What Is SEO? – A Guide For South African Business Owners
Search Engine Optimisation is a term that is central to the Digital Marketing Industry. It is also a term that impacts all 2 billion odd websites along with the businesses or people connected to them. So, as you’d expect, there are many articles around that try to answer the question, “what is SEO?”. Most of the pieces you can find though are written as general guides for beginners wanting to optimise their own blogs, or technical resources for aspiring digital marketers, not with business owners in mind.
I’ve written this guide based on the assumption that you aren’t a digital marketer or part of an adjoining profession. You’re a business owner or high-level exec that has heard about SEO and would like to know what it is, what it can do for you and when it can be used effectively as part of your marketing mix.
In this guide you’ll find:
- What is SEO? A Definition & Short Video
- How Do Businesses Benefit From Search Engine Optimisation?
- Where SEO Fits In The Digital Marketing Mix?
- What Work Goes Into Optimising For Search Engines?
- Does SEO Fit Your Business?
- Can You Do SEO In-house?
- Inside Information – What To Look For In A Search Engine Optimiser
What is SEO? A Definition & Short Explainer Video
All major search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo have primary search results, where web pages and other content such as videos or local listings are shown and ranked based on what the search engine considers most relevant to users. Payment isn’t involved, as it is with paid search ads. ~ Search Engine Land
How Do Businesses Benefit From Search Engine Optimisation?
Increase Website Traffic
Many businesses in South Africa have websites. Which is great. These days, if you don’t have a website that you can send your customers, suppliers or prospects to it negatively impacts their opinion of your company. But your website has the potential to be more than just a sign of professionalism. It should be generating sales, increasing awareness, promoting trust and producing loyalty as well.
Once optimised, your website and the content on it will be served on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS) as solutions to people’s problems and answers to the questions they type into their favourite search engines.
For example, if you owned a Toyota dealership and the owner of a field services business needed to update his fleet of technicians’ vehicles. Assuming that he is like 97% of of car buyers he’ll turn to Google and type in “bakkies for sale in Durban” or something similar. And because your digital marketing strategist is worth his weight in gold (which is a lot of gold if your strategist is me), your website will have a page optimised for this term and will appear above the local Nissan, Ford & VW dealerships in the SERPS. Generating more clicks to your website where the potential customer can be wowed by your page on the latest Hilux, find the number to call and find out more.
This is just one example, we can apply the principle across most businesses and industries.
Get Unique Customer Data, Reach New Markets
The first step in any SEO campaign is Keyword Research. Simply put, this is research done to discover all the phrases people type into Google when looking for products or services related to your business. A fantastic side effect of this research is often the discovery of a demand for products or services that you don’t currently offer. This allows you to target new markets with the comfort of knowing that there is already a demand.
Build Trust & Reputation
People trust the search engines they use to answer their questions and solve their problems. Google currently owns 77% of the market and has recently passed a market capitalisation of $600 Million making it (or it’s parent company anyway) the second most valuable company in the world. They didn’t get there by serving irrelevant search results to their users. Internet users have come to expect quality information that is highly relevant to their search queries.
But you’re not Larry Page so how is this relevant to you?
Because when you optimise your website for search and your content is served as a search result, the trust people have in Google is transferred to your company. After all it was Google that referred your business to them. It’s like having a friend that knows 77% of the connected world and recommends your business to them every chance he gets. Get that man a Bells! In fact, all the Bells.
Bottom Line? SEO Can Be A Game Changer
If we go back to the example of the local Toyota dealership. The phrase “bakkies for sale in Durban” has been typed into Google an average of 1000 times a month for the past 12 months. This means that with a properly optimised webpage, in the top 3 results on the SERP (search engine results page), the owner of the Toyota dealership would get on average 340 extra visitors to his or her website every month. And these aren’t cold leads either, these are visitors that are already interested in purchasing a bakkie. Now consider that that’s just one phrase out of dozens that are worth targeting. A quick search found this:
- “Cars for sale in Durban” = 12 100 searches/month
- “Toyota bakkies for sale” = 2 400 searches/month
- “Toyota Yaris for sale” = 4 400 searches/month
The list goes on. Imagine after 12 months of SEO work. The dealership’s website would be getting thousands of hits a month and many hundreds of enquiries for their sales people to convert. What is SEO? A game changer.
Where SEO Fits In The Digital Marketing Mix
Right At The Centre
Search Engine Optimisation is the core ingredient in all effective digital marketing strategies. With over 3.5 billion searches a day just on Google, it is the primary way that people use the internet. How else would you find what you’re looking for? I guess, word-of-mouth, luck or traditional media (the expensive kind).
SEO is an internet best practice. It’s like tying a Windsor knot or dealing with a telesales call. There are a few ways to approach either but there is also an accepted standard that gets the best results (you’re so welcome). So whether you’re building a website, creating an advert on Google’s Adwords platform or writing an article for your blog, SEO needs to be implemented in order for these marketing tools to be effective.
Google, for example, will charge you more per click on your Adword’s campaign if your advert and the webpage it links to haven’t been optimised. And the blog article you spent hours on won’t ever appear on the first page of Google’s search results if it hasn’t been properly SEO’d. The same is true for all the pages on your website.
This probably raises the question, “so what actually goes into Search Engine Optimisation?”. Read on, the next section answers this question.
What Does Search Engine Optimisation Involve?
In most articles I’ve read on understanding SEO from a business owners’ perspective, the authors get way too technical when talking about the actual mechanics of SEO. I’m not sure if this is an attempt to impress prospective clients but as I said earlier, this guide is for business owners and if you’re like me you don’t appreciate it when specialists talk over your head. So I won’t. I will instead help you to understand how optimising your online properties for search produces business growth. If you would like to learn how to do the work yourself, or you have an unsuspecting staff member ear-marked for the job, then I highly recommend this Master Guide To SEO.
For an overview of SEO implementation read on.
I touched on keyword research in the example of the Toyota dealership so you might already have a good idea of what it is. But to expand further, Google and friends keep a record of the terms people type into their engines. They then make this information available to the public through various keyword research tools. Digital marketers use these resources to find all the phrases people use to find products and services like yours. The initial list of keywords is usually hundreds of phrases long. Which we then sort by looking at relevance, intent, volume, and competition to develop a keyword map of a between 10-50 (sometimes more) keywords.
With this refined list of keywords, we can set about creating optimised webpage content that provides solutions or answers to the problems or questions that your customers have. But more about content later.
These are the technical signs that your website is a quality resource for a search engines’ users. On-site (or On-page) SEO is a discipline that covers factors such as:
- Title Tags
- Header Tags
- Meta Descriptions
- Image Name & Alt Text
- Internal Links
- URL Naming
- Page Load Speed
- Mobile Responsiveness
Something to bear in mind is that most website developers aren’t search engine optimisers. So unless your website was built by a complete service digital agency, the chances are that your website hasn’t been optimised. It’s probably a good idea to find your web development contract and go through the scope to check this out.
Where I live, the term “cash is king” is used quite often. On the internet though, content is king. What is content? Everything on the internet is content. The value of the internet is the content available on it. The considerable value of Google is down to the usefulness of it’s index (or library) of the content on the internet.
Everything else mentioned in this section of the guide acts as a support for content because if you want to rank on search engines’ results pages, you need good quality content. The rest is just packaging, a pretty box on a shelf. Now don’t get me wrong, as a marketer, I know how important packaging is. But people buy what’s inside the box. That’s where the value is.
In order to achieve your business goals, quality content is essential to your digital strategy. Your website needs to house useful (or entertaining) content that people will appreciate. The more your content is appreciated the more it is shared online with others. And the more valuable the content on your website, the more other websites will make reference to it. These references are called “backlinks” and they are extremely important to SEO as I will now explain…
Link Building (Off-Site SEO)
Backlinks are links from other websites to your website. The primary reason for referencing one website on another is usually because the content being linked to provides additional value to the readers reading the original piece of content. Sorry if that’s confusing but bear with me.
Take this guide for example. I’m writing about SEO and I’ve reached the part where I need to explain the importance of link building. But link building is a guide all on it’s own. So rather than trying to condense the information into a very vague paragraph, I instead link to this article by a very well known authority on Search Engine Optimisation (Backlinko, when you find this, no need to thank me!) so that my readers can learn about the importance of link building in detail, should they wish to do so.
Backlinks account for around 40% of Google’s opinion of your website. This is because without quality content, nobody (worthwhile) is going to link back to your website. Which make backlinks a perfect metric for search engine algorithms to use when evaluating your website.
Getting quality backlinks isn’t easy, it’s hard, honest work that keeps the internet a useful place and is essential to your SEO campaign.
Monitoring Results & Adjusting
Last, but certainly not least, is the monitoring of campaign performance. The thing about digital marketing that really sets it apart from traditional marketing is that so much can be tracked and monitored through Analytics.
In business there’s an old saying that goes, “I know I’m wasting 50% of my marketing budget, but I have no idea which 50%!“. Well, with online marketing that’s never the case. Through website analytics, conversion tracking and many other traceable metrics your digital agency can monitor the performance of your online assets and report on the results.
Analytics, very importantly, ensures that money isn’t being wasted on avenues that aren’t producing the desired results and highlights opportunities to improve performance.
Does Search Engine Optimisation Fit Your Business?
Well that depends on a few things.
Search Engine Optimisation projects are usually a 6+ month process. So if your business is new and has come up in a well established industry your primary focus should be on short term sales. You likely have some debt to pay off and a few unavoidable monthly expenses to bankroll until the business can cover them itself. Investing in future sales at this point wouldn’t be the best option for your business. Instead, I would recommend running a Google Adwords campaign to drive qualified traffic to purpose built landing pages on your website.
When a product or service is new and keyword research reveals that very few people are searching for it, SEO isn’t a good fit. With no awareness around a product you’ll need to create some by producing ads that promote content focused on your customers’ pain points. Once you have their attention you can educate them on how your offering solves their problem and convert their interest into sales.
If your business is established and you are looking for opportunities to grow then Search Engine Optimisation fits. You likely have a stable income stream and some funds to allocate to towards an SEO campaign. The demand for your offering has got your business to this point and you are looking for ways to increase your market share. If this is you then it absolutely makes sense to invest in SEO as a way to achieve your goals.
Like everything worthwhile, SEO takes sustained effort over a period of time. So if your goals are to increase website traffic immediately, optimising your site and your content for search needs to be moved to a secondary objective. When it comes to SEO the project management triangle definitely applies. You don’t get fast, cheap and quality SEO work. If somebody is promising this to you, start asking a lot of questions. Armed with the information at the end of this guide you’ll soon find out where your would-be SEO provider plans to compromise.
If you understand that earning organic traction with search engines takes time and you are willing to put in the resources required to reap the rewards, SEO is a good fit for your business.
This can disqualify some aspects of SEO really quickly because competition can come from so many different sources. Let me explain with an example.
If you were the principal agent for a local estate agency and you wanted to target a commercial keyword like “houses for sale in Sandton”. You would have traditional competition from other real estate companies, competition from Multi Listing Services websites (like property24, privateproperty etc.), competition from your own franchiser’s main website AND competition from the paid adverts on the results pages.
As you can imagine, ranking organically in the above scenario would take too long and be too expensive making it unlikely to return your investment. Local SEO and Search Engine Marketing would be the way to go here.
Your unique business, timeline and competition considerations dictate the cost of Search Engine Optimisation. SEO is a professional service which means the more difficult the project and the more man hours needed to achieve the goals, the more it is going to cost.
Your budget will determine whether or not you can achieve your business goals. Coming back to the 3 constraints of project management, you might have to spend less for longer. Or settle for smaller traffic numbers until you have the funds needed to take on the top 3 websites in your target market.
Whatever the case, digital marketing agencies are usually flexible enough to accommodate your budget constraints. Just be sure to have realistic expectations.
Can You Do Your SEO In-house?
There is no reason why you can’t do your SEO in-house. It’s true that the world of SEO is complex, but most people can understand the basics and you can still make a difference with a small amount of knowledge. The internet has plenty of free information (like this guide from well respected authority Moz) that you can use to get started.
Whether or not it makes business sense to teach yourself, hire somebody or train an existing employee will be different from company to company.
What I’ve seen in the industry leads me to believe that for large companies like Unilever, Woolworths or Mr Price it does make sense to set up a digital marketing department internally. But for smaller businesses it would be difficult to get the same value out of one or two staff members that you would get from a good agency. Chances are you’ll end up paying much less for the professionals as well.
Which leads us nicely into the final section of this guide…
What To Look For In A Good SEO Provider
Which of the people that you have engaged with have worked with you to design a strategy that is tailored to your business goals? I’ve seen a lot of “SEO Packages” available online and often wonder how these SEO providers expect to get results by forcing their clients to fit their business models.
While it’s true that SEO is made up of repeatable principles, not every strategy can be carried out in the same way to achieve the variety of objectives that clients look to accomplish.
Bottom line, be very cautious of companies offering SEO packages. One size (or, as is most often the case, 3 sizes) definitely does not fit all. Your search engine optimiser should put together a plan of action based on your goals and the limitations discussed earlier in “Does Search Engine Optimisation Fit Your Business”.
The old saying goes, “don’t ask a barber if you need a hair cut”. A company that primarily provides SEO services will most probably try to sell you on SEO. It’s all they know. A complete service digital marketing agency however, is skilled in all things online marketing.
So if you owned that real estate franchise we spoke about earlier, a digital agency would have enough perspective to know that you would never see a return on your investment by trying to rank organically for “houses for sale”. They would instead use different channels to achieve your objectives. Because we know how to use all of them.
Bottom line, look for digital marketers because SEO, as a skill, falls under the digital marketing umbrella.
I like to think of reporting as the policeman of search engine optimisation. Make sure that your contract includes monthly reports on metrics that you understand (or that are explained to you). Without this information it is impossible to measure the results of your SEO campaign against your expectations and you could be throwing money into a black hole.
Bottom line, If no mention of reporting is to be found in your marketing contract… Run!
So, What is SEO In A Nutshell?
Well from a business owners’ point of view. It is an online marketing discipline that has the potential to result in:
- A massive increase in website traffic & leads
- Increased brand awareness
- Consumer trust & loyalty
- Respect as an industry authority
- A better understanding of customer behaviour
And it is most certainly worth the time it would take you to do a thorough investigation into the opportunities it has to offer you as a business owner.
That’s a wrap for this guide, I hope you have found it to be the information you were looking for. If you would like to get in touch please don’t hesitate to contact me. Or if you have comments or questions you’d like to ask, please post them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!