, setup an Adwords Campaign, run it for a month and review the engagement results.  If you do these things properly your keywords will be revealed to you.

Step two is to take your keywords and consistently implement them into your site.  What this means is that these keywords needs to be in the title, meta description, URL, header tags, alt tags, page copy, and in internal links.  Now, there is a school thought about “over-optimizing” a site.  While I do not propose to know Google’s algorithm or predict the future, for the time being I believe that consistent implementation of keywords should trump concerns about over-optimization.

Once your keywords are consistently implemented links need to be built that point back at your website.  This is a tricky business, particularly as Google has been very aggressive about punishing low quality links.  For example, when we started our company, it was very easy to get a client’s site ranked by using blog and forum comments with backlinks exclusively. Generally these links are easy to get as all they require is posting a comment and link on a blog, and anyone can do that.  While we still offer this form of link building, we are closely monitoring the quality of these links and gravitating away from this method.  Additionally, over the past two years we have developed a network of bloggers and webmasters that now serves as our primary source of links. Thus far Google has highly rewarded this form of link building.  The reason is simple:  these bloggers are real people with legitimate blogs that are posting unique content with backlinks.  Corporate Conversions is working continuously to build our stable of webmasters.  We are also starting to roll out our own blogs and will be focused 100% on developing the best link-building network of any Michigan SEO firm.

Additionally, content development is very important.  If you do not have a blog or news feed on your site, we strongly recommend that you establish one and regularly update it.  We provide blog writing and management services for our clients, however this is always a challenging task as it requires that we understand the technical nature and voice of our client’s business.

Is there a misconception about what SEO is or how successful it can be?

Unfortunately, there are a lot of gimmicks and spammers out there offering “complete SEO services” for $199/year.  Before you sign up for something like this, think about Google’s business.  Google is what it is today because it returns the highest quality search results.  If your site is to be regarded as high quality, it must be technically sound, it must offer good information, it must, over time, be regarded by other high quality sites as legitimate, and it must be updated with some level of consistency.  How are you going to get this level of service for $199/year?  You’re not.  If you want to be a quality site in the long term, then you have to engage a someone or a company that cares about understanding what you actually do and what your goals are.

Lastly, I want to mention social media as I believe that there are a lot of misconceptions about social media and transactions.  I think social media is important for many companies, particularly business-to-consumer companies.  For example, a baby products company that offers promotions and discounts will likely do very well on social media.  Also, social media is important for brand awareness.  People spend a ton of time on Facebook and Twitter so being present is not a bad thing.  But also consider what people are doing on Facebook and Twitter.  They are socializing, spying, gossiping, wasting time, exploring shared interests, looking for deals and contests.  They are largely at this point not going to buy things.  In fact, studying the Google Analytics profiles of ecommerce companies that we work with has shown me that very few sales come from social media and that most often sales and inquiries result from direct visits and organic search.

A few benefits of social media for SEO are:  1) Social metrics are considered by algorithms. This will continue to be the case, however beware as just like link building, social metrics can be manufactured; 2) Creating social media profiles on major networks ensures that you will eat up Page 1 real estate.  Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest – all of these root domains convey ridiculous levels of authority that are conveyed to the profiles that are created on them.  Go ahead and google your company’s name.  Look at what comes up.  Google your own name, for that matter.