Is SEO a scam?
In this article we are discussing the challenge of bringing attention to your business. Websites are still seen as an integral way for most businesses to tell their audience about their offerings. The challenge remains, how do we traffic to our website and get paying customers?
We're going to cover our thoughts on search engine optimisation and content marketing and whether or not, as a small business, we can get traffic to a website easily.
The obvious answer is we get some SEO? Or do we? We cover huge amount of ground in this article to understand what a website is, what it is for, the history of search engines, and we then look at the different tactics and strategies which we have found through our own research into this space. If you are considering putting a website online or are considering SEO, please do read this. If you are on SEO consultant/expert, we welcome your feedback on this Article too.
We investigate our efforts in terms of content marketing, much of which won't necessarily see any fruit straight away. This is very much an open book for ourselves and should be for anybody who is planning to or does have a website online.
What can SEO specialists really help you with?
On a daily basis, my numerous email inboxes receive offers to build me a website and to sort out my search engine optimization. I will cover the topic of website design companies offering services to companies who already developed websites for other customers in a separate blog article. This will be a general discussion with some examples and experiences in trying to improve my own website traffic. I will then consider whether companies can deliver on their promises.
The first thing to consider is that SEO is not a scam when we work with true experts who can understand business verticals and undertake analysis of market segments. What prompted writing this article was a UK website development company, a website design agency if you like, spamming us offering to build us a website. The first thing we thought was they've researched our company, looked at our website. They may be able to offer a better design experience than ourselves, potentially. We then navigated to their website to learn that they use a very primitive technology that offers only a certain standard of website. We noticed they offer search engine optimisation services. The irony of course - here is a company who decided to spam us to get their company noticed because we haven't found them online when looking for a website development company. We then tried to find them through a Google search. We found they only set up profiles on Facebook and Instagram. Not wishing to denigrate the efforts of this company - we have to ask how a company who claims to be able to help companies with their search engine optimisation are not able to be found on keyword searches in their space.
Defining what a website is
Before we can consider whether SEO is a scam, we need to think about what a website is and what it is for. This in itself is a challenging definition to try to reach because a website can meet many different needs of users and other applications. All a website is at its base layer, is a set of; files, folders, images and documents organised in a way to make it easier for that information to be navigated. That is all the website is.
So a website is a means of providing information to a wider audience who may be interested in finding that information. In many instances users may not know exactly what they're looking for and a website, and users will need to keep searching to fill their knowledge gap.
Of course our website has different audiences and therefore different uses. Sometimes people want to buy a product, sometimes they're looking for a service, at other times are looking for information, knowledge, resources. Sometimes websites permit social engagement.
If we get straight to the point, most websites that are paid for are for the purpose of selling products or services - selling. Most website designers offer their abilities to create a website for their customer's audience that will be interesting and engaging as a means to convert - a purchase. A website should typically be; convenient, trustable not to a user and services that connects to the website, and offer privacy.
We may have arrived at a reasonable definition as to what a website is to most people. A website is a location where information useful to audiences who may wish to engage to consume information, products, and services.
What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?
Search engine optimisation is the process of ensuring your website gets to the top of search results above your competitors for customers may want to access to buy your products and services.
The history of Search Engines
We have to go back to when the Internet first took hold, prior to search engines. The internet was a series of folders with shares of files which could be accessed via FTP. Quite quickly, lists of available sites for information built up. I remember in my final year of university, using search engines such as AltaVista, Lycos, and others started to emerge.
Originally, search engines were simply applications which searched the internet and indexed websites so they could be found more easily by internet users by matching on keywords. This original principle still holds true today, although there were far more websites and far more types of resources than back in the early to mid-1990s.
At those times we would think nothing of going through 10 to 20 sets of 10 results to try to find the information we were seeking. Internet searching really was searching the Internet - it was much like going to a library and was quite time consuming. Fast forward today's search engines and virtually no user will go past the first one to two pages. We also see Google dominating the search engine market. For perhaps the last 10-15 years, it has become essential for companies to feature at the top of a search engine result page.
We can be forgiven for thinking that as a company we need to be found through the same processes that have been around for the last 25 years. Users simply go online and type in what they're looking for and that our company goes to the top and then the customer makes a purchase. This is the thing of dreams for most companies. Search engines are now dominated by search results for those paying for featuring at the top of directories and organic leads from quality or authoritative websites.
Analysing Search Engine result efficacy
Some experiments we have taken to understand typical search results on Google showed that for the first three pages, perhaps 50% of the results were adverts or directory based websites. This may sound reasonable and fair, but we will see that for certain industries, the dominance of the better results are those paying far more money and other larger companies. Smaller businesses will never be able to compete with businesses who are paying to be at the top. Additionally, these larger businesses will tend to have backlinks across many other websites leading to a higher search engine ranking.
In markets where you have large dominant businesses featuring at the top of search engine results, your website is highly unlikely to get to the top of search engine rankings. In markets where perhaps users are performing local searches to find local businesses, search engine optimisation can work where the market is fairly thin.
Another fashionable phenomenon are these top X searches; Top seven ways to do this, top nine solutions for that, top eight those. Content and articles seems to be dumbed down just for the purpose of trying to be higher up the search engine result ranking, which stops users accessing the resources they genuinely need. A simple example would be to type into Google website development companies. Here are the results;
4 ads at the top of the page
5 top X website development companies
4 actual website development company search results
3 ads at the footer of the page
When we look at the results above, they are truly staggering. Running the totals shows 63% of the results on the first webpage result are adverts or directory results. The result is we need to go through more pages to find organic website development companies. We may also go through the directory results and find that these different directories have the same website companies within them and may indeed themselves be paying advertising to these directory listing companies. Now the question is whether being on these directory websites will be cheaper than paying for advertising such as Google AdWords. Indeed, there is a possibility you may get better search engine rankings because of back-linking, but you will never find your website being placed above these directories. Contrasting this with DuckDuckGo, we find only two adverts on the first search result page. We still have directories listing companies on there, but more organic website development companies on the web page.
Should I pay for some AdWords/advertising to increase my web traffic?
"OK, so how about? We just pay for some advertising what's the harm in that?"
"After all, Google can't be expected to do provide these services for free."
To answer this, we have to think about search engine results in terms of impressions clicks, conversions. We can apply different mathematical ways to analyse this, but let's give a simple example. Imagine if we are trying to sell a product which costs �5000. We already know that we will need many users to see this product before they decide to buy it because of its relatively high price tag. Just for a figurative example, let's imagine that each impression costs �1, each click costs �2. It takes 20 impressions to generate one click and 50 clicks to get a purchase. A crude estimate may mean �2400 to get a single sale. Now in many industries, PPC can require a far higher number of impressions and clicks to lead to a conversion. Seth Godin explained the true cost of PPC marketing on numerous occasions.
Other issues with pay per click
Rogue AdWord Searches
If you were in an extremely thin market, it could be worth your competitor�s time to sit down and click on your advert several times. This may reduce your budget allocation to finding new visitors to your website. In thicker markets, companies may use automation software to try to push traffic to your website through pay per click, which may not actually be genuine website user traffic. This may seem unbelievable, and indeed there is software to help counter this, but we immediately see how we can be subject to almost industrial scale warfare.
Competition - we will come back to this
Competition will lead to multiple companies within the same niche, vying for more user traffic to their website through paper click. Your business just may not get found by the right customer who clicked through. It could be argued that this is a statistical phenomenon, but this is still not ideal.
Remember, a directory website is one which host multiple other websites on their platform. They funnel traffic for their clients by being top of the search engine results. Clients may get additional benefits by featuring on these websites. We, ourselves have a directory listing website. It is a fine line between these websites adding value to an industry or sector versus whether these websites are indeed pulling customers away from genuine prospects. Within the context of pay per click, it is likely that directory listing websites are likely to offer a cheaper return on advertising expenditure versus trying to go through Google AdWords themselves. Where we think these directory listing websites add extra benefit is where they offer specific services for their audience that cannot be provided by vanilla search engines.
Organic Search Engine Optimisation
We cannot say 100% that pay per click advertising is good or bad. Many businesses survive on the use of pay per click. The challenge many businesses face is that they may function or operate within a similar niche, but have specific skills and services they offer, which cannot be broken down into simple categories to get more traffic through pay per click. Even as experts in data and analysis, we cannot accurately determine exactly which revenue and keywords we should use for our own website.
Many tools are too primitive to make accurate estimations of keywords for bringing traffic to your website. It is not by accident that Google and other search engines are tending to favour simpler ways to classify information for searches. For example, the classic question based SEO trick. Many will know about the auto fill functionality when you type into the Google search bar, it magically guesses what you're looking for. What is really doing is helping to save itself work in having to do organic searches for information. Whilst not guaranteed websites Listing the same question as the questions which Google provides are likely to higher ranked in the search engine rankings if the content and subject matter correlates.
A perfect example is our web data platform which uses our data droppable technology. When we try to find similar companies who may be doing similar stuff, we cannot find them by doing native organic searches on different search engines. If we can't find similar companies doing similar things, how are customers going to find us, especially when many of them may not be experts in technology? In this genuine example, we further face the challenge that the website development space is highly thin. Competitors all claim to be able to deliver websites, but none of them are able to deliver the platform that we have without doing some significant development at a much higher cost. It could be argued that this is a differentiation problem. We see it more that we need to get our message across to customers so they can understand the benefits of this technology we are providing.
How Info Rhino has set about creating organic content for content marketing
This brings us to the area of content marketing - which can largely be defined as - "Placing media online which aims to bring interest to an area around products and services". A great example would be Bitcoin. In this situation, Bitcoin is an open source product not owned by anybody, yet tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people actively engaged in promoting the band without necessarily having a direct product to sell. This may seem strange, but many people have small amounts of Bitcoin, but still actively engage in discussing Bitcoin in many different forums.
In our example, we are certain we need more information being made available to prospective customers? For this reason we have set about creating many articles and putting these on different blogging platforms and professional services websites. We have some presence on social media. We feel the right thing to do is to provide more information about what we do and to engage more interest in the space that we occupy. It seems possible that some potential customers may find out more about our services and products on websites other than our own website. Customers may have a specific problem to solve but don't have an answer on how to solve it exactly. These customers will be more the traditional website searchers of 25 years ago, they will have immersed themselves in the field and researched the space in general. Prospects may have visited other websites, but in the end settle for your provider because of the strength of your information provided.
Content marketing is therefore a less scientific approach. We may have videos online, articles, advertisements, listings, images, free applications. The aim is for audiences to get to understand their products and services better, to the point of a sale.
We are going to take you through how we have approached our content marketing. Having relaunched our website recently at the back end of 2021.
Our own experience with content marketing thus far
We wanted to just make some interesting observations we have found in our early phases of attempting content marketing. The most important point is our company is a technology service provider. We are competing with other website technology providers. Yet our product is completely not a website in the traditional sense. Our website is more a data platform capable of taking information and pushing it to the website quickly. How do we compete? Any signs show a lot of our traffic to our website at this phase comes through Twitter redirects. This is quite strange because our Twitter followers tend to be technology providers themselves and software developers. They are unlikely to use another website company's services.
Content marketing is an iterative process. We put content on different platforms, link to this content, and the ideal scenario is that users on these different platforms reach your website with a strong understanding of what you offer. In a similar way to the idea of product evangelists. There being so many good things spoken about your offerings, that any customer visiting your website are already sold.
This is definitely not a blueprint. Our opinion is we have to provide information where non-technical experts can find us when looking for products and services that they need. We wish to feature on authoritative platforms and websites. Finally, we want a website to get hit through organic SEO. For your back-linking from higher authoritative websites, one such website, which we won't name, is a developer blogging social media website.
Basic Premises for content marketing objectives
That at a certain number of website visitors unique and page views, we will get paying customers.
That at a certain number of visits to our website, we will get users completing our contact web forms.
That on some platforms when we get certain numbers of views of content we provide on there, this will lead to organic traffic through to our own website.
That by affiliating with other technology providers in a similar sector to ourselves, we will hopefully gain more growth and traffic.
That we will see more evidence of traffic to our website from certain platforms.
That some platforms we choose to feature or they may end up being unsuitable for growing audience and customer base.
That we won't necessarily see traffic grow overnight. It may take many months indeed, it may take years. Few have years, of course.
That perhaps our market segmentation is more geared towards non-technical audiences.
We can't spend an inordinate amount of time creating content. With small contributions on a weekly basis, once the initial large amount of content has been created, we will need to evaluate this over time.
How we tried to improve our website SEO standings
We try to ensure that;
Our website has page titles, page descriptions, hackable URLs etc.
Responsive website design.
Content matching headings.
Web pages with lengthy content matching the subject matter of the page. This is despite many people claiming that lots of text is too much for an audience. This doesn't mean that search engines don't add priority to websites with pages which are informative and useful.
An articles directory to have far more content and information on our website to hopefully, over time, make our website more of an authority on certain subject areas.
Links two and from our website from other platforms, including social media platforms.
Another site metadata which search engines and their crawlers look for.
Pay attention to errors from Webmaster tools such as Google and Bing. However, we don't subscribe to continually updating our website to correct errors on Google and Bing.
Small things, such as including canonical URLs.
Adding of schema.org metadata to some of our pages to see if we can grow more traffic on certain pages compared to others.
Some small fixes to apply it to our website to conform better to the major search engine providers.
How we have tried to improve our discoverability with content marketing
Provide articles - some short, some lengthy, that are published on our Articles Directory, we try to make them informative and useful. We explain what we do and offer insights into our industry.
Place our website on Twitter and other social media providers with the intention of following top X accounts.
Featuring on free industry platforms to provide useful insights into what we offer as well as other discussions on technology and software development.
Reaching out to other companies in a similar position to ourselves to provide back-linking opportunities where we list each other on directories on our websites. Unfortunately, companies think only in terms of their own existence and don't often see the benefit in doing this. We we found if more companies did this they would benefit better than featuring on larger directories where they are drowned out by higher paying competitors.
Linking to articles and content on social media platforms.
Periodically providing posts and comments on some social media platforms.
Investigating other spaces which may be a better fit for potential clients.
Our extra USP � Showcasing our product on Video Streaming Platforms, YouTube and others
An obvious competitive advantage we have over other providers of websites and website data platforms is that we can showcase our functionality quite easily. This is because our functionality will exist on multiple websites we have already released. Furthermore, we can demonstrate this functionality by simply recording videos and putting this on video content blogging platforms. We can then link to these platforms from our own website to create a round trip experience for our users.
Paying for PPC advertising?
There are some important considerations here. To be able to engage an audience, it seems highly unlikely we're just going to be able to have a website where we pay for advertising and clients come through to procure our services. In our situation, our services are highly end and will seem to be a high cost to some. Clients are likely to need to have strong assurance in what we deliver as a service provider.
In spite of this, we do see it's being relevant to give ourselves extra traffic to our website through pay per click. After all, we need to assess as to whether or not this can be an effective strategy to bring extra traffic to our site to increase conversion. We are not adverse to the idea of pay per click marketing. We do know of companies who can accurately predict their revenue based purely upon how much they pay for pay per click advertising.
Is SEO a scam therefore?
There are many experts in search engine optimisation when we have done a lot of research ourselves into this space. What we can never do is guarantee our own clients optimised rankings on websites. All we can do is to try to put in place the foundations for better SEO. We can help customers understand where their presence should be on social media, blogging, and content platforms. What we are really talking about is marketing and brand awareness, creating an ecosystem whereby potential customers and existing customers can find us and understand what we are offering.
Creating content that sits outside of your website to help customers understand your value proposition is vital. We don't see that by simply paying for pay per click advertising is going to bring much custom to many smaller businesses. We can go further, perhaps in many circumstances, SEO is an almost worthless pursuit? Just trying to feature at the top of major search engine optimisation rankings.
First thoughts when considering whether SEO is a scam or not is to question just how much thought goes into understanding your business vertical by the SEO provider. Do they understand your market sector and customer segmentation. Do they need to?
Other thoughts on SEO efficacy. How highly are the odds stacked against you getting found through PPC or organic searches? Can we predict conversion rates in terms of pay per click and pay per view?
Those professionals who offer content marketing services. We have to appreciate just how long it takes to create content. This article is nearly 4000 words and probably will be by the time it's completed. Imagine writing 4000 words, 20 times to get content that your audience can discover because you become an authority on a particular subject area? Are SEO content marketing experts going to be able to put that much effort into this and how much will that cost? Do they understand your business vertical?
One thing search engine optimization proponents will do is to look at your website from a structural perspective and tell you it doesn't meet certain criteria and that is why your website is not hitting the top of the search results. The reality is this is a simple thing to do. There are plenty of websites which can tell you this but you still will not get to the top of search engine results. The key question is whether their recommendations actually leads to better results. Can they provide evidence that this works?
Every time a company contacts us to try to sell specific services, they never demonstrate what they can do specifically for our business. They simply say we develop websites, let's give you a website. We do SEO. Let's do SEO for you. Never is there a suggestion how providers we could improve our existing product. Never a suggestion on where we could feature, or perhaps a sample of an article which could help us to get more attention. This is something which we consider to be a red flag when trying to engage SEO consultants and website design agencies.
Truly decent search engine optimisations providers are worth their weight in gold. These experts are likely to openly admit there would need to be more of a combined approach to growing traffic to a website.
Final thoughts - we see it as a process in the evolution of the user. Almost all website users still try to think in terms of just doing a Google search. In many situations Google is the absolute go to search engine. In others situations Google is almost counter to the spirit of how businesses wish to be found. By adding to the voice of opinion on alternative content marketing efforts - whatever your industry is, and by engaging in content marketing, you are helping to add to the knowledge users have about finding information, products and services effectively.
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