For many years, it was easy for a search engine optimization company to con unsuspecting clients by claiming to have a magic bullet – a secret method that would propel any website straight to a page one ranking. Search was shrouded in a cloud of mystique upon which unethical companies could capitalize.
Since being ranked highly translates to profitability, businesses had an obvious incentive to try to game the system. Small companies in particular saw an easy way to compete with large national brands, many of which were slow to embrace online marketing. A search for “running shoes” might have produced a full page of results before showing a listing for a nationally recognized company. But a high ranking did not necessarily translate to a quality site.
There is no quick and easy solution
SEO professionals disparaged colleagues who used black hat tactics; the Web is a much less interesting place when overrun with nonsensical, spammy content and irrelevant link listings. But questionable tricks used to work, like it or not. Fortunately, that time has passed. SEO – the type that focuses only on technical methods of increasing search ranking – is losing relevance. But SEO is not dead; it is merely being redefined. The new definition of SEO places less focus on pure ranking and more emphasis on building authority and trust online.
Search engines are businesses with profit models that require traffic. The best way for Google to keep people searching with their product is to produce consistently helpful results. The company accomplishes this in part by giving more weight to sites that educate, engage and say something new. The time of being able to land clicks and clients without thought and ingenuity has passed. Building a brand takes time.
Start to think of SEO as you would traditional marketing. The practices that made offline branding successful are now necessary to produce results online. Build your authority by telling a unique story and living up to the promise you are selling prospects. Get people to talk about your firm (and write reviews) through great client service. Network on social media (participate, don't just post) and grow your audience. Establish a relationship with local media, local causes and other local businesses. Good word-of-mouth online translates into organic links, which still play a role in search results.
Not everything you do will produce immediate calls or clients. Some things will have little result on your ranking. But they are necessary, just as keeping in constant touch with prospects through mailings, billboards, flyers and television and radio ads is critical for traditional marketing.
You would never sink your entire marketing budget into one print ad, so do not do the same online. Diversify your efforts. A promise of immediate results might sound enticing, but it is too good to last. Building a solid foundation and growing your firm's brand through an integrated online strategy will produce more noticeable, satisfying and long-lasting effects.