SEO lessons from Google: Essentials for contemporary SEO
Google released a video recently where it listed the characteristics of a good SEO consultant and how to hire one. Presented by Maile Ohye, Developer Programs Tech Lead at Google, the video is an addition to the search giant’s “Do you need a SEO” page.
In the 11-minute video (embedded below), Ohye provides companies looking for external SEO consultants some useful do’s and don’ts and the process to follow in identifying the right individual or firm to work with.
As a SEO service provider, operating primarily in markets like Singapore and Mumbai where this practice has often been treated as a commoditized service, the video resonated with me on several counts.
I’ll list some of the key takeaways from the video, many of which we reiterate to our prospective clients during the pitch stage. Some of the points below are taken verbatim from the video while some others are edited or elaborated with my views.
- No magic bullet: If you aspire for long-term SEO success, there are no magic tricks that any SEO professional or company can provide. Typically, “SEOs need 4 months to a year to help a business first implement improvements and then see potential benefit”.
The duration for seeing favorable results may vary from business to business, website to website, but when companies claim that they can “guarantee” 1st page rankings on Google within a month, alarm bells must ring very loud.
- Quality matters: “A SEO’s potential is only as good as the quality of your business or website.”
Though I don’t agree with the above statement in its entirety, it holds true in the long term. I’ve seen several instances where very large and successful businesses don’t do nearly as well in search results. On the other hand, we ourselves have helped several SMEs outrank some well-known brands, without resorting to any black-hat SEO tactics or taking risky short-cuts.
So while a good SEO consultant won’t be able to take a poor quality business anywhere for too long, he can certainly work with a business that has a decent level of quality and help it compete and succeed.
- Ability to look beyond search rankings: “A good SEO does not focus only on search engine ranking but how they can help the business. It is difficult to do good SEO without knowing a business’ goals, customers and other existing marketing efforts. SEO should complete your existing work.” I couldn’t agree with Maile Ohye more here. It is of course expected that the consultant will recommend best practices for search-friendly websites. However, for too long, both SEO consultants as well as the companies hiring them- especially in the SME segment- have been obsessed over the technicalities of the medium aka the search engine (Google, in most cases).
As search and search marketing has evolved, I think it is critical for SEO consultants to have a strong marketing mindset. They have to be able to look beyond meta data, java scripts, CSS and server response codes (these are important, of course), and be able to understand and appreciate the nuances of great content and usability and user experience. The ability and instincts to “connect different sets of dots” from across the business and leveraging those to catalyze SEO efforts, are other essential attributes.
It is important to understand and more importantly, be aligned with, the outcome for the business: be it just traffic, leads or online sales. This focus and alignment on desired outcome can happen only if the consultant has asked for and obtained complete clarity on the stated business goals, its unique value propositions, profile of their target audience and business/revenue model, other marketing methods and channels used (including offline marketing) and competitors.
- User experience & SEO are linked closely: “In a majority of cases, doing what is good for SEO is also good for your users online customers”. Bingo!For a long time, too many people viewed SEO as a silo that was completely detached from the rest of the user experience. It was almost like these were two mutually exclusively phenomena, and the only way one could succeed in the “SEO game” was by throwing usability and user experience out of the window.This disconnect between SEO & usability manifested itself in several forms: lots of keyword-stuffed copy in the lower part of the pages (even top sites like eBay seemed to have resorted to these tactics in the past); text in tiny fonts on the side bar, and so on.
Now it is increasingly acknowledged that the user experience matters considerably. There have been several hypotheses that bounce rate and the time spent on a site have a bearing on search rankings (though I don’t think this correlation has been definitively proved). Also, common sense dictates that if the user experience upon landing on a web page isn’t great or trustworthy, the user will abandon the page and defeat the very purpose for which he was brought there.
So, the key message is: don’t disregard user experience while doing SEO, and don’t treat the latter as something very different from how the user engages with your website. The two can and should go hand-in-hand!
- Active participation in strategy execution is necessary: “One of the biggest holdups is the unwillingness of the organisation to implement the SEO recommendations.” We’ve encountered this scenario several times. We formulate a SEO strategy and provide a list of recommendations for implementation. And then, things come to a standstill. With SMEs it is a case of resource constraints or issues with third-party vendors that we have to deal with, while with some larger organisations, it is the bureaucracy.For example, we did some consulting work for a European subsidiary company of a global industrial giant. Twenty four months after we presented our strategy and execution plan, we managed to get about seven out of the 30+ recommendations we had made.At every stage, there were several reasons why something couldn’t get done sooner:: IT department couldn’t move forward without approvals from the marketing department who couldn’t do much without approvals from their corporate headquarters and so on.Though financially rewarding, the above project was quite frustrating because the strategy we defined never even came close to getting executed.
If you are a marketer that is hiring a SEO agency, beware of such a scenario playing out and putting the entire initiative at risk.
Make sure you have the buy-in of all stakeholders and you will commit the time and resources to actively participate in the process with the SEO consultant. Only then will you have a fair shot succeeding with the SEO campaign.
- Manoj Aravindakshan