Realistic SEO Expectations
by Jill Whalen
In Advisor Issue #140 I talked about setting SEO client expectations in terms of their role in creating a successful campaign. Today, I'm going to talk about client expectations in terms of realistic results.
Those who've been in the SEO biz for a number of years know how much more competitive it is these days as compared to a few years ago. The number of webpages indexed by search engines has doubled, tripled, and quadrupled in past years. On top of that, a good portion of site owners and webmasters know just enough SEO to be dangerous. In the golden age of SEO, the vast majority of websites hadn't given a thought to the search engines, and when they did, it was only to place some keywords in their Meta tags. (Which, incidentally, didn't help then either.) Those were the days when anyone who knew even the slightest bit about SEO could easily rank highly in all the major search engines, with very little effort. Even competitive areas were doable with just a little more work than their non-competitive counterparts.
These days, it's almost the exact opposite. Even keyword phrases that nobody's searching for can sometimes be difficult to obtain high rankings with unless you really and truly know what you're doing. And even then, those rankings may be here one day, and gone the next. The problem is magnified for new businesses and new websites. If your site isn't at least a few years old, your SEO efforts will be less likely to provide the results you want. This is one reason why your website optimization should always be seen as a long-term proposition.
As we move forward in this industry, webmasters, site owners, and SEOs need to shift their focus from that of asking how they can get this keyword to this position in this engine to how they can get more targeted traffic and convert it into customers. Unfortunately, a large portion of those looking into SEO services are still seeing the small picture. For instance, on the contact form on my site, I ask people to tell me a little bit about their "business goals." A good portion who fill it out want something like "top-5 rankings in Google and Yahoo for this keyword." Huh? That's not a business goal! A business goal is more like "Bring more people to my website who are searching online for the types of products we sell." (As a side note, soon after writing this, I got an email from someone whose goal was to have their Flash site be "#1 in all the search engines for the word 'spring.'" I kid you not!)
Don't get me wrong, I very much understand why people would love to move their rankings up from #11 to #1 for a highly sought-after and targeted keyword phrase. I'm quite sure it would very much increase their targeted traffic and their sales (assuming they're doing everything else right). My frustration lies in the fact that there are people who believe that somehow an SEO company can magically snap their fingers or wave their magic wands and make it so. They probably found my site at #2 in Google for search engine optimization and expect that I can just do to their site whatever it was I did to my site, and voila -- instant rankings!
Even the best SEOs are not magicians. They can't simply place a site at the top of the engines when there are hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of others that offer basically the same thing, and provide basically the same information. If they could, you'd see a whole lot more millionaire SEOs.
Does this mean that SEO is dead?
Absolutely not! But SEO that focuses on rankings for the most highly sought-after keywords in any given space is most definitely dying. This doesn't mean that you have to settle for keywords that receive few searches. It just means that you have to broaden your horizons and see the big picture.
Almost every time I review one of those "put me at #1" prospects' websites, I see tons of opportunities for fixing the site in general so that it will work better for both their users and the search engines. They are almost always so focused on their "money phrases" that they completely neglect many areas of their site. Instead they put their special phrase on every page and never research the thousands of others that are being typed into search engines every day.
Another trend I've been seeing a lot lately is the creation of content simply for the sake of creating content. What's that all about? SEOs certainly throw the words "good content" around a lot, but why is it that nobody seems to know what that means? We now have a whole cottage industry of companies who will allegedly write "good content" for you. Worse, there's even one that will *rent* you content! Newsflash...good content has nothing to do with the history of your products. Nor is good content a bunch of madlib spam pages where you simply substitute keyword phrases from one page into the other. Good content isn't stuff you write for the search engines.
Good content is unique. Really and truly unique. It is creative ideas that simply popped into your head which nobody else in your space has thought of yet. The key to good content is creativity. Unfortunately, creativity itself seems to be a dying art. Being creative isn't looking at what your competitor is doing and copying them. It's being a leader, not a follower. It's having your own voice and your own opinions and expressing them, regardless of what others might think. It's pouring your heart and soul into your website, not looking for the next quick fix. And it's (say it with me) making your site the best it can be for your site visitors AND the search engines. It's what's made my site rank highly for the most competitive phrase there is (among thousands of other phrases), and it's what will make your site rank highly for whatever phrases relate to it. But it's not easy, and it's not fast. And it can't be done with the flick of a switch.
So please...if your pet phrase isn't ranking highly enough, don't call me and don't email me. In fact, don't call or email *any* SEO company. Instead of calling, you need to reassess your goals. No SEO company in the world will be able to help you unless you are ready to forget about what you think you want, and learn more about what you really need. Read that last sentence again until you really understand it. Forget about what you think you want, and learn more about what you really need.
And remember, there are plenty of companies that will say they can do whatever you want them to do. You want to be #1 for spring? Sure, no problem. They will happily take your money, do some work, and promptly get no results. Don't blame them though -- they were just telling you what you wanted to hear.
About the Author: Jill Whalen of High Rankings® is an internationally recognized search engine optimization consultant and host of the free weekly High Rankings® Advisor search engine marketing newsletter. Jill's handbook, "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" teaches business owners how and where to place relevant keyword phrases on their Web sites so that they make sense to users and gain high rankings in the major search engines.
Jill specializes in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, site analysis reports, SEM seminars and is the co-founder of the new search marketing and website design company, Search Creative, LLC.