Will SEO actually help your business?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a great way to help drive traffic to your website, but it’s also a very misunderstood term. “If my business were ranked first on Google searches, then we’d really start doing well” is not an uncommon statement from a business owner.

You may have received cold calls from companies guaranteeing the top spot — or at least a place on the first page — of Google search results. What if that company could do what is promised? It usually can’t, of course, but it’s an interesting proposition. This article will help clarify the question: will SEO actually help your business?

What really is SEO?

Google and other search engines use algorithms to identify the most effective ways to answer search queries, and these algorithms perform worldwide searches in less than a second. Imagine if a search engine had to scour the whole Internet each time you searched for something. With YouTube alone adding 100 hours of video every minute of every day, the process would take forever. The algorithms automate this process by searching the Web and ranking relevance. You type in “how to tie a tie” (the most common how-to search on Google for 2013), and Google already knows where to take you based on past searches.

SEO is structuring your website so a computer program can find a relevant answer to a question. If your customers or prospective customers are searching for “how to tie a tie” and your site has the best and most relevant answer to that question, you’re rewarded through a higher rank. How do you ensure you’re the best and most relevant? Produce content answering that question better than others. As you become more relevant, you become more relevant. The more visitors coming to your page for whom you can answer the question, the higher you’re ranked.

Vanity SEO vs. functional SEO

Being ranked first on a Google search is great for bragging rights, isn’t it? But is it helping you actually grow your business? However you’ve achieved that ranking, we need to be sure that when a prospective customer clicks on your site, he or she finds something relevant. Otherwise, you have a website visitor who generates no revenue for you. In the parlance of business plans, you have a user and not a customer. Vanity SEO is ranking highly on Google and not converting those prospects to customers.

If your company’s website is like most, it might simply be an electronic brochure. Your company’s history, what you do, who works there, awards, etc., are all good to know, but what do they do for your potential customer? Does he or she care about your mission statement or your director of finance? Not yet. This visitor wants to know why he or she should do business with you. If your website is all about you, and not about them, this person has no reason to choose you over a competitor.

How do we create functional SEO? We engage a visitor once he or she visits our website. The visitor gets the answer to the question he or she has, and more importantly, sees a clear and distinct call to action. If this visitor wants to buy something from you, is there a clear path of engagement?

Congratulations! You’re first on Google

Wave a magic wand and — poof! — your business ranks first on Google searches. What searches, you ask? Whatever searches your potential customers are typing into Google. “I don’t know what my potential customers are searching for,” you might say. This topic is not just important, it’s a critical distinction. Whom are you trying to attract to your website, exactly? Start with this idea:

  1. Think about who is an A+ customer of yours.
  2. What questions did that customer have when he or she was just a prospect?
  3. Start answering those questions on your website.

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Spend some time segmenting this set of customers and write down what problems of theirs you’ve fixed. These will be your most viable prospects, and the topics we discuss on your website will help attract their attention. Once we take the time to answer those questions, we now have permission to ask for their business. Remember, questions have a problem embedded within them. Think about these questions and the problems implied within them:

Question: What are the best foods to eat for losing weight?
Problem: I’m looking for a solution to a weight problem for myself or someone else.

Question: What alternatives are there to a shock collar?
Problem: I’m looking for a solution to a barking or misbehaving dog.

Question: What does it cost to set up an LLC?
Problem: I’m looking for solutions to protect my assets or to mitigate my business liability.

Let your visitor know what to do next

After answering his or her question, direct your visitor toward purchasing your products or services by proposing a solution to the underlying problem. If your website is simply an electronic brochure for your company — and not a teaching tool — this back-and-forth virtual discussion will not happen on your site, and the visitor will be at a dead end.

Are you paying someone to do SEO for your company now? Is this person explaining why it’s so important to consider what happens on your website AFTER a visitor actually clicks on it?

Spencer X. Smith is a Waunakee-based business consultant.

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