What's the Point of Search Engine Optimization?

Spencer Soloway
January 17, 2017
To most people, what translates as “successful SEO" is ranking first in Google for the specific terms that you choose. Well...that’s only partially correct.

You’ve probably been told that you really need to get your SEO in order. It's also likely that when you heard this, you weren't quite sure what "Search Engine Optimization" even meant.

Perhaps you did some research and figured out that, at its core, SEO has to do with how you’re indexed and ranked in places like Google and Bing. Great, you're on your way!

To most people, what translates as “successful SEO" is ranking first in Google for the specific terms that you choose. Well...that’s only partially correct—here’s why: Ranking first in Google for key terms that you’ve selected is a great sign, but this is a narrow view of the power of organic search and how it can help your business. And it would be a mistake to think of this as your singular goal.

Okay then, what is the true purpose of good SEO?

The purpose of SEO is essentially the same as any other marketing initiatives you take: To get qualified eyeballs and potential customers to your website.

Sure, and won’t ranking first for the terms I use to describe my business do that?

The answer is…maybe.

Here’s the thing: Most small businesses have a good sense of how they like to talk about their product. For example, perhaps you call a class that you teach the Underwater Picnic Container Construction Seminar.  And you’ve hired an SEO firm to ensure that you rank first for that term in your area.

But what if nobody is searching for that specific term? What if your potential customers are typing “Underwater Basket Weaving” into Google and you're nowhere to be found in the results? If that’s the case, then you’re essentially paying for a vanity project.

Don't get us wrong: This doesn’t mean you should necessarily change your branding or how you like to talk about your product. After all, it's your product and you almost certainly have good reasons you talk about it the way you do. What it does mean is that you should be supplementing the way you talk about your product with keywords  that reflect how people tend to search for your product.

The real goal of good SEO is to raise organic search traffic to your site that converts into sales. That means that when you reach out to an SEO firm, you should be asking for reporting that shows upticks not just in position across keywords but in organic search traffic.

But how do I figure out what people are searching for?

When we start working with a client, one of the first things we do (this is the case for paid search as well) is build out a "keyword universe." There are a number of helpful tools to use for this, but one of our favorites is SpyFu.

A great starting point in this exercise is to figure out what keywords your competitors are concentrating on, and a tool like SpyFu will allow you to plug their sites in and spit back their keyword universe as well as estimates of how popular those terms are in common search engines.

Another good approach is to use Google Trends, type in the keywords you’d like to rank for and see how many people are searching for those terms over time on Google. You can even filter down by locality. If you’re trying to brainstorm keywords to plug into tools like Google Trends, keyword.io is a great resource as well.

Once you’ve got a robust keyword universe assembled, it’s time to work on building out strong content and meta data strategies founded in SEO best practices, both of which will boost your efforts significantly.

What’s the best way to measure SEO success?

Beyond average rankings, you should measure SEO success the way you would any other marketing channel:

  • Estimated Impressions
  • Clicks
  • Conversions

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