In my line of business I'm often asked “to SEO” (search engine optimization) a web site. I'm the person that can wire up a complex custom application and present it in a meaningful way to users, but I don't fit the stereotypical SEO profile. I don't engage in the voodoo magic and black hat tricks of SEOers, and won't do things like post a link to your site on 5 million other sites. Those kinds of tricks have never felt right, so I've always declined SEO work. Until recently, the terms SEO and online marketing have been largely synonymous. But recent changes in search engine algorithms have made me rethink what it means "to SEO".

All products and services require some form of marketing in order to acquire and keep customers. Different marketing concepts can be applied based on budgets and goals. With the ubiquity of the Internet in Americans’ lives, an online marketing campaign often yields a much higher return on investment than a paid advertising campaign using traditional media or pay per click online advertising.

The once stalwart methodology of search engine optimization (SEO), which leverages manipulative tactics to trick search engines, has finally been thwarted. These tricks now yield a poor return on investment. Additionally, search engines will actually penalize sites that continue to use these frowned upon tactics.

SEOers try to trick search engines, but it's a game that search engines have caught onto. Google, the most widely used search engine, is notorious for continuously changing their secret and proprietary search algorithm. They, and by extension the entire search industry, have shifted away from meaningless metrics such as backlinks from valueless websites that exist merely for the sake of creating backlinks.

Instead search engines have fine-tuned their complex algorithms to highly favor the real reason that people go to web sites; meaningful content and interaction with other like-minded people.

Content Is King

Why do you go to a website? Is it to see an overflowing list of hyperlinks jammed between endless banner ads, or to find meaningful information? Of course, it's the latter. In marketing terms we're talking about content. Content is the words on the web page, and the images that support those words. Internet users spend time on a web site to read those words, to consume their meaning, and to acquire information that they can use in some other meaningful way.

As a business owner, you want your visitors to eventually conduct a transaction. The content is what drives a person to your site and what educates them enough to want to conduct a transaction. Without content, people may never stumble onto your site to begin with. Quality content, which is probably not your company's primary offering, is the marketing force that will result in people finding out about your true offering.

Social Interactions

With the rise of social networks (ex: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, online comments) people are talking not only about social topics, but also about businesses. Search engines have the ability to tap into most of these social interactions to determine who is talking about which companies and websites. These social interactions are powerful indicators of what people are really interested in, and they factor in greatly to search rankings.

Putting it all together

SEOing is no longer about manipulative tactics to trick search engines. It's actually quite simple - give people what they really want. But simple doesn't mean it's easy.

If you want better traction for your business then think about what it is that you're really offering. Get to the core of why people want your offering. If you can't do that, and summarize it in one sentence, then it's time to think hard about what you do. Once your offering is summarized, create a list of topics that you can eventually write on. Set aside time each week or two to flesh out each topic, then post your article on your web site or blog, and send to all your customers.

Having trouble summarizing your business offering, dreaming up ideas for content, or just don't have time to write articles and send them to clients? Find a reputable content marketer or business consultant to help. A good one will greatly assist you by defining an effective marketing strategy and they'll help generate ideas for meaningful articles. The really good ones will even ghostwrite your articles and distribute to your clients via email blasts, twitter, and Facebook posts.

Reallocate your marketing budget to marketing that converts. Content marketing and online social interactions are the way to get eyeballs to your site and your offering. And be sure to stay far away from the now defunct manipulative SEO tactics of the past.

Also published in Inside Business on Jan 31, 2014.