Hosted by Darren DeYoung, Elin Enrooth and Ryan Boog
There are so many questions when it comes to SEO, but we are going to try to do the unthinkable....narrow down all the SEO questions and address the three most common ones. Do you think we can do it?
Welcome back to The Hoist Hangout. And of course, we are talking all things digital marketing. It's Ryan, Elin, and Darren. And search engine optimization, SEO, as many people call it, is obviously the process of optimizing your website so search engines will recognize it as authoritative and relevant for users. And today we're going to try to break down the three most common SEO questions. And we're going to limit it to three. This list could be exorbitantly long, but we're going to stick to three.
Darren: Welcome back to The Hoist Hangout. And of course, we are talking all things digital marketing. It's Ryan, Elin, and Darren. And search engine optimization, SEO, as many people call it, is obviously the process of optimizing your website so search engines will recognize it as authoritative and relevant for users. And today we're going to try to break down the three most common SEO questions. And we're going to limit it to three. This list could be exorbitantly long, but we're going to stick to three.
As everyone knows, there's so many things that go into SEO. So today the three questions that we're going to cover are, what does go into SEO? Why does it take so long to see results? And when can you stop SEO?
So we'll start off by answering that first question. What exactly does SEO involve? And for simplicity, we're going to break this part of the discussion down into two branches, and we'll call those branches on page SEO and off page SEO. This basically has to deal with whether the tactics that are used to improve a website search engine optimization occur on the website or off the website. So another way to look at this is on page SEO relates to optimizations that you, the website owner, can control and perform on your own site. And off page SEO, on the other hand, is what others think about your site.
So let's jump into the first branch that I mentioned of on-page SEO. So this is, again, optimizing elements on your website, or items that you can control. So what are some things that you can control? Well first of all, you can control the page content. As the website owner you can make sure that your content is authentic. You can make sure it's unique. You can make sure it's different. You can make sure it's useful to the user. All of those things are something, is what you can control. A good way to gauge if your page content is useful to the user is to ask yourself, "Are people who visit my website likely to hit the back button and choose a different result? Or are they likely to stay?" If they're going to hit that back button right away, it's probably not very useful to them. But if they hang around, explore, you may be onto something. So page content, that's obviously one thing that we all can control and is an on page SEO element.
Next question. Does the page provide a great user experience? Obviously, you want the page elements easily consumed and understood by users. Is the design of the page aesthetically polished? Is it pleasing? Is it high quality? Is everything jammed together, or can the user navigate it easily? Does the page load quickly? Obviously, if a user clicks on your website in a search result and the page spins and spins and spins, they know there's millions more pages that they can hit the back button and go visit.
And then the other thing, the last thing here, is the page browser and device responsive? Obviously, with so many people on different devices between their mobile devices, tablets, or desktop, if the page doesn't load properly on one of those devices, again, they will gladly and quickly hit that back button to go visit another result.
Other on page SEO elements. Is the page keyword targeted? So the question we're trying to answer here is does the webpage target a single searcher intent? So for example, if, let's say, you run a tree service company, you do not want a single webpage that targets tree care and tree trimming and stump removal and lot clearing. That's way too much for one page. You probably want to break those up, one page for each, as opposed to putting them all on the same page. You want each webpage to target a single searcher intent. And obviously, that's something you can control.
One other thing that you can control is if your website or your web pages are accessible to the web crawlers. Obviously, if Google or Bing or any other search engine can't crawl your webpage, you'll never be listed. So can search engines find your webpage? Are there duplicate web pages? That's not good, so you want to avoid that and that's something you can control. Are there a bunch of redirects or a redirect chain from either different or older versions of your website? And then one big thing that goes into on page SEO is, are the key page elements of title tag, meta descriptions, alt tags, and so on. Those are all items that you can control and all items that go into SEO.
So for this part of the discussion, I'll probably end it right there because the on page factors can go on and on and on. We can go into significant detail, but those are some of the major items you want to keep in mind.
Ryan: So, Darren-
Ryan: With the on page factors, is there one that stands out as, like, this is the one that you should focus on? Or is it more of a case of you really should be focusing on a multitude of them?
Darren: If you had to pick one of those, I would definitely pick making sure your web content is useful to the user. Right?
Ryan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Darren: If it's unique, authentic, different, that's great. If it's useful, it's providing a value to the user. So that's definitely the priority when looking at on page SEO. And that's the one thing that I would say is the most important.
Ryan: For sure. And if it's useful content, the other metrics will improve. Right? So if they really find it useful, they're going to stay on the page longer. They're not going to hit that back button and find something else. The bounce rates are better, the time on page is better, the scroll rate is better. So yeah, I would agree with you on that.
Darren: Exactly. All those elements that you just rattled off are, obviously, not part of our discussion because we can go on and on. But yeah, all of those elements factor in and all those elements play a critical role in determining what goes into SEO.
So those were all the on-page. If we transition our discussion to off-page SEO factors. So these are, again, these are actions taken off the website, which impact your rankings. Right? So to improve search engine and use a perception of a website's popularity, relevance, trustworthiness, and authority, this is accomplished by other reputable places on the internet, such as web pages, websites, even people, that link to or promote your website and effectively vouch or vote for the quality of your content. So again, these are the off page actions that go into SEO.
So the big one that probably everyone will talk about is backlinks. It's been around forever and it's gone through many evolutions over the years. So there are a couple of types of backlinks. The first one is natural backlinks. So this is a backlink that is given without any action on the part of the page owner. So you could go create an awesome web page that is just the best thing ever. Great for the user experience. It's different from anything else out there. And then someone could link to it without, basically, you even knowing unless you're using special tools. So that's a natural backlink.
Manually built backlinks, those are acquired through deliberate link-building activity. So for example, you reach out to another website, webmaster, and you asked them to, "Hey, link to my website." That's a manually built backlink. The last type of backlink that we'll talk about today is self created links. So these are created by practices such as adding a backlink in an online directory forum, maybe a blog comment, email signature, or a press release. Many of these self-created link-building tactics are devalued by search engines. And they're also, could be considered, what we call Black Hat SEO.
So of those three types, obviously earning links is important. It's important for the site's authority. It's important for search engines because search engines take that into account. But more importantly, search engines take into account the value, the domain authority, the relevance, and the reputability of any backlinks. So a self-created link will probably have, you know, will not be very reputable, as opposed to a natural backlink which could have great domain authority, high relevance. And of course, when search engines look at that, they will likely give it more value.
Off page SEO is also anything done outside of your website with the potential to affect search engine rankings. So building links, that we just talked about, it's the most obvious example of that. But there are many other off page factors besides the links that we'll call, and we'll call these non-link off page factors. So are there instances where there isn't a link involved? So let's say you have a great, very reputable business, and your business gets mentioned many times. Those search engines can see those mentions. Ideally, most of the time they're a link, the brand mentions are a link, but Google can reference unlinked brand mentions, and it does so. And we know this because that's found in one of its patents, that it references unlinked brand mentions. So if you're celebrating a milestone at your business and the local press covers it, and a couple of local newspapers or radio stations mention it, Google will pick up on that, whether it's linked or not. So that's an off page element that goes into SEO.
Another one is name, address, and phone number citations, commonly referred to as listings or citation management. This is all the places your business name, your business address, your business phone number is basically listed on the internet. So great examples are, if you have a Houzz account, a Houzz listing, an Angie's List listing, Google My Business page, perhaps Yelp, your name, your address, your phone number can all be listed there, and search engines will pick up on that.
Online reviews. We talked about off page elements being instances where people kind of vouch or vote for your business. Online reviews, that's a great vote for your business, especially those five-star reviews. So the more positive and more genuine reviews that are out there for your business, and sometimes these reviews can be on third-party websites, but the more positivity, the more high quality reviews you have, the higher you'll likely rank. So that's an important signal.
And then the last thing that I'll mention here is social signals. And there is a lot of debate if search engines pay attention to social signals. One thing we do know is that they do, but social signals are probably not the most reliable ranking factor. And why do we say that? Well, quite frankly, you can buy social shares. You can go out and buy people to like your page and like your posts. And obviously, Google knows that. So things that are easy to manipulate just aren't weighted as much in their algorithms. But the value that social shares does bring to SEO is it's an, excuse me, it's an indirect impact on rankings. When people actually share your content via social networks, it leads to more eyeballs on your content. More eyeballs will lead to more links, lead to more mentions, and all those other off page SEO factors that we know to have a direct effect on rankings.
So I'm going to take a step back and look at off page versus on page. Off page SEO definitely is harder. It's definitely harder to do than on page. But many off page factors aren't entirely under your control. But again, that's kind of the whole point. The harder something is to earn, the more reliable it is as a ranking factor.
So that's a little bit about what goes into SEO. Ryan, you want to talk? Do you want to answer the million dollar question of why SEO takes so long?
Ryan: Yeah. Why SEO takes so long? Okay. We do get that one a lot. Okay. Imagine this. You go to the gym, and your main goal is to gain a bunch of muscle. After one workout, you come out and you're just ripped. You got muscles popping out left and right. We all know that'll never happen. It doesn't work. Why? Because the human body is very complex, and things don't just happen overnight sometimes. And for something that's a very important part of your body to grow like that, it needs time to grow. Search engine rankings are similar in that fashion, whereas they need time to grow in most cases.
Now, why do they need this time to grow? Well, it is just like the human body, a website and Google's ranking factors are very complex. And we just listened to Darren talk for almost 15 minutes about what goes into some. And he's just at the tip of the iceberg about what goes into Google ranking factors. They're very, very complex. So if you think about it, if Google has to not only look at that web page, utilize all these ranking factors, but then look at all the other webpages out there in the universe, and then compare it, and then look for trends. It is something that can't happen overnight. It takes a long time for Google to, quote/unquote, "learn" that your site is the most reputable, knowledgeable source for the search term that's being entered in Google at that time. So nine times out of ten, especially for a business that's trying to target homeowners and they want SEO that will reach them, it takes a little bit of time for organic search results to work properly.
The next million dollar question after that is, "Well, how long is it going to take?" And being dead honest, we've seen results take as quick as a week and as long as a year and a half to two years, if not longer, to finally catch on and really grow almost virally. So sadly, I don't have a specific timeframe for how long does it take to see results because every piece of content is different. Every website's different. So going back to my original statement, highly complex. Not only a website, but the ranking factors and what Google considers before it determines if it's going to be position one, position ten, second page, third page, et cetera. So it's a very complex thing. Hence, it does take some time.
So if we had to put a timeframe on a general piece of content that's out there, it also depends on what your goals are. If you want to rank right away, organically, for a very obscure long tail keyword, your chances of ranking quickly are much, much greater. Now, if you're trying to rank for a highly searched, more vague keyword on a piece of content, let's say, it would take some time for Google to consider all these ranking factors. And not only that, all these other websites that are competing against you and determining, "Hey, yours is going to be better. So we're going to plop you up at the top there." Long story short, it's complex. It depends on what you're trying to rank for, but it's not instant. Google ads are instant. There are others advertising techniques that can be instant. Organic SEO and organic rankings is not instant.
So if you're engaging in any sort of relationship with any marketing agency, or you hire a marketing person yourself at your company, and you're expecting to boost organic traffic pretty rapidly, it's not going to happen, most likely.
Darren: What's your take on a high popularity site? So a site that just generates tons of traffic because it's very popular, reputable. Like a government site, education site, maybe a high powered news outlet. Do they stand a better chance ranking organically over a... They may have an article about tree trimming. Right?
Ryan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Darren: Versus... So compare that to a small business.
Darren: What do you think happens there? So, between a high popular site versus a not as popular site?
Ryan: Undoubtedly, the more authoritative, more popular website will have a huge advantage over the newcomer that just hasn't earned the clout yet. We engaged, gosh, this was probably eight years ago with a client, and they actually said, "This SEO thing is kind of weird because we can just push anything out there and it just gets tons of traffic. And it's like, we don't even try." And they were a very highly visible client with the very active audience, and they didn't have a lot of content. So if they did push something out, people are starving for it. And so they were known as a very highly regarded technical resource on a lot of things. So they could basically take a piece of content, push it out there, and it's going to start ranking for whatever terms they want it to rank for.
Now, why does that work but then you start a new company, and you want to have a page out there, and you want to rank right away, and it doesn't. Well, the company or the business that's already very established has some of those ranking factors that you discussed a few minutes ago, the authority, the clout, they have all the backlinks, typically, and they have their on-page usually up to snuff and a lot of other factors. And they have so much clout and so much weight already with Google that if they put something out, Google's going to say, "I trust you. All right, we'll put you up there."
But if you just started a new business and you're going to write a post about how much do my services cost, and you think is going to rank right away, why would Google write that first? It doesn't trust you. Right? So to answer your question, yes, the more highly visible, more authoritative sites definitely have a huge edge on getting organic content ranking, and getting organic traffic versus any newcomer or website that doesn't have a big following or doesn't get a lot of traffic. That's an excellent question.
So yeah, I think, going back to that, it does take a while to rank organically for smaller businesses that are just new to the SEO game, trying to write a piece of content that's trying to rank against a lot of competition that's out there. It does take some time. But if they're highly authoritative, it can rank quicker.
Darren: It also levels the playing field to some degree. If a small business with a small website is producing high quality content that's very authoritative. They can sometimes hang with the high volume, high popular sites.
Darren: Which was just kind of great. Because it, I don't want to say it equals the playing field, but it gives them the opportunity to at least play.
Ryan: It does. It almost forces those smaller businesses and websites to truly have your game buttoned up, to truly make sure your page speed is up to snuff. Your content is up to snuff. You're reaching your users. Everything is structured properly. That you are earning backlinks and you're keeping people on your website for a long time. And your mobile game is top notch. And if you do all those things really, really well... Chances are those large companies are doing those things but they're not doing them as well. And that's how you can get up and play with them.
So we have another client years and years ago that is a small wood flooring client in St. Paul. And they started doing so well with their content they were ranking for, I think it was just hardwood floors, organically in the United States. Which is an impossible term, but they started ranking for that. But they're not a big client. They're not some big newspaper or a school or anything. They're just a small flooring company in St. Paul. They don't serve the nation, even. They just serve St. Paul. So why did Google think this little company in St Paul should be, we should serve their content through the United States? Well, a lot of the content that was on their site was for DIY's. It was very informative. And it wasn't written as a sales piece. It was written to truly help people that had floor problems. So for example, she would have before and after pictures. She would show how you use certain floor sanding equipment, and what products work, what ones don't, and all sorts of stuff. And it was extremely helpful, extremely useful.
So you can be, to your point, a small company and do well, very well. But to my earlier point, they also have their website totally buttoned up and the mobile game was great. And everything I mentioned before, they had it dialed in and their organic traffic completely shot through the roof.
Ryan: So that's good. Yeah. That's a good question to ask. And I think another question that we get asked sometimes is, "Can I start and stop my SEO campaigns? Is it okay to stop my SEO campaigns? When can I stop my SEO? Should I stop my SEO?" So I'm going to kick that over to Elin, because you can answer that probably a lot better than I can right now. So somebody comes up and says, "When can I stop SEO?" What would you say to them?
Elin: Well, the short answer to that is never. As Ryan mentioned earlier, it can take anywhere from a few months to potentially a few years to see real results. So once you've completed the major optimizations, you still have to maintain that. Especially if you've reached your optimal ranking, you still have to continuously work to maintain that ranking. If you were to stop SEO, it may take a while, but you'll eventually start to see your site ratings drop, and you won't be able to maintain that unless you keep it up. So some people, they'll start SEO, it'll be a few months and they don't see any progress, and they think that it's not working and, obviously, don't want to spend the money on doing that. But that's obviously not a good idea. We generally tell people it'll take anywhere from four to six months to even begin seeing results. So if you've already spent that time optimizing your website, just to remember that it takes time, like we've been talking about.
Darren: What if you feel that... What if a business owner feels that they have done everything they can, when it comes to SEO?
Darren: Is that a good reason to say, "Okay, I've checked all the boxes. I'm going to put it on pause for a little bit."
Elin: Well, so the thing with Google and working with any search engine is that they're constantly updating either the algorithms or what goes in, how they rank SEO factors are constantly changing. And so there's always work that you have to do to keep up with that. If you've done everything you can now, I can promise you that in a few months or a year, there's going to be some stuff you're going to have to work on.
Darren: Next week.
Ryan: That's an interesting point though, that you brought up that you should always be working on your SEO. You should not shut it off. And I agree with that. I think we've seen too many times where it's like, "Oh, we're in a great spot. We can shut it off." Then all sudden down the line, they're like, "Wait, what happened?" So I totally agree with you.
Now, is there a time and a place for seasonality? So let's say you're just a snowplow company and that's all you do, so obviously winter is your peak months, or something completely opposite. Is there a time and a place for a business to enhance their marketing efforts by season, or should SEO always go full bore year round?
Elin: I think there's definitely, once you've kind of made those major optimizations, or you've reached your ideal ranking, just performing site maintenance and just minimal SEO should probably be done year round just so that you don't drop in your site rankings or kind of lose that. But yeah, if you are a business with some sort of seasonality it is probably a good idea to start producing some more content and really kind of focus on SEO leading up to your busy season, just to make sure that you are on top of that. But no, it's not something that has to be super time consuming all of the time, and especially once you've kind of made those major changes. It's just something that should always be in your mind, always something that's being maintained.
Ryan: And I think a little bit of a misconception is just because your business is seasonal, your marketing should be, too. For example, we have a landscape materials type client and the original thought was, "Hey, it's winter. We're closed. Why are we going to do marketing?" Well, that's actually the time where we write some content about the upcoming spring, about things you can do as soon as the snow melts to prep your yard for planting and mulch and rock and all those things that go into it. So just because your business is not technically open, you can still be warming up the oven, so to speak. So when you do open up, you're going to hit the ground running.
Elin: Yeah. And you also kind of mentioned earlier about a previous client that really produced some authentic content. And even if your business is seasonal, just producing content that's relevant and useful to your clients at all times of the year is important. That does help with marketing and branding and SEO, even though it isn't super salesy. It doesn't have to align with the seasonality of your business.
Ryan: For sure. What do you think Darren?
Darren: I'm thinking back to when I played high school sports. You guys probably had a coach or someone who in your life said the same thing. It's the old adage. If you aren't moving forward, you're moving backward. That's what the coach says. Your competition, they're practicing. They're getting better. So I don't know if it's a great correlation, but if you decide to take SEO off for six months, it'll probably affect you a little bit. But also keep in mind, what is your closest competitor doing? If they aren't taking it off, they're moving ahead of you.
So in today's market, it's probably safe to say that everyone should be doing some SEO to have a digital presence and to be found online. So yeah, I think it does. It does apply that if you aren't moving forward, you're probably moving backward. And if you do take some time off, just know that others are probably going to pass ya. So it's just something to keep in mind if you are faced with the decision of, "All right. I got to stop SEO," for whatever reason, but you got to also weigh in the factors.
Ryan: Go ahead.
Elin: It's funny looking now at sites that clearly haven't been optimized for a while. Like a while ago, it was a big thing to kind of keyword stuff or make sure you had those ranking keywords on your pages, which really doesn't factor in at all anymore because Google's AI has gotten a lot better at interpreting what your content is about. But landing on those pages and clearly being able to tell that they haven't touched that in a while, and those pages aren't ranking well anymore just because they haven't kept up with how Google ranks those factors anymore.
Ryan: And sometimes you can even look at a competitor's website and see when they're turning on and shutting off their marketing campaigns. You can see if they have a blog post every three weeks for 15 straight months, but then it's dead for the last year and a half. You know that they tried it and then they stopped. That gives you a huge advantage where you can jump in and really move ahead while they're moving back.
Darren: All right. So that's all we have for today. We're going to limit it to those three questions, arguably very common SEO questions. So thanks for joining us, and we'll see you next time.
Ryan: Yeah. If you have any other questions you want us to answer just email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll be glad to include it on another podcast. Thanks, guys.