In my previous post, Everything you need to know about SEO, I started my baker’s dozen list with a critically important insight: “SEO isn’t an overnight success story or a one-time effort.” It’s page rank at #1 was not coincidental.
This is a very important statement for SEOs to convey to their clients and for webmasters to understand. You need to set expectations. The trouble is that all of us today live in a world of instant gratification. We are used to getting into a car when we want to go somewhere rather than waiting for a ride on the bus. We are used to buying songs from the Internet and listening to them immediately rather than going to the store and buying a record album. We are used to ordering pre-made food (or a poor, approximate facsimile thereof) wrapped in paper (or plastic!) and eating within seconds of paying for it rather than cooking a meal from scratch. Our Internet connections are super-fast (remember 4800 bps modems?), our TVs controlled by wireless remotes (who needs to get off the couch?), we use speed dial on our phones (who memorizes phone numbers anymore?), and we send text messages from those phones from anywhere at any time (why bother to talk?). Who has the time or patience to wait for anything?
So when a client hires a search engine optimization consultant (or when a webmaster performs his or her own SEO work on a site), isn’t it natural to expect instant results? After all, search engines crawl the whole damn web, index all of its contents, and then provide us with the best, most relevant results to our random search queries as fast as our broadband connections can show the page. Results are instantaneous with search engines, right?
Well, not so fast, Bucko. Let’s consider what a search engine has to do to be able to serve those results. While serving up query results may be fast, little else is (for most sites, anyway. Active news content sites move faster than most others due to the nature of their content).
Note to my readers: As in much of life if not more so, the SEO world is littered with caveats. I’ll try to provide them as necessary and relevant in my posts.
When an optimized set of pages are published, they have to wait to be crawled. That takes time (sometimes a fair amount of time). Once the crawler comes, it may not crawl the whole site. Of the URLs crawled, it may not index all of them. Of those that are indexed, the content has to be parsed for keywords to create query relevance. Once done, the quality of the content affects how the relevance to those keywords is assessed. Then that content is compared to other, existing indexed content with the same relevance and the rankings are updated. This cycle happens continuously. Your competition is continuously changing their content, perhaps even undergoing their own SEO campaign. And then search engines continuously change their algorithms, which affects the rankings, which URLs are indexed, even if some URLs are crawled.
If you run CNN, your site is constantly crawled for new content. If your site is Amazon, you get a lot of search crawler time and attention across your whole site. Those sites (and similar, high-authority sites) get that degree of attention because searchers actively seek their content. The rest of us, however, have to work hard just to be noticed. Luckily, if you implement your SEO campaign wisely, such as identifying relevant keywords, filling out keyword-rich metadata fields in pages, offering plenty of unique and high-quality content, and building a good set of high-quality backlinks, you’ll create a virtuous circle that runs like this:
Good content –> crawler attention –> searcher interest –> higher rank –> crawler attention –> searcher interest –> higher rank –> … and so on.
If you keep feeding that cycle with new, good content, it’ll thrive like my Italian Sweet Basil plants in my AeroGarden! (Who knew they’d grow to be nearly 3’ tall?) Just understand this cycle ascends more like the path of a coil spring, not a rocket ship. You won’t earn the full benefit overnight. You need time to demonstrate a consistent workflow that the crawlers see, improvements that are reliably there, and earn a resulting strong traffic flow before you earn the full confidence of the search engines they need to have trust in your site.
The 4th dimension of SEO
When talking to clients, I like to use the metaphor of wealth building. Everyone in management understands this. If you are a 25-year-old and invest your first $100 into your first 401(k) plan, you don’t have $2,000,000 overnight (even Bernie Madoff’s scam Ponzi scheme wasn’t that absurdly overhyped). You need time to build your wealth. Investing in SEO is very much like that. If you invest only once, your potential for growth is limited compared to those who invest regularly. Same goes if you invest too little. If you invest in SEO way too aggressively (or worse, illegitimately), you can lose everything and be left with nothing of value. Invest wisely and allow time for the investment to work.
Now if you have a client who just insists that they must be at the top of the first page of a search engine results page (SERP) with little effort, there is only one sure-fire and legitimate way to do that – you need to buy search ads! But don’t misunderstand me here. Buying search ads in Google and/or Bing won’t elevate your “natural” or “organic” search ranking with them one iota. But if you bid well, you’ll be the top listing in the sponsored links section for a relevant query SERP! But, of course, that goes away the moment you stop your search engine marketing campaign.
So, in your attempt to earn the #1 rank in the organic SERP list, you either need to optimize for the long tail of search (where there is much less competition – and business opportunity – on a per-keyword basis) or you must do everything better than every one of your competitors for head search terms (aka the most popular – and competitive – keywords for a topic). Even if that was possible, nothing is guaranteed. And because nothing is guaranteed, the best bet is to resign yourself to the reality that legitimate SEO takes time to earn full benefits. Remember: Wealth-building. AeroGarden basil. Yeah, you get it.
So my friends, do the hard work, be consistent in your efforts, stay legitimate, monitor your site’s traffic and/or conversions over time (and then plan to revisit your SEO efforts on a regular basis to further improve upon your last effort). It’s all good.
But there’s really no silver bullet with SEO. However, there are a lot of ways to shoot yourself in the foot by trying over-aggressively (I’ll cover that later on). Time and good work are your best bets for sustained success. Pass on the word.
More thoughts on my SEO baker’s dozen list soon. See you again shortly.