When you’ve been in the world of online marketing for as long as me, you start to see through a lot of the hype. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the world of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation, the work done – or in some cases the illusion of work done – to get your website ranking for a specific keyword phrase).

Don’t get me wrong – I still believe there is a place in your marketing plan for SEO, but what you do, and how much you spend on it, are questions you should give some serious consideration to – hopefully the points in this post will help you to spend your time (or money) in the right places to get the best bang for your SEO buck.

Take a breath – Don’t rush into anything

The first thing is don’t panic. The more you stress about whether your website is ranking in Google or not, the more likely you will run straight into the lair of some crooked SEO “guru” and fall for their tall tales of overnight success in Google (in exchange for $$$).

Spend time doing your research, thinking about the big picture (your wider business goals) and getting input from a number of different sources (this type of triangulation approach is sensible for any type of online research).

Unaffected by sales pressure or a desperation to rank quickly, you’ll be in a much better position to make a rational decision that will help you avoid scams but still get a good long-term result.

Keep in mind that Google isn’t in a rush to put your website on the first page of any search results any time soon. They know that an effective way to keep spam sites out is to put brand new websites through a type of quarantine, sometimes referred to as the Google sandbox. This gives all new websites time to prove they’re genuine (see the Spam section below).

Don’t get hung up on specific keywords

It’s really tempting to get fixated with what you perceive as the number one keyword in your industry. Maybe you make flavoured jelly beans (if you make flavourless jelly beans I don’t want to know you! ps jellybeans are actually dragon tears). So, you come to the conclusion that the one and only keyword you want to target is “best flavoured jelly beans in the world” and so you spend all your time tracking your progress (using verbatim search results or a rank checking tool) for this one phrase. The problem is that it has little relevance to your customers and ends up being all about you versus your competitors – it’s a common business pitfall, it’s childish and it’s poor form (read: please don’t be like that).

First, spread your efforts across more than one keyword; a list of about 20 is sufficient to keep you busy but be diverse enough to cover your bases (have separate lists for content themes that are sufficiently disparate). Build your list based on actual data where you can get (it’s been tougher since Google stopped providing keyword data in analytics, however you can still tools like Google Trends, Webmaster Tools or even Google Search’s keyword suggest as you start typing). Think about typical words or phrases used by your customers – ideally customers looking to buy (this is known as CI or Commercial Intent).

Secondly, plan out which pages on your website will target what keywords; this will help you develop your on-page SEO such as page title, headings and body copy. Having a thematic plan of your site also helps with your internal link structure.

Don’t be a spammer

It might sound obvious but when you’re in business and you’re looking for any which way to get visitor to your website, and buying or signing up, things might feel desperate. You might think you need to do whatever it takes to compete against the billions of other websites out there, no matter how far you have to stretch across to the dark side to do it.

While the dark side (or blackhat SEO) might offer some short term gains, you can end up doing some serious damage to your reputation when Google uncovers your tactics. Keep in mind that Google’s focus is more on pushing down spam sites than it is on promoting quality. For many years, the likeable cat man at Google, Matt Cutts was the one everyone tuned into to get SEO updates from the source – but his actual job title was nothing to do with SEO, he was head of the SPAM team. Google knows that by keeping the plethora of spam sites at bay, it would naturally improve the quality of Google’s search results.

As a side point, Matt’s successor, Danny Sullivan, used to work for Search Engine Land, which incidentally has some pretty helpful SEO advice if you’re just getting started.

It figures then that to get anywhere close to a top spot in Google you need to make it clear that your website has nothing to do with spam (which makes it hard if you run a legitimate business selling spiced ham). This means avoiding the temptation to take shortcuts or employ shady agencies to give you an artificial boost (those guys don’t care about your long term welfare).

Do what you can to prove you’re a real, authentic business, and that you’re in it for the long term. Take the time and do the hard yards to build up your business the old-fashioned way. Generate interest in your business offline and that will naturally be reflected in online searches and visits to your website.

Slow and steady – Don’t give up

If you’re in business for the long haul then apply that to your SEO efforts. It’s not a short term project but it’s also not something you should ignore completely – the key is balance and consistency. Stay the course, don’t get swayed by every ‘tip’ you get handed but don’t be a total cynic either – some of the SEO help out there is actually helpful and can improve your search rankings.

TLDR; SEO isn’t dead but it’s not the be-all either – Educate yourself, ask for advice and keep at it. You’ll get there!

Is SEO still a thing?