By Elizabeth Schwartz and Ann Seibert, Anamorphics, Inc.
If you own a commercial real estate business, and especially if you have a company website, you have probably heard the phrase Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.
Despite the common use of the phrase, many people still do not know what SEO truly is or how it works. The Internet is saturated with information about SEO: some of it true, much of it not, all of it overwhelming, and parts of it downright scary. With all the myths and misinformation available, it is, at best, a difficult world to navigate.
With this series of articles, we plan to demystify SEO for the layperson, helping business owners understand what it is, why they need it, and how it can work for them. We will address fears, answer common questions, and discuss the contents of the SEO toolbox.
>> KEYWORDS = HOW PEOPLE SEARCH
So, what is SEO? Simply put, it is a strategy designed to improve your website’s ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs). To work properly, SEO uses keywords. All types of SEO use keywords. Keywords are chosen for relevance to the business and its product or service. For instance, if the firm’s specialty is commercial real estate, some keywords to consider may be “commercial leasing” or “aquisitions” or “property management.”
How do you select keywords? The first step is research. With tools such as Google Adwords’ Keyword Tool, Google Insights for Search, Google Trends Keyword Demand Prediction, Microsoft Advertising Intelligence, and Wordtracker’s Free Basic Keyword Demand a firm can better understand customer search habits.
For example, last month more than one million searches occured using the words “commercial real estate” and locally (in the Valley) there were 673,000 searches. However, the use of the search term has been steadily declining since 2005. (Refer to the inset graphic)
Analytic tools enable a business owner to understand what terms are being used by customers and the competition. They identify where (both geographically and within the internet) people are searching and permit the comparison of search terms for performance.
When selecting keywords, it’s important to understand a customer’s search behavior. What a firm thinks a customer uses and what a customer actually uses, may be two very different terms.
>> ORGANIC VS. PAID
There are two types of SEO: organic and paid. Each type comes with its own collection of tools.
Organic SEO describes the processes to obtain a natural placement on organic search engine results pages (SERPs). Some techniques used for organic SEO include using keywords and keyword analysis, backlinking, link building to improve link popularity, and writing content relevant for readers. Organic SEO is the result of a solid website design and proper development, working keywords into the content and coding of the site. It is slow-growing and requires patience, but organic SEO yields better, long-term results.
Paid SEO results are basically advertisements. Similar to organic SEO, Paid SEO uses keyword strategies. A firm sets up and pays for keywords. How? When a potential customer performs a search using a relevant keyword or phrase, the firm’s website appears in the SERP.
However, with paid SEO, you pay for each click connecting the customer to your website. This can lead to much faster but short-lived results. Some techniques used for paid SEO include: Google Adwords, Facebook Pay- Per-Click, paid directory listings, Google Maps paid version, paid ghost writing for blogs.
Still cloudy? Think of SEO in terms of tomatoes. Organic SEO is the tomato seed. You plant the seed, then you wait for the plant to grow. Once it does, it will bear fruit for a period of time. Conversely, paid SEO is when you realize that you don’t have time to wait for your plant to grow; you need a tomato for tonight’s salad. You go to the store and buy a tomato, obtaining immediate gratification, but with no lasting results. Both approaches have value. The tough part is determining the when to use them.
>> THREE COMMON QUESTIONS
When Anamorphics meet with new clients, there are inevitably three primary questions that surface regarding SEO. Do I need SEO? Can I do SEO myself? Why is it so expensive to hire an SEO firm? The answers to these questions tend to be the same, regardless of who the client is or what type of business they run.
Do I need SEO? Yes, you do. To grow a business in the 21st century, you must have an on-line presence, an no online presence is complete or effective without some kind of SEO.
Can I do SEO myself? You could certainly attempt it. SEO is not rocket science, but there is an art to it, and experience goes a long way. It is also incredibly time-intensive. Most companies, especially smaller businesses, do not have an employee who can devote the time needed to create proper SEO. Hiring a professional firm is not a requirement, but it is usually the best course of action.
Why is it so expensive to hire an SEO firm? Effective SEO requires extensive research, copywriting, content manipulation, and keyword strategies, all of which take time. You are paying for the firm’s time and experience.
Now you are familiar with the basics of what SEO is. In our next article we will discuss SEO Myths: the Good, the Bad, and the Gossip. In it we will address the truths and the common misconceptions associated with SEO.