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You Reap What You Sow

There is a common misconception that every business can benefit from SEO. That is just not true. There are outcomes which seem unfair at times, but usually, the amount of the success you achieve is directly proportional to the quality and quantity of effort you put in.

There is a folk tale my parents used to read to me as a kid. It’s called “The Little Red Hen” and tells the story of a hard-working hen who gets no help preparing food but lots of volunteers when it comes time to eat it. She declines and they learn a lesson; you reap what you sow.

The Little Red Hen book cover on the not every business cut out for seo blog post

By Florence White Williams [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

SEO is the same. It is a process, an ongoing process and commitment to ensuring your business can establish and maintain online visibility, influence, and profit. In my experience, many people who are new to SEO don’t put in enough effort or give up prematurely because they:

  • don’t know what’s required;
  • don’t have the necessary skill sets or can’t pay for them;
  • can’t make the time to contribute in a meaningful way; or
  • lose patience.

SEO is hard work and it is a slow process. There’s value in knowing what up-front. Why waste time, effort and dollars if you can’t fulfill the prerequisites for success?

Before You Start

Businesses that do achieve success have reputable and differentiated brands. They work hand-in-hand with SEO experts to apply creativity, empathy, outreach, and technical and analytic expertise to earn their way to the top. They know their audience, get found on the Internet and provide exceptional value. (More about that in a minute.)

If you own or represent a business that is serious about earning and sustaining a lead position in your online market, there are a few things you need to know that will help you plan for success and mitigate the risk of disappointment or failure.

First, Focus On Google

Google is the largest, most popular search engine in worldwide use today. With a few exceptions (in countries like China, Russia, and South Korea), 90% of the Internet-connected world searches for online information using Google.

Global market share of search engines

Bing is slowly gaining ground but still not a prominent player. Yahoo penned a deal with Firefox last year that helped save it from extinction but it is still nowhere near where it needs to be to effectively compete with Google.

Everyone has limited resources. Focus on Google.

Architect Your Website for Search Engines

Your website must be engineered for search engines. Not just people.

When you submit a search query on Google, Google doesn’t scan the Internet looking for an answer. It would take too long and people don’t have that much patience. Instead, Google searches its own proprietary index of the Web.

That means if you’re not in Google’s index, you won’t show up in search results.

Google’s Search Index

Google’s index is a continuously updated and categorized inventory of all the content Google has been able to find on the Web. If Google can’t find your website, or if it runs into obstacles trying to navigate and read your content, you won’t get indexed or you’ll get indexed completely or accurately. You can use paid advertising (like Google Adwords) to get around that constraint and gain temporary visibility, but you won’t show up in the free Knowledge Graph, local, featured snippet, or organic search results. And while paid advertisements tend to dominate search results, they garner only 15% of clicks so paid advertising or pay-per-click (PPC), by itself, probably isn’t to get you the results you want and need.

Assuming Google can find and completely and accurately index your website, you’re still not off the hook.

Responsive Web Design

An illustration of how responsive design works.

An example of responsive web design.

Google has been very clear in recent years that it expects websites to load fast and display well on any type of screen or device, and in particular, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. In fact, Google specifically recommends websites be built with a responsive design – a setup that allows one set of code to adapt and display well on any device.

Encrypted Communications (HTTPS)

Google has also been pushing for communications between your browser and website to be encrypted (HTTPS). To incentivize business and website owners, in August 2016 it announced that switching your website over to HTTPS will give you a minor ranking boost. In December 2016, it updated its warning to say it will start putting a clear “Not secure” label next to destinations that use unencrypted HTTP connections rather than encrypted HTTPS connections.


Lastly, Google can’t add you to its index or update its content unless your website is up all the time, accessible from anywhere, and able to scale and grow with the evolving needs and demands of your business and audience.

What does all this add up to for a business and website owner?

Your website can’t just be pretty. It has to be architected for search engines.   

Your Content Must Be Exceptional

The third need-to-know component of SEO is also driven by Google but focuses on your audience.

Google’s index is huge and growing. In January 2017 it had approximately 130 trillion indexed pages (including pages, blog posts, images, and videos). This poses several challenges for business owners.

  • Google’s index is organized around words and phrases. Much like the index in the back of a book, it contains all the unique word combinations people use when they search and the unique address or URL of every published page, blog post, and/or image on the Internet that contains those words or a close equivalent.
  • That means if you want to get found on the Internet, you need to know the words and phrases (keywords) your audience is searching for. You should have a unique, optimized piece of content for every word/phrase combination you want to be found for.
  • That content must be sought-after and extraordinary. It must be trustworthy, high quality, memorable, and useful. Why? Because searchers value their time and they don’t need to waste time on inadequate content. They have literally thousands, millions, or trillions of other options.
Your content must be exceptional (like these award winning books)

* National Book Award finalists are examples of exceptional content. Image via Twitter (@nationalbook).

Your content can’t be commonplace or fluff. It must be exceptional.

If it’s not, you won’t grab the attention of your searching audience and you won’t earn the signals Google uses to decide who ranks on top. Visitors will hit the back button and refine their search.

Your Content Must Earn Links

Links are SEO gold. All things being equal, the more incoming links you have from unique and valuable sources, the higher you will rank.

Links are like gold

Links Are Like Gold

You can’t buy or exchange links and expect to outrank the competition. There are rules against that and, even if you get away with it, it won’t be enough to deliver meaningful results.

You also can’t duplicate content. There are rules against that too. You can put your own unique spin or perspective on it so long as you give credit to the original author, but there’s no sense (or honor) in plagiarism.

That means links have to be earned.  The best way to earn links is with exceptional content and content promotion.

Content promotion is when you figure where your audience likes to hang out online and then take advantage of those platforms to earn additional amplification, exposure, and links.

Publishing your content on your blog and/or social media channels just isn’t enough. Your content must be promoted and only exceptional content will earn amplification and links.

Accept You Are Chasing a Moving Target

So, you have to focus on Google, architect your website for search engines, create and promote exceptional content, and earn links. We’re still not done.  You also have to accept that you’re chasing a moving target.

  • Google changes its ranking algorithm 500-600 times a year.
  • More than 150 million new pieces of content are added to the Web daily.
  • Search terms and phrases, as well as search volumes, change daily.
  • Links break and get dropped.
  • Content gets quoted without attribution. It gets plagiarized and accidentally duplicated.
  • And then there’s analytics SPAM. If you don’t maintain your website analytics filters, you won’t have any idea how many people are visiting your site, from where, when, how they found you, and what they’re doing after that.

You must maintain SPAM filters on Google Analytics or your data will be meaningless

In other words, there’s upkeep. You need to defend, preserve and protect your SEO investment. It is vulnerable and easily lost.

Do You Have What It Takes?

I’ve shared five prerequisites for SEO success:

  • focus on Google;
  • architect your website for search engines;  
  • publish exceptional content;
  • promote your content in the places where your audience likes to hang out so you can earn exposure, amplification, and links; and
  • defend, preserve and protect your investment with ongoing maintenance.

Now ask yourself,

  • Are you doing all these things now?
  • If not, are you willing to do them yourself or hire or contract someone to do them for you?
  • Are you open, honest and forthcoming? Are you willing to share your opinions, expertise, and knowledge in the form of exceptional content?
  • Does that information exist today or are you going to have to create it?
  • Are you a good writer? Do you have time to write? If not, are you willing to hire or contract the services of a good writer?
  • Are you patient? (SEO takes a long time.)
  • How will you know if you’re making progress? Will you configure analytics to measure success and maintain SPAM filters so the data is meaningful?

SEO is hard and not every business is cut out for it. You need commitment, patience, creativity, empathy, outreach, and technical and analytic expertise to earn your way to the top. You need a clearly differentiated brand and a continuous flood of sought-after, relevant, fresh, unique, specific, engaging, and valuable content.

It’s a long, slow process. Be sure to invest in finding the “right” partner. You’re going to be spending a lot of time together.

Funding, commitment, patience, and support come from you. The other things can be taught or bought but not omitted.

So, do you have what it takes?