SEO revisited

Things have changed online over the past 20 years or so, but SEO still seems to be a thing.

The value of SEO has always been a contentious issue for me. There are oodles of online networks that a website owner can tap into to attract visitors, and many of them can segment their users on a such granular level that you can laser-guide your message to the precise demographic you're after. It's what all the big Internet players have been working on for decades.

Targeted ads aren't free of course, hence the lure of the seemingly lower cost SEO option. A website that ranks well in natural 'organic' listings can attract a lot of traffic for free, yay! No?

I'm tempted to say, "there's no such thing as free traffic". It's true that sites that search engines, (i.e. Google), like can rank well in search results and gain referrals without direct cost, but there's usually some sort of cost, either in terms of content creation, SEO consultancy, or both.

It has always been possible to engineer a website's content to boost its ranking for a search phrase, but it's often not easy. It usually takes effort and expertise, which aren't usually free. Then there's time. For a website to rank well, it needs to be trusted, which usually means it has to have been around for a while, and have links to it from other trusted sites. Getting content listed can take time too. Google has to send its spiders out to harvest your content before including it in its index, which could take hours, days or sometimes months.

Let's say you're a prolific content generator and lucky. Let's say you hit the top for one or two of your target key words or phrases. Now what? You can see your website ranking well when you do a test search, ok, so how has this effected traffic? Let's check the server logs, or an analysis of them, or more likely a report produced by Google's 'Analytics'. If the key words and phrases you now rank well for are popular, you should see an increase in traffic. And what does increased traffic mean? Prizes!

Well, maybe prizes. It depends. If the search terms you've targeted are ones used by people looking to buy what you're selling, then yes. But how do you know? Most people simply guess when choosing search terms to target, which is fine - we can't all be SEO gurus.

Tracking systems á la GA offer some degree of conversion tracking, but getting the value of a particular key phrase...? I'm not sure that's a standard report.

Apples vs Oranges

I was about to explain more complexity and difficulty using hypotheticals and fruit, but perhaps it's time for a case study or two. I've developed a modest online wineshop recently, and it would be useful to get it noticed, so Mr SEO man, show yourself how it's done.

Step 1. Pick your first target search phrase.

In ye olden days when the entire content of the World Wide Web could be stored on a Zip drive, I used to use things like Wordtracker to try to find the most used search terms for a given industry sector. It was a useful tool, and having just revisited it, I suspect it still is, to a degree. However, I think my first target search phrase should be accurate and honest, not just trying to tap into the existing stream.

I'm going to start by setting the bar low with "white swan wines". It should be relatively easy to rank highly for that, but at the time of writing, my site is nowhere to be seen. Time to stop waffling and go to work...