Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Conversation with SEO Specialist, Alex Stepman

Just before Memorial Day this year, Alex Stepman, of Stepmans PC, offered a FREE Organic Website Optimization Audit to ten lucky website owners. The response was so overwhelming that merely a month later, in June, Alex opened the FREE audit to ten more sites.

Alex will be the first to tell you, "SEO is a learning process, even for me," so it's not surprise that his experience auditing a variety of websites this summer has yielded some interesting observations about the nature and purpose of Organic SEO.

Today, as we enter the last weekend of summer vacation (if not summer itself!), we thought we'd share some of Alex's summertime observations.

Of course, Alex's experience taught him a great deal about the evolving challenge of designing and developing an SEO-friendly website. His number one insight? As Alex told the SEO Blog over grilled chicken, roasted potatoes, and red wine this week:

"About ninety percent of the websites I audited were not optimized for the major search engines. Typical problems included design and development flaws that could have easily been avoided when the website was built."

For more information about SEO-friendly website design, please read Building a Website? Read This First! And for more information about SEO-friendly website development read: Website Development: The Perfect Job for Spock.

What might come as a surprise, however, is that nearly 100% of the website's owners assumed that  their websites were optimized for search engines. Many seemed to think that a beautiful website translated to an effective website. In one sense this is true: a beautiful website, if optimized, will likely perform better than an ugly website.

But more to the point, Alex said, "Not all website developers build search engine-friendly sites, and if a site cannot be easily discovered by search engines, it is invisible, a high-priced business card."

The "high-priced business card" is one of Alex's favorite analogies for good reason. "Think about it," he said, "if a search engine cannot discover a site, the only way to find the site is to type the address directly into the URL bar. In this scenario, the site serves no real purpose independent of the owner's own person-to-person marketing efforts."

The advantage of SEO, of course, is that a good campaign can match a quality website with its ideal customer. But first, a website must serve a purpose.

"What is the purpose of your website?" Alex asked, holding his chicken drumstick.  He paused to take a bite, then broke into a spirited oration:

"For most websites, the purpose is simple: to make money! But how will the website make money? Most website owners, when prodded, cannot answer this simplest of questions. So I must help them refine their thinking. I ask them, 'What product or service do you intend to sell? And who do you intend to sell your product or service to?' These are the simplest of questions, of course, but most website owners can only answer the first and not the second question. So that is the challenge: figuring out who you will sell your product to."

Of course, as Alex noted, a great SEO campaign can help you refine your offering. Now wonder one of the most popular posts on the Organic SEO Blog is "How SEO Can Help You Clarify Your Business Offering."

But this summer's website audits weren't all about design and development. Alex's most important insights, as usual, came directly from talking to the website owners themselves.

"Most people do not understand SEO," Alex said. "For many website owners, the mere idea of SEO is mysterious, even confusing. My job as an SEO specialist is to demystify the practice so that each client feels confident about my work. I also strive to teach each client how to think like an SEO specialist. I discuss my strategy in plain terms until my client is comfortable with the lingo."

"And what do people think about SEO?" I asked.

Alex regarded his glass of wine, his second, for a moment before answering.  "Well, to be honest," he said, "they think it won't work, that it's too expensive, and that it will take too long."

"Is any of that true?" I asked.

"Of course not!" Alex said, leaning forward. "I'll tackle each one in order. The belief that SEO won't work is nonsense. There are many, many organic techniques that can improve a website's performance quickly. The key is for the SEO specialist to constantly stay on top of the algorithm."

"Is it expensive?" I asked.

"I will not sit here and tell you that SEO is free," Alex said. "Then I would be out of a job!" At this, Alex laughed heartily, a deep belly laugh that inspired my own laughter.

"Of course," Alex continued, "SEO is an investment. Is it an expensive investment? Well, not when compared to other means of advertising, like PPC. Plus, most people are more likely to click an organic link than a sponsored link. You might pay up to nine bucks per click with Google AdWords, but with organic SEO your cost could be as little as a quarter per click, or even less. In the end, organic SEO offers a sustainable ROI--the best available in website marketing."

For more information on SEO's ROI, please read Forbes' helpful article, "What ROI Can I Expect From SEO?"

"And what about the last concern?" I asked. "Will SEO take a long time?"

Alex stared contemplatively at the wine bottle, now overflowing with air. "In one sense, this is an unfair question. Any quality marketing campaign will take some time to truly produce results. Marketing is like radioactivity in the soil--its effects are felt in the long term. Well, maybe that's a bad analogy, because SEO's effects are so beneficial." Alex paused for a moment to smile. "In another sense, though, SEO can produce positive results quite quickly. I have bumped recently-developed website to the first page of Google in a month or less."

And with this, Alex turned away, saying, "Excuse me, I have a call." It just so happened to be a recent client who had called to thank Alex for his work.

"And that's what makes me feel happy," Alex said, after he'd placed his cell back in his pocket. "Helping people find their customers. That way everyone is happy, right?"