Damion Wasylow / Digital Marketing / November 4th, 2014

Well, I've Got Friends With Low Rankings

No matter what line of work you’re in, friends invariably expect you to apply your talents for their benefit (for free, of course.) As a digital marketer, I’ve reviewed several websites for friends in recent months – ranging from one-man operations to substantial corporations. For each, I’ve offered advice on everything from improving user experience to increasing conversion efficiency to developing social media campaigns.

With all the topics we touch on, I get the most blank stares when talking about search engine optimization – blank stares exactly like the one that just took over your face.

Yay, SEO.
Yay, SEO.

Search engine optimization is an unpopular terms nowadays, but that’s not because SEO is conceptually bad. It’s just that SEO has shifted course while too many people weren’t paying attention, but still carries the stigma of unscrupulous SEOs and unfounded promises around “$39/mo SEO” deals.

Even though SEO seems like a Dark Art, businesses need the exposure that comes with prominence in search results, but most have no idea how search engines work, so they have no idea what to do about it.

It’s not their fault. Keeping up with what’s happening with search engines is nearly impossible unless it’s your full-time job. Google and other search engines are fairly intentional about this. Their algorithms are updated all the time in an ongoing effort to provide users the best results – and to frustrate those who game the system for their own benefit.

SEO’s Dirty Secret

Sadly, business owners aren’t the only ones ignorant of how search engines operate – few marketing professionals have a clue. I worked for a traditional ad agency for more than a decade before joining 352, and I had no idea. I thought I did, but I was operating on generalities I learned five years before, which means those were at least four-and-a-half years out of date.

Now let’s dive deep. In my time at 352, I’ve learned that few website developers and UX designers really understand search engines either, and for good reason. They have their own industry best practices to keep up with, and their focus is on making sites functional, attractive and user-friendly, not on the intricacies required for search engines to adequately index and continually serve up a site in search results.

With our switch to the MEAN stack, our programmers were faced with a host of new issues affecting SEO – Google only recently began crawling JavaScript, AngularJS doesn’t always play well with Google Tag Manager, and we see more issues as coding languages evolve. It’s only natural that developers and designers don’t have a full grasp of search engines; just like my former self, many developers operate on information that has grown out of date.

If this is true among experienced custom web developers, it’s absolutely the case for the vast majority of boutique site builders, and let’s not even get started on new automated website builders. Without integrated marketing expertise during development, it’s easy to wind up with a site that looks great, functions well and won’t ever reach the customers you need it to.

So, businesses pay to have a website built, and then wonder why they’re not getting any traffic. Foundational SEO components can easily be overlooked – things like keyword optimized page titles and meta descriptions, properly coded header tags, alt text, sitemaps, etc. And these are just the basics. Effectively reaching and maintaining desired positions in search results requires ongoing effort. The only people with the time and know-how to make it happen are those who work specifically in digital marketing, and they’re almost definitely using tactics beyond SEO to get drive web traffic and conversions.

SEO Isn’t for Amateurs

While reviewing sites for friends, I take exhaustive notes and sit down with them for an hour or more going over everything I found to improve their opportunities for appearing in search results. I avoid jargon when possible, and define it when not, and they nod in agreement. I explain that while I recognize it’s a lot, they should resist feeling so overwhelmed that they do nothing. “At least do these three things,” I suggest. As I email them their documents, however, I know nothing will be done. The subject matter is just too foreign to those who don’t work with it every day.

Perhaps one day I’ll be surprised and find all the right SEO pieces in place when reviewing a site for a buddy, but I’m not optimistic. After all, SEO is a constantly moving target, and even experts can’t agree on the best ways to keep a website on the top of search engines. So in the meantime, all I can do is offer some friendly advice.

Want to get some friendly advice on your digital marketing? Drop us a line in the comments, or click below to download our Website Marketing and UX Audit Guide.

Image credit: akdi

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  • Jennifer Fix

    Great thoughts, Damion. I agree that it’s challenging to keep up with the ever-changing world of SEO, which makes it that much more important for companies to work with professionals who DO keep up.

    • dwasylow

      True. For people running businesses, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to hope to keep up with search engine trends.

  • Christopher Burns

    In my old days of being a programmer, I used to think SEO was the modern-day equivalent to snake oil. Now that I understand a lot more about marketing, I understand where my feelings came from. So many of those “amateurs” posting in forums telling each other how to improve their rankings and everyone contradicted themselves. Now I realize there are the tried & true practices, but filtering out the garbage is hard unless you’ve got the experience.