Posted At: March 8, 2013 12:00 P.M.
by Caroline Murray
Search engine optimization is a popular concept in communications today. The phrase is seen in every publication and blog and it is a part of every single Google search. What does SEO really mean though? Beyond algorithms and keywords, how can a company use SEO to improve its performance?
Jason Falls, vice president of digital strategy for top Internet retailer CafePress, and Brian Chappell, managing partner of search marketing agency Adapt Partners, weigh in.
Q: How do you define SEO?
Falls: “Very simply, really. Search engine optimization is building your website and participating in activities that help search engines rank and prioritize your website and Web pages over competitors. You rank well, you sell well. It’s all about putting your content in the best position to rank well for high volume keywords. You’ve got to be there when people are searching.”
Q: Why should companies and organizations be paying attention to SEO?
Chappell: “The biggest reason to be paying attention to SEO is to find people looking for things you have on the Internet.”
Falls: “There are billions of searches on Google, Bing and Yahoo every day. What those people are doing is searching for an answer to a problem. When your link ranks well for the keyword or phrase they’re searching for and they click on your link, you have yourself an optimally qualified customer. They are primed and ready to buy or convert because they went looking for a solution.”
Q: What are the most common SEO mistakes you see made?
Falls: “The biggest mistake is that many businesses still don’t even consider it. And those that do forget that original content that serves your audience well is far more cost-effective than focusing on the technical aspects of SEO. You can ‘game the system’ with backlinks, link farming and manufactured methods to trick the search engines, or you can create awesome content that gets shared and linked to and naturally puts you high in the rankings.”
Chappell: “People don’t think about content management systems in relation to SEO. They think they need to pay $20,000 a year when there are solutions out there like WordPress. Because the content management system is so important, there is a large amount of research involved in finding the right solution. People sometimes pick a system without thinking through things like editing pages and changing things on the website.”
Q: Are blogs all they are cracked up to be?
Chappell: “Yes and no. You have to come to it with a unique approach and be consistent. One problem that happens is you create a blog, but very often you get burnt out after six months. If you’re going to be inconsistent, it is too costly to maintain.
“On the other hand, if you can have a unique approach, blogs can be your Swiss army knife. It has so many variances of how it can help market your company.”
Q: If you can only do one thing to boost your SEO, what is the most important?
Falls: “Create awesome content. The rest will take care of itself. Awesome is hard, but once you do it, you’ll win.”
Chappell: “There is a pool of good writers out there. Trying to get content writers that cost two cents is bad for everyone: the writer and the end user who ends up consuming the content. Companies need to be investing in good content, and a lot of times good content costs money. From a return on investment standpoint, content should be thought of as a long-term investment.”
Q: Why should people consider hiring someone to help them?
Falls: “SEO is work. Content is work. There’s no easy button here. It’s not free and it’s not easy.”
Q: Do you have any tips on finding, choosing and using keywords?
Falls: “Put your mind in the mode of a potential customer and assume they do not know who you are. How would they search for the solutions you provide?”
Chappell: “You want copy that naturally includes keywords. You don’t want to be stuffing keywords in for the sake of using them.”
Q: What is your advice to students who will soon be entering the communications field?
Chappell: “For anyone involved in communications, having some understanding of how people find content online is important. Even if I’m writing content that will be printed in a pamphlet, it will be different in three years as print continues to slide down. At some point you’re going to have to figure out online.”
Whether a company’s communications department includes 100 people or one, one thing is for sure: SEO is here to stay. Though the rules of the game may change with time, the underlying winning strategy will continue to be creating content that interests consumers.