Search Engine Optimization (SEO) sits at the heart of inbound marketing. As a manager, you only want to invest so much time in the details of SEO. Yet, you still want to be able to educate other leaders on it and have a sensible conversation with an SEO specialist when the situation arises. This article explains some key SEO principles that are worth the 5 minutes you’ll spend reading this article. These easy-to-grasp concepts will help you sound smart and manage well.
If you have more money than brains, focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, focus on inbound.
Why Should You Care?
Maybe someone asked you about an SEO strategy once and you got caught flat-footed. Maybe you know enough to be dangerous, but you really want to figure out how to move the needle in search ranking/inbound leads without compromising your brand’s identity and reputation.
Regardless of your situation, the main reason you should care is simple: organic traffic is a function of how Google, Bing, etc. rate your site’s relevance to search. Understanding this gives you credibility. This matters because your level of credibility yields a comparable level of influence.
Okay. Enough standing on the soapbox. Let’s step down and get into the basics.
Key Principles of SEO
SEO is more of a soft science than a hard science. This is weird, because technology is supposed to be all about the data, right? Quantitative and scientific. Black and white.
But it’s not. And here’s why.
Google Doesn’t Care About Your Website
Google’s goal is to deliver great search, with great results, to give searchers an awesome experience. That’s how they make money. They don’t care about you and your sweet website. They only care about searchers. Let me say that again: Google wins when it delivers awesome search results.
Google doesn’t show you how they ranked your site the way it did, and they don’t show you why. If they did, you’d have all the data you’d need to ‘game’ your way to the very top of search results. And that doesn’t serve Google’s end goal: deliver awesome search results.
So Google “crawls” your site using bots. Bots are computer programs that are supposed to go (crawl) through websites and gather data about them. Google uses that data to figure out if your site is good or not. How do they define good? Roughly, they define it as a site that people will find useful or enjoyable. Specifically, we don’t know – no one does (except the Google engineers who wrote their search engine algorithms).
For example, we know that having a high bounce rate hurts your site. In other words, when someone goes to your site and leaves without going to another page, Google thinks your site wasn’t what they were looking for because it didn’t elicit further interaction. We don’t know if there are certain circumstances that Google might consider it okay to have a high bounce rate (let’s say it’s a site with a page that has trash pickup times for your neighborhood).
Google Won’t Tell You Its Ranking Method
In the past, people tried tricks to get higher rankings in Google. Those tricks worked, regardless of whether the content was good or bad (useful to searchers or not). Some people created bad (useless) content that still got high rankings.
So if you’re Google, how do you reward only the people who are offering awesome experiences and not the cheaters who are just trying to use their programming skills to game the system? You do the following:
- Make an algorithm that rewards only the best content.
- Hide that algorithm so sheisters can’t game the system.
If Google told everyone the details about how they rank sites and all the stuff they look at, bad people who wanted to game the system for clicks would just build sites that exploit their crawlers. This would be bad for users.
Luckily, there are companies that take the social science approach to understanding Google and Bing.
Study Crawlers As If They Were People
In the social sciences—the soft sciences—it’s hard to get reliable results. It requires a different approach where you try to isolate the variable (in this case, search rankings) to see what kinds of things affect it.
Since Google and Bing won’t tell us exactly how they make decisions about ranking your website, companies like Moz and Raven Tools were created to help us understand how to make websites that translate well to both crawlers and human users. That’s genius.
What Moz and others do to isolate the variables is set up websites—many websites—enough to create a large enough sample to find out how Google ranks them. They isolate variables to see how those variables affect key web metrics like bounce, keyword density, etc.
They take those findings and sell you the ability to measure your site through their own crawler. Their crawler then serves up a list of things to fix, things to clean up, and sometimes even an analysis that compares you with other competitive websites.
If you’re a marketing manager who wants to grow to a place of influence, you need to understand how this stuff works. It’s not hard if you understand a few key principles.
- Google cares about creating a great experience for searchers. Your site’s design sexiness is not on their list of concerns. They use crawlers, which are computer programs that search and catalog your site. They use this data to rank your site. They keep this information under wraps because it would be super-easy for hackers to abuse the system (resulting in a spammy search experience for users) if they told everyone how to do it.
- Companies like Moz try to understand rankings by studying Google and Bing like a social science. They set up websites and watch how Google and Bing rank them. Then, they change variables to see how those things change the rankings.
- They turn those insights into their own crawlers and allow you to have your site (and your competition’s site) crawled by them. They give you very prescriptive data, ranging from a to-do list that you can do today, to research you might need to perform to tighten your keyword strategy.
The next thing you probably need to do is an SEO audit. Understanding how an SEO audit works and why it matters is important, so be sure to choose a worthy vendor to help with it. Fresh eyes are really valuable. If you want to be influential in your position as a marketing manager, this is the kind of tactical stuff you need to do now.
If you’re interested in how we do things here at Resound, download our cheat sheet by filling out the form below or get in touch.