Search Engine Optimization: Demystified

Search engine optimization is, without question, the most misunderstood concept in all that is the world of digital marketing and online retail. There is not even a close second.

To this day, I still encounter more than a few digital business owners who believe effective SEO is about keyword stuffing and inbound links from worthless internet directories. SEO was a game. The most manipulative players were the most successful. Google, Bing, and the other search goliaths put an end to the game long ago. They punished the manipulators and leveled the playing field for everyone. Unfortunately, not everyone got the memo.

Years ago, in my previous role as the E-Commerce Director of a mid-sized online retailer, I sat across a conference table from three smug representatives of a small SEO-focused marketing agency that my boss had hired to help drive traffic to our BigCommerce store. I explained carefully that I had a solid grasp on the basic principles behind search engine optimization and that I understood how important good content was to the effort to drive organic traffic. I plainly asked that they be willing to work with us transparently and collaboratively. I wanted to learn the finer technical points of SEO work and how that tied into the creation of original content I was overseeing.

To say the least, my request was not well received. The agency reps scoffed at the idea that someone as "untrained" as myself could begin to understand the great complexities of search engine optimization. I was told to trust that the "experts" were doing great work - even if their work was all behind the scenes where I could not see it.

My rebuttal to this nonsense? I tossed three dozen pages of SEO "how to" content (provided for free to the world by BigCommerce) on the table. I had studied everything BigCommerce had to offer on the topic of SEO and I was asking for these experts (that we were paying handsomely) to continue my education. I believed a more robust understanding of the relationship between SEO and Content Marketing would be beneficial to our business in the long run.

Plainly, they refused. They even went as far as to say that the SEO guides from BigCommerce were "useless fluff" I shouldn't waste my time on. They were not willing to work transparently. They were not willing to educate me or my team along the way. They were not interested in working collaboratively and most importantly, in nearly a year they had not done a damn thing to boost traffic or sales.

To the tune of $3,500 per month these so-called experts wanted to maintain, indefinitely, the illusion that search engine optimization work is some sort of dark art. That it is some mystical, magical thing only understood by a select few. I'm here to tell you, that's pure crap.

We learned this lesson the hard way. I hope you don't have to.

So what do you, the small online retailer, really need to know about search engine optimization? Less than you think. It's actually quite simple. Let me explain.

Search engine queries are, for the sake of simplicity, nothing more than questions. It is Jane Doe asking Google a question. Let's say Jane searches "best stainless steel refrigerators under $1500". Paid ads aside, Google is striving to deliver Jane a listing of webpages most likely to give her information about stainless steel refrigerators under $1500. Google wants Jane to have a great experience and get the information she's seeking the first time out, so Google looks through billions of webpages seeking out an online authority on refrigerators. More specifically, an authority on stainless steel refrigerators under $1500.

Google finds dozens of relevant pages, ranks them, and shares the results with Jane. It all happens in fractions of a second. (Pretty impressive when you think about it, isn't it?)

Search Engine Optimization, as simply put as it can be, is nothing more than convincing search engines that your website is the authority on a particular topic.

You want Google to believe that your website, your blog, your webstore is the end-all authority within your particular niche. The best way to convince them that you are an authority? Actually BE an authority!

The best way to establish authority? Content. Create original, useful, interested, helpful, insightful, well-organized, simply ass-kicking content. Trust us. It works. Every time we add content to this humble little website, there is a modest spike in site traffic followed by a handful of new client leads. Happens every time.

Once you have cranked out some amazing content and feel like you have done everything in your power to establish authority online within your particular niche, then it may be time to get someone well-versed in the technical aspects of SEO to consult. If and when you do, demand transparency. You and your business deserve it.

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