Answering the “What About SEO?” Question with… More Questions
October 13, 2021 - By Dave Clarke
Related to web projects, prospective clients often ask us, “What about SEO?” Usually they are asking this question because they loosely know that a website and SEO have something to do with each other. Sometimes they’re asking it because they think that’s what they’re supposed to ask. Whatever the driver, we almost always answer that question with…
Because here’s the thing: an overwhelming majority of SMBs think that SEO is the reason you have a website.
It is not. It might be a reason. It is not the reason.
So that’s why we try to pump the brakes on the SEO question by asking more questions. Questions like…
How much of your current traffic comes from search?
The response here usually falls into four buckets:
Virtually all of it. Awesome. SEO is important. Let’s talk about our approach to it. (Editor’s note: We’ll cover that in a sec.)
A decent amount. Also awesome. SEO is important.
Really not much. That’s fine. This indicates a few possible scenarios. It tells us that maybe you haven’t dedicated any resources to SEO. (That’s totally OK, btw.) Or it tells us that maybe search isn’t how your audience accesses you. (Also OK and really good to know.)
Not sure. Not a problem. We can investigate.
Figuring out how much of your traffic comes from search is an important step towards determining how much emphasis we will need to put on SEO.
If search is a significant channel, what terms are driving traffic?
This question is particularly important for B2B companies. Essentially, we want to know the branded vs. topical split.
Branded search terms are just that: branded. It’s someone searching “Think It First” to learn more about our company, Think It First. What’s key here though is that the searcher already knows us. Maybe someone referred us and the search is doing some preliminary research. Maybe they heard one of us speak on a panel and want to learn more about our capabilities. Whatever the motivation, they already know our brand.
Topical terms are different. These are the terms related to what your business does that you want to show up for in search results. For us, “Philadelphia web design” is one. We have plenty more. The person searching those terms does not know Think It First. But if we’ve SEO’d our site, they soon might.
So why is this important?
Again, it’s about knowing how important SEO really is. It’s about getting a sense for how your audience searches, contextual to your business and the problems you solve.
What do you know about SEO?
We don’t ask this question condescendingly. It usually comes up organically. We ultimately want to convey that SEO isn’t just about keywords in copy. There is a technical component that we have to satisfy too.
Think of it like this: Google wants to deliver an optimal web experience. Obviously that means a site’s content needs to be relevant to the search, but it also means it needs to do things like load fast and be responsive (aka, mobile friendly). It needs to be accessible and hierarchical. The list of technical SEO requirements is just as important as the keyword strategy.
Our approach to SEO
We think of SEO in two buckets: foundational and ongoing.
Foundationally, we ensure that the sites we build are prepared for a good first impression with Google. That means a logical URL structure, proper page titles, meta descriptions, lightweight images and graphics, friendly fonts, thoughtful keyword strategies, appropriate redirects, fast page load times and more. Basically we’re saying that when Google meets your site, it will approve.
From there, though, SEO evolves into SEM (search engine marketing). This is where a content strategy comes into play. If you want to result for certain topics, questions, etc., you’ll want to publish content that’s relevant to those searches—and you’ll want to do it on a regular basis. Oftentimes we start talking to clients about this as we approach site launch. It’s a long-term strategy that shows results over time, not instantly. It takes commitment and editorial-like discipline. A content strategy builds a mountain of organized, consumable information that helps your audience find you. It establishes authority and trust. And ideally, it helps you win business.