Many clients that I’ve met over the last two decades have asked me about SEO, or search engine optimization. It is one of those terms that is difficult for the average person to understand. Part of the reason for this is that it can be very technical, and another reason is that it gets confused with other terms like SEM (Search Engine Marketing). AdWords is the most famous type of SEM. Some people might say that SEO is part of any search engine marketing (SEM) campaign, but that’s not quite true. Sure, SEO is an important tool for marketing your website – and therefore your business, and it does involve search engines.

Have I lost you yet? Ok, let’s have an analogy:

SEM Explained

Let’s say you decide to build a convenience store (a website) on the edge of a small town (dimly lit corner of the Internet).  Nobody knows where your store is, so no one ever comes there. Business is not good. You’ve got to do something! One night when you’re out on the town, you get a ride home in a taxi, and you tell the taxi driver all about your woes with your business. He says to you “hey there, knoodle blog reader, how about this: every time I hear a passenger say they need something you carry, I’ll bring them to your store. For every person I bring to you, you pay me $1.00.” This is essentially how SEM (and AdWords) work – people ask for something, Google displays it prominently, and if the user clicks, you pay Google $1.00 (just like the taxi driver). You strike a deal with the taxi driver, happy with the win-win deal you’ve found yourself in.

SEO Explained

Your deal with the taxi driver is going great and business is booming. You’re getting a steady stream of traffic to your store, but then one day, your daughter is walking home from school and she notices that someone is opening a new convenience store, Wally’s Mart, just a couple of blocks away. Wally opens his business, and soon enough Wally runs into the town taxi driver and offers him $1.10 to bring him customers. Wally, just like Google, is happy to spend the extra money for the referral. Over time, your foot traffic declines and you start to worry. You find the taxi driver and you offer him $1.20, and he tells you that the fee is now $3.00. Begrudgingly, you agree to pay $3.00, but it seriously starts to cut into your profits. You need another way to help people find you!

Luckily, your neighbor knows someone who can help you. He introduces you to Kay Knoodle. Kay learns about your convenience store and what makes it unique. Kay gets to work right away and sends out press releases announcing that your store is the only one in town that can get official Starbucks coffee blends. She also asks other businesses in town to advertise (refer) business to you. Pretty soon, the Mayor (Mr. Google) hears about your store from all the other business owners who say such nice things about you and your quality of service. The mayor figures that since he hears such great things about your store, it must be the best. Whenever anyone asks about coffee or advice about the best convenience store in town, he puts you at the top of the list. Why? Because of all the referrals.

Mayor Google also checks out your store in person, and notices how much cleaner it is than Wally’s Mart. He notices how easy to use it is, how fast the service is and how quickly and easily he can get in and out. This makes him want to refer people to you more. In website terms, this translates to how fast your site loads, how well it works on mobile, how “clean” your code is, your content, and how your site is structured and linked.

Online, a referral is sometimes also known as an inbound link. An inbound link is essentially a vote of confidence in your website. Just like the people referring the mayor to your convenience store. It is important to have different kinds of inbound links – press releases, blog posts, reviews, social media, twitter, Youtube. If Mayor Google, from our story, only got referrals from the tax drivers in town, he might grow suspicious that you’re paying them for their reference. Google is wise to this ploy and will stop telling the world about you (and lowering your rank in the search results) if you tell too many people too fast, Google will wise up to that, too, and might ban you from being found at all… so pacing is important. 

SEM Isn’t Bad, Though!

Search engine marketing does work – and it works well. Buying keywords can be a complex process, and adjusting your bid on different keywords can be a full-time job! Who has time to do that? Well, we do, of course. While it is true that in some competitive industries, keywords are really expensive, we combine SEO, PR, and other forms of advertising to give you the competitive advantage. Being a full-service, research-driven ad agency means that we are on your side – knoodle will assess your needs and help you figure out how to drive customers to your corner store – or your franchise. 

The Rest of the Story

Search Engine Optimization takes time. It’s not a magic bullet. It takes time and expertise to implement. To be honest, it’s not cheap, because it takes a lot of labor hours to do correctly – but it’s an excellent investment in your business. Because of this, there are a lot of “SEO” experts out there, all over the world, with many taking advantage of lower wages and “good enough” skills. The truth, however, is that few of those organizations truly understand SEO – or, if they do, that’s all they know. The good news? If you implement it the right way, your competition will have a hard time keeping up with you. Google doesn’t just bequeath better search results to a competitor overnight. This is because Google knows how people game the system, and they suppress sites that do it. The only legitimate way to quickly raise your online search engine rank is to be featured in mainstream media – online and off. Don’t get too excited though… this type of organic boost is fleeting. The bottom line is that quality, long-term SEO takes time – but it’s worth it. Just ask Wally.

James is our Director of Digital Strategy and an accomplished leader with over two decades of successful digital, traditional, and technical execution. He has executive level experience in Account, Product and Project Management in Casino, Lottery, Entertainment, Technology, B2B, Aviation, Promotions, Home Builders, Health Care and Consumer Product.