The truth about SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Search Engine Optimization is the process of organically attracting higher quality - and higher quantity - traffic to your website through a search engine, like Google. SEO is organic because it is unpaid, as opposed to direct traffic or paid traffic (such as advertising). Despite this distinction, SEO and Advertising are deeply intertwined and often perform better when utilized in tandem.

In layman’s terms, SEO is about showing up higher on Google (very few people use any of the other search engines). Of course, there is enormous value in showing up higher on Google. While this concept may seem simple on the surface, what happens behind the scenes is extremely complex. In fact, there is no human on Earth who understands Google’s search algorithm in its entirety.

The Landscape

The Google search algorithm has been built over decades – blending artificial intelligence with complex mathematical equations that take thousands of variables into account. Not to mention, thousands of people worked on different parts of it, at different times, in different geographic locations. Take Google’s natural language models as an example – they’ve built many equations that decipher what string of words to look up in the index based on your search query. Their synonym system is one subset of this, allowing Search to match a query ‘How to change a lightbulb’ with pages describing how to replace a lightbulb.

Yet, 'replace' does not match the query for 'change' all of the time. if you type 'How to change brightness on my laptop' it won't use the synonym subset 'How to replace brightness on my laptop' because it doesn't make sense - instead Search will match query's of 'adjust brightness', for example. This one system took over five years to develop. Imagine doing this for all 149 languages Google Search offers.

Google's natural language model

Of course, Google has also developed equations that use your location to deliver relevant content. If you live in Chicago, and type in “Football”, Google will weigh results about the Chicago Bears higher. Whereas if you search “Football” while in London they will weigh results about the premier league and soccer higher.

Context and setting play a role

Google will also tailor results based on your recent search history. If you search for “Barcelona” and recently searched for “Barcelona vs. Arsenal” then Google uses this as a clue that you may want information about the football club, not the city.

These examples barely scratch the surface of Google Search complexity. Google has thousands of algorithms that assess the relevance of webpages, the usability of webpages, the quality of content, how to display crawled information, how to display indexed information, knowledge graphs, featured snippets, rich lists, direct results, directions, and traffic – the list goes on and on. It is seemingly never-ending.

Consider the intricacy of this for a moment. After typing in my query, it takes microseconds for Google to organize the world’s information, analyze billions of webpages, weigh variables that are relevant to me, and ultimately deliver the results I’m looking for. Google Search has made the internet infinitely more accessible and empowered billions of people to attain greater knowledge in every field of human endeavour. We take it for granted, but it is one of the greatest achievements in the history of business.

But we digress. For obvious reasons, the Search algorithm is one of Google’s most valued intellectual properties, and is safeguarded accordingly. It is a mysterious black box - very few people know what’s inside and nobody fully understands it.

The Truth about SEO

Wow. That is both intimidating and alluring, isn’t it? There is so much we don’t know. This is the cold hard truth about SEO - it is an unsolved riddle. Brilliant people have tried reverse engineering the algorithm and discovered tips and tricks to help optimize your placement. But it’s forever a game of cat-and-mouse. Marketers catch up and learn, Google updates something in the system, and the game restarts. Just like the internet itself, the riddle is always evolving.

Most experts estimate that Google changes its search algorithm around 500 to 600 times each year. That's almost twice a day. While most of these changes don't significantly change the SEO landscape, some updates are consequential - making or breaking your SEO strategy.

In an ever-changing and highly complex landscape, are SEO services just a scam? Is there even a point in developing an SEO strategy?

Are SEO services a scam?

Yes and no.

Yes – because a lot of the SEO industry is either misleading or an outright scam. No – because there are legitimate businesses that can help you (like Galaxy Marketing). It’s important to set the right expectations.

Try typing into Google “SEO services”, what do you get?

  • ‘Increase site ranking for $200’
  • ‘$299 professional SEO services’
  • ‘Get ranked #1 in less than 6 months’

Imagine that - for only a few hundred dollars you can rank at the top of Google search. Incredible. I could dethrone Amazon for only $300. Why doesn’t every company do this? Oh wait...

If it sounds too good to be true, it is. There is no such thing as a magic pill when it comes to SEO. The industry is littered with jargon - with service providers positioning themselves as some sort of gurus who have outsmarted the $2 trillion company that is Google. They intentionally confuse you, performing bogus website audits that aim to scare you into purchasing their services. Then, they provide services with no value, like butchering your website’s copywriting for supposed SEO benefits.

Even worse, you could fall victim to an SEO company that uses ‘shortcuts’ – like building backlinks for your website using private blogging networks. While this may actually boost your ranking temporarily, Google will eventually discover this and punish you by de-indexing your entire website - something your business may never recover from.

Real SEO services will not make you promises or guarantees. Increasing your ranking is a long process requiring trial and error (and legitimate business growth).

To avoid being scammed, you need to set the right expectations. In a recent study conducted by Higher Visibility, almost 70% of small business owners expect to see significant SEO results in less than 3 months.

SEO expectations of SMBs

3 months is the very lowest end of what you should expect. Yet, the majority of small business owners think this way. This mismatch of expectations is the growth engine behind black hat SEO companies. If you develop a solid understanding of SEO and set your business expectations accordingly, you will lower your chance of being misled or scammed.

Should I develop an SEO strategy?

Yes.

Organic search gets over 20 times more clicks than any paid Google ad (although they are effective in tandem). There’s something powerful about showing up naturally in the top results for Google. Compared to an ad, it almost feels like you’re getting Google’s endorsement: “this company is legitimate, you can trust them.”

SEO is essential and you should consider it for your business. The one caveat is that you shouldn’t think about SEO as an expense, a cost centre, because then it’s easy to choose the cheapest option. You should think of it like an investment opportunity. You will always get what you pay for.

How to increase your ranking on Google

For much of this post we have painted a picture of uncertainty. Not out of acrimony, but necessity. SEO is something all businesses should understand and utilize. Our goal was not to discourage you but rather help you understand the state of SEO so you can make informed decisions for your organization. Indeed, there are things you can do that will improve your SEO ranking – things that have remained relatively unchanged and endured the test of time.

10 ways to increase your ranking on Google:

  1. Set up Google Business, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console
  2. Update your website regularly with relevant content
  3. Diversify your backlink portfolio
  4. Use primary key words and secondary key words appropriately
  5. Use header tags and paragraph tags appropriately
  6. Guide Google to use your desired meta description
  7. Infuse your SEO strategy with paid advertising
  8. Ensure your website is mobile-ready
  9. Decrease load times
  10. Meet users at every point of the buyers’ journey

Are you curious to learn more about these strategies? Take a look at our resource on SEO techniques.

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