Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Short History of Search Engine Optimization

Marketing, marketing, marketing. To most new website owners, online marketing might seem like an entirely new business challenge. But the essential connection between “marketing” and “business” is the same, on or off-line. As in the “real” world, unless your business has an intelligent, thoughtful online marketing strategy, you will not succeed, regardless of your industry.

Ten years ago, even as the Internet’s popularity boomed, TV and radio were still the preferred   advertising venue for most businesses. For years, in fact, TV and radio advertising was the most effective way to promote a business—but it was also very costly. At the time, you might know how to promote your business, but unless you had an advertising budget, attracting new customers was nearly impossible. With limited budgets, many new businesses chose less expensive advertising methods, like print advertisements. This method depended on the fact that newspapers, magazines, and brochures were actual products that might land directly in a potential customer’s hands. Some even thought that these readily-accessible advertisements attracted more attention than TV or radio.

As the Internet became a part of our daily lives, new online marketing opportunities revealed themselves to be more convenient, potentially more effective, and much less expensive than traditional marketing methods. Today, Internet marketing, also known as search engine optimization, or SEO marketing, is the least expensive, and most powerful, way to promote any business

From the beginning, SEO marketing was essentially FREE. With SEO, we learned that exposure could not be bought; it had to be earned. By optimizing a website’s online presence for search engines, a business could appear on the first page of sites like Google, Bing and Yahoo, attracting hundreds, even thousands, of new visitors every day.

However, since SEO was FREE, most search engines offered their own alternative: Pay Per Click (PPC).With PPC, website owners were obliged to pay for each click for each person who visited their site from the main page of a search engine. While this can be an effective approach to online marketing, it has also proved to be potentially expensive—you pay for each click whether your website makes a sale or not.

The challenge of achieving online visibility organically, without paying for PPC, left many website owners dispirited. Some even attempted to trick the system, and certain websites, utilizing any number of fancy shortcuts, appeared on Google’s first page—but their achievement was always temporary. As soon as the search engines discovered this system abuses, these websites were forever penalized.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How I Became an SEO Specialist

As a younger man, for ten years, I solved a mind-boggling array of hardware and software problems in the computer repair and maintenance industry. At the time, computers were not simply my job—they were my life. All I talked about was computers, and I often spent sixteen to eighteen hours each day studying how computers work. I devoted most of this time to exploring computer viruses and how to prevent a computer virus infection. At the time, only two companies in the world offered disaster recovery for new computers, yet I discovered my own method. Many people found my expertise useful: over the years, I found myself fixing more and more friend’s and family’s computers. I enjoyed this work. However, I worked for free, and I soon realized I could not continue to spend so much time repairing computers without compensation. This is when I decided to start my little computer repair and maintenance company, Stepmans PC.

At the beginning, most of my clients were individuals or small companies with no more than three workstations installed. To survive, I knew I needed to earn a reliable monthly income. So I offered subscription services, such as a monthly “Computer Clean-up.” For the length of the subscription, I promised my customers that their computers would never be infected, and that their computer’s performance would exceed the performance of a brand new, out-of-the-box computer. I kept this promise, and my clients praised my integrity. Promoting integrity, I sold myself to new clients.

One day, I received a phone call from one of my satisfied customers.

“Alex,” he said. “We want to create a website, and we want you to do it.”

I was flattered, and happy—and shocked.

“I am really sorry,” I replied. “I’m not a computer programmer, or web developer, and I’m not at all qualified to do that type of work.”

“But you are the best at solving computer problems!” my customer said.

“Computers, yes,” I said.“But not programming.”

I tried to explain that computer repair and web development requires entirely different skill-sets, but my customer didn’t seem to care: “Alex,” he said. “We will wait until you create a website for us”.

It was hard to resist my customer’s persistence, but I experienced a moral dilemma—a dilemma that, in the past, had made me pause before I agreed to do any type of work: I did not want to get paid for a job that would not satisfy my customer.

My solution was simple. I said to my customer: “I will create a website for myself [Stepmans PC], and if you like the website I will create something similar for your company.”

The customer agreed, and, in the end, I did create a website for them, a site I maintain to this day:

Not long after we launched this website, the customer called and asked: “Why is our website not found on Google?”

Like most web developers, I did not know the answer. Quite simply, just like computer repair and web development, web development and search engine optimization require entirely different skill-sets. Still, I felt really bad: I had delivered a product that did not satisfy my customer! I did not really see a solution, either, but I was intrigued by a question: How exactly does one make a website appear on the first page of major search engines?

To my customer, I offered a compromise. I assumed the price for search engine optimization was equal to the price of virus removal, so I would simply refund the cost for my customer to hire their own optimization specialist. Unfortunately, we soon learned that the cost for an optimization specialist could be ten times more than virus removal. So I had no choice: I had to learn search engine optimization (SEO).

Learning SEO, I helped my client’s website appear on Google’s first page—but only for a short time. I have now maintained Master Kitchen Design’s website, and many other websites, for more than 6 years, and I’ve learned that SEO is an ongoing process. A website can never be fully optimized because Google constantly changes their algorithm for ranking sites. But I have learned the most crucial aspects of website optimization. Today, I am proud to say that all of my clients are visible on the first page of Google at most times. SEO has become my prime talent, and I love helping clients optimize their websites. Unlike computer repair and maintenance, the world of SEO is dynamic and constantly evolving. The desire to confront the SEO challenge has transformed me into a true SEO professional. Each day, I wake inspired to develop new marketing strategies for my clients.