What SEO is…and What it Isn’t

Let’s clear up some misnomers about search engine optimization

I have had this article in my mind for a couple of years now. It is not unusual to get a request for what I charge for search engine optimization or SEO. Usually I get a shocked response or get asked what my guarantee policy is. There are many charlatans and “snake oil salespeople” selling SEO who can’t even spell it. Here, I clear up some of the mystery around SEO.

In the days before Google, SEO meant just piling on as many keywords as possible into website content. This created full websites who were great at getting noticed on search engines but were a mishmash of keywords. People used programs to create keyword-heavy content that didn’t make any sense for humans to read. Articles didn’t make sense. Entire websites were illegible- but they showed up on the first page of Yahoo. Yes, Yahoo was once the dominant search engine.

In 1996, Sergey Brin and Larry Page began a project at Stanford University that resulted in a paper entitled “The Anatomy of Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine” (according to ThoughtCo). That paper resulted in a company called Google and Google changed everything about search marketing (and still does). The Google search engine concept focused on content quality for its ranking algorithms and less of an emphasis on keywords.

Here is the result. I hope to clear up what SEO is and what it isn’t. I hope this will help people make more-informed decisions about SEO and invest better in their marketing.

What Good SEO is not:

1. The meta keywords tag is dead

The keyword meta tag also in the “once upon a time” category. In the old days, website owners listed keywords in the <head> section of the website. Google announced in September 2009 that they were no longer taking the meta keywords into consideration for their search results. Adding meta keywords to your site is the male equivalent of thinking your mullet with a bald spot looks awesome. So stop worrying about your meta keywords.

2. Good SEO is not a magic button that you buy for $6.95 a month

There are a lot of large companies out there that sell a “less than $10 a month” plan for your site to rank with search engines. This is not exactly false. This also means that is is not exactly true either. It depends on what you think SEO is.

They are selling the very beginnings of good SEO. The first step to getting your website listed is to add your site to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster tools. Bing and Microsoft powers Yahoo Search these days. This can get your site noticed if you are not in a competitive field or a large metro area. But remember, this is a beginning and your job has just begun.

3. Good SEO is not just a plugin for your WordPress site

All my sites (right now) are WordPress sites so let’s cover this too. The two most popular SEO plugins in the WordPress world are All-In-One SEO Pack and Yoast SEO. Personally, I use Yoast SEO but I have no preference as far as whether one is better than the other. Again, these plugins are a start, not a means to an end. They are great tools to determine what your keyword density is and adding meta titles and meta descriptions to your site’s pages.

An SEO plugin is a great idea but it doesn’t do the work for you.

4. SEO, Like all Forms of Advertising, has no Guarantees

There are a lot of people out there that do great SEO work. I am one of them. There are others out there who will charge a comparative arm and a leg, claim that it takes six months to a year for results, and continue to bill you monthly. People who have experienced the later will want to see a list of satisfied clients or want guaranteed results. I get it.

The problem is that Google or Bing can change their algorithm and move the proverbial goal posts at any given moment. The bad news is that they do. Google and Bing both change their algorithms and search criteria without notifying anyone. Usually, someone figures it out a month later and publishes it in their blog. Therefore, it is impossible to guarantee any SEO results.

What Good SEO is:

1. Good SEO is a Discipline

Getting results from your search engine optimization is a discipline that begins with your content. That means that as you are writing your content, you lace well-researched keywords through your content. Although experts disagree on what your keyword density should be, I use between 3% and 5% as a guideline. Sometimes I don’t pay as much attention to SEO and use whatever it takes to get my point across. I do fairly well but your practices and results may vary.

2. Good SEO is Having a Current Well Built Structure

Occasionally, I will get a request about “H tags.” Immediately, I know that this person has no idea what they are doing. They are responding to a page loading speed report or SEO report without paying attention to their own site first.

Your site has HTML tags called heading tags (or “H tags”). For example, this page has an H1 tag as the page title, the subtitle has an H2 tag, subsequent headings are in H3 tags, and and the list items are in H4 tags. There is a specific heading structure which is what “H tags” are all about.

This is how I build my pages and this is how I have been building them for years. Are there other ways to manage your heading tags? Probably. This is the way I manage mine and I have no SEO problems (that I know of).

3. SEO is an Ongoing Practice

Good search engine optimization is an ongoing practice. It is something you keep in mind of on a daily basis. There is no set-and-forget feature for SEO. Remember that Google and Microsoft change their algorithms and move the goal posts all the time. In practice, that is more of a certainty than a one-off event.

4. SEO is a lot of Work

People who insist that SEO should be easy won’t like this. The reason that some freelancers and agencies charge $500 per month and up for their SEO services is because it is work. Doing good work takes time. Time costs money. I am very leery of anyone who offers cheap SEO services. I have personally fallen into that trap before. The $99 per month contract rarely gets any improvement in results but the invoices are always on time.

What’s the Point?

Search engine optimization is work and takes time to get results. Although it used to take six months to get measurable results, I say that time is down to about six weeks. If you want great SEO results, you must make a time investment into your website structure and content. Your alternative is to make a serious financial investment into your website.

After all, if you don’t invest in your business, why would your potential customers?

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Michael Neely

Michael Neely is web designer and web developer living between Atlanta and the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area.