SEO is confusing to many. It’s shrouded in mystery, often has a bad reputation and is not generally understood by traditional marketers. Heck, it’s not even understood by website developers nor some who sell SEO as a service.
Yet SEO is nothing more or less than an additional marketing channel for your business. Let me explain, with a story.
We have a client who had not had any SEO work performed until they hired our company. They’re not in a hugely competitive space, but they do have competitors. We originally researched and found all the keyword phrases that people looking for the type of product this company manufactured would type into the search engines, and we optimized the website for those keywords. Within a few months, they began seeing search engine traffic for those keyword phrases (and numerous variations of them), and traffic continued to grow each month.
Since this company is a manufacturer and doesn’t sell their products directly, it’s difficult to measure conversions at the keyword level. For this site, a conversion would be a search for a local dealer and/or a phone call, rather than any direct contact with the manufacturing company. Over the next 2 years, however, targeted keyword traffic continued to go up, more phone calls were coming in, and the company’s dealers were getting more leads than ever before. Until they implemented a redesign.
We knew they were in the process of redesigning and provided them with information on what to watch out for during a redesign. We also asked to be kept in the loop during this critical stage. About a week before they were ready to go live, they showed us the new site.
Most of the SEO work we had done was gone!
Title tags were missing and the content had been completely rewritten without regard to the keyword phrases that had been carefully selected for each page.
We scheduled a call and gave them the bad news. They spoke to their developers and were able to retrieve the old Titles and Meta descriptions. In addition, they were keeping the same basic site structure and page URLs. But they were not keen on rewriting their content with keyword phrases in mind at this time. Unfortunately, most of their new content had been shortened from the previous version and was not as descriptive.
Would the lack of keyword phrases in the content really make a difference?
That’s a tough question because you can never be positive what the search engines will do with any particular page. They did now have the same Titles as before and we knew from experience that sometimes Title tags alone can work wonders with the search engines. So my answer to the client was that they would most likely lose targeted search engine traffic for the previously optimized keyword phrases since they were no longer in the content. I provided the caveat that I couldn’t be 100% sure of this, but I recommended that they didn’t risk it and that we re-optimize the content before going live.
They decided to move forward with the un-optimized content and take the risk.
We continued to monitor their analytics very closely to look for declines in traffic. After the first month, there didn’t seem to be much of a difference, and in fact, traffic overall was up. We were hopeful that perhaps the Title tags and their links would prevail and all would be fine.
But by the next month. targeted keyword phrase traffic was substantially down (even though all-around traffic was up). We provided them with a report on this and voiced our concern. The month after that, keyword traffic continued to decline, while traffic for their brand name was up.
Is brand traffic all you want?
We decided to meet with them to explain our concerns. While it’s great to have lots of traffic for your brand name because those people will be your best converters – you don’t need SEO to achieve that. Your other marketing channels should do that for you. They had been doing a great job of getting the word out about their company as a whole, thus, the increase in brand traffic.
But what they and others who don’t implement SEO on their sites are missing out on are those people who don’t already know their brand. That is, the people who know they want a product or a service that solves their problem or fills their need, but don’t know who offers it.
SEO is the marketing channel that brings potential customers to your site who want what you offer, but don’t know how to find you. These are people that will browse through the search engine listings of websites that show up for the product or service they’re looking for, and choose one to purchase from. If your site only shows up for your brand name, you’re not even in the game; the sale will likely go to one of your competitors who have an optimized website.
If you only want to serve the needs of people who already know your brand and aren’t interested in new customers, then you don’t need SEO. But if you want to use every marketing channel at your disposal, SEO is one of the most cost-effective marketing channels to bring in people who don’t already know about you but want exactly what you offer.
(Hat tip to my High Rankings colleague Pauline Jakober who explained to our client this concept of SEO as being just another marketing channel, which inspired me to write this article.)
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.