I recently overheard a conversation about Search Engine Optimization between two local contractors I know. These are small business guys, they both have their own contractor business in different industries. It went something like this,
"So you go into GoDaddy and they have a tool for SEO. You run it and it takes about 24 hours." "I tried something like that. I kept searching for my business name and I never showed up." "Yeah, I started showing up at the bottom of the page for my business name."
I love listening to small business owners or managers discuss SEO. It is almost always painful to hear their thoughts on it, but it is one of the most enlightening experiences you can have in my industry. (In fact, listening to your customers and your target audience is enlightening regardless of what industry you are in.) This is hardly the first conversation I've overheard, and I hope it isn't the last.
These two contractors have some misconceptions about SEO. They are probably not the only ones. While I didn't butt into their conversation at the time, it's worth addressing them here.
1. SEO is not automatic, and it does not happen overnight.
This might be shocking to some. Every single automated SEO tool, every site that promises page 1 rankings or your money back, each and every SEO service that claims they have worked with the biggest brands in the world but only charge $200 - they all should be thrown into the same pot as any other Get-Rich-Quick scheme and buried, trampled underfoot, and spat upon. They're worthless. There is no way to cheat in life, there is no way to cheat in business, and there is no way to cheat in SEO. (Some will point out that cheating in any of these areas is possible. However, it is not a viable long-term strategy as you will get caught, the algorithms will catch up with you, and you'll end up worse off than ever.)
What we call SEO is one piece of the larger puzzle that is Online Marketing. In fact, the more the search engines evolve, the more SEO adapts, the closer it comes to traditional marketing. To be successful you need to be in it for the long haul. Get-Rich-Quick schemes don't present a successful strategy for legitimate businesses.
2. Ranking for your business name, or even a keyword does not equate to SEO.
Anyone who promises you search engine rankings is a fool. More so, anyone that presents rankings as some sort of end-all goal is a fool. You, as the business owner, need to forget about rankings. They may not be entirely useless, but they are a small fraction of the overall plan. I liken search rankings to the popularity of the location location of a brick and mortar store. It doesn't matter how many thousands of people walk by that storefront, if the store is not welcoming in appearance, if they don't sell a product people want, if their product is not competitively priced, or if their service is sub-par then they will fail.
In the same way, you can rank for terrific keywords that thousands of people are searching for, and still fail. You need a welcoming appearance - design and content. You need to sell a product people want - relevance to the keywords. You need to be competitively positioned within your market. You need to offer great service - both customer service, and a good user experience.
3. What you see in the search results is not what someone else sees.
For years now search engines have been customizing results. Whether you are logged into Google or not, the search results you see are most likely personalized to you in some regard. Not only do they customize based on factors such as location and search history, but they are constantly running tests and tweaking their results so that you may not even see the same search results day after day.
With some effort and the proper tools, a knowledgeable SEO can track rankings over time in order to evaluate the results of their efforts. This is a task that should be left to the SEO, and in many cases, it isn't worthwhile reporting rankings to the client. Search for your business name if you'd like, but don't trust the results you see!