You run a business.

So you need to understand search engine optimization (SEO).

Don’t worry, it won’t hurt. You understand direct mail? I don’t mean in detail, not to be the one to actually run the campaign. But you know what it is, and what it can do for your business, and you can make decisions about it.

It is the same with SEO. You have to understand it because if you run a business that works online in pretty much any way at all, you are sure as hell going to be making decisions about SEO.

So, I’ve come up with a simple way of explaining what SEO is and how it works. (Well, you can be the judge of that anyway).

You can think of SEO like this.

The more relevant visits you get to your website, the better the chances you have of turning a lead or a sale.

You can get visits out of search engines two ways.

  1. Advertise. You can pay to advertise, and pay for every click you get. Simple, quick and often effective. Paying for clicks is called search engine marketing (SEM) or Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising.
  2. Optimize. You can optimize your website for certain keywords so that people who click on ‘normal’ search engine results (not the sponsored/paid ads) have a better chance of seeing your website entries. This is search engine optimization (SEO).

Because there are so many websites jostling for attention, getting found in the organic search engine results can be difficult. There are so many factors that influence where particular web sites rank in search engine result pages.

If you are going to wind up paying someone for SEO, you can look at the money you pay as going into one of two areas: Technical SEO and Marketing SEO.

Technical SEO

There are a whole bunch of things a website can do to kill its chances in the search engine race. Technical SEO makes sure that a website can at least get to the starting blocks.

You would think every website in the world would do this already, but they don’t. Some websites can’t even be indexed by Google (and if you ain’t indexed, you ain’t getting found anytime soon).

Technical SEO means making sure that all your web pages can be indexed, that each page has a unique title and description, that web pages use headings properly, that special sitemap files are prepared so that search engines can read them … the list goes on.

Marketing SEO

Ok, so if that was Technical SEO, what is left?

Where to start, all the really, really hard stuff. You see, because there are SO MANY web pages out there (increasingly with very smart SEO folk advising them or working for them), just getting to the starting blocks isn’t enough.

You need to stand out from the crowd. Writing good content isn’t enough, you need to promote it so it is noticed, read and passed on to others.

Websites without other websites linking to them don’t have any authority. And Google likes authority. Google seems to love authority so much it goes all misty eyed with high authority web pages and puts them right at the front of the queue.

SEOs who are good at Marketing SEO know how to get not just any old links, but high authority links, the ones that turn their web pages into high authority web pages as well. All links are not created equal, and Marketing SEO is what you need if you want good links.

Since SEO is so competitive these days, Marketing SEO is also very concerned with competitive research. Where do your web pages rank, what competitive pages rank higher, how many visitors do they get and where from, how many links do they have and where from, how can I get some of those visitors and those links … and so on.

I could go on. But I won’t. SEO is a big field. The CPC (cost per click) of many paid ads is already prohibitively high for many. We may see temporary falls with the economies of the known world going into reverse, but as and when things recover, CPCs are likely to rise.

So at some point you may find you want to spend on SEO. Technical SEO is relatively easy, and if not for the way search engines work you could hire a Google Certified SEO Technician to ‘do’ your website.

But Marketing SEO, that won’t ever be as easy. Marketing SEO is the hard bit.

And that brings me back to direct mail. Direct mail is easy. Print some letters, whack them in a stamped, addressed envelope and you have done the job. But … anyone who has done direct mail knows that good creative matters. A great offer, presented by a true master of direct copywriting, will outsell a mere technically proficient letter.

And the same it is with Marketing SEO. The creative aspect is very different, and right now a lot harder to understand. And even when you understand it, hard to do well.

So if you need to spend money on SEO, figure out what you are getting for your money. Technical SEO is almost a one off fee, just make sure you know what you are getting and who is doing the work. You might even consider getting another Technical SEO to check the work.

Marketing SEO is going to be harder to negotiate. The top Marketing SEOs aren’t for hire, because they can make so much money for themselves why would they work for the likes of others.

Good Marketing SEOs can be found, but you may find you get what you pay for. Just like the rest of the world. Damn.