SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is the practice of growing visibility for your website in organic (non-paid) search engine results. For example, if you are a flower shop in London, you would use SEO to try and be one of the top results when people search "Buy flowers in London".
SEO is often viewed as a bit of a mystic art - with many believing that SEO agencies are doing secret and magical practices. In reality, SEO doesn't have to be that complicated, and businesses of all sizes can make some impact on their search presence.
But before embarking on any such exercise it's important that you understand the pros and cons of SEO.
NOTE: This is part of a series of blog posts covering the many tactics of digital marketing. Visit the blog home page to see more.
It's free - sort of. SEO doesn't rely on adverts or paid media, all the tactics require is time. Obviously, for many organisations that may mean paying for someone's time, but it's still, in theory, providing a continuous flow of free traffic.
People trust search results - if you manage to organically appear high in search results then you'll likely experience higher conversation rates and better ROI. Search becomes the #1 driver of traffic for many sites, and leads from search can have a high 14.6% close rate. There are huge rewards to reap, and because of the trust it can also be great for your brand integrity
Searchers are often ready to buy - if you focus your SEO efforts on search terms specific to your product, chances are that your customer is a real prospect. Someone who searches for "PR agency in UK" - they are probably looking to talk to someone and make a decision. This means you'll be using your time bringing in potential, relevant, customers.
It takes time - changes can take weeks, or months to show. Google and other search engines are looking for reliable content and having one blog post will not be enough to shoot to the top of results. It'll be a while before you see improvements, and thus a ROI. SEO takes investment and patience. On the plus side, it also means that if you pause activity it will take a while for you to slip in results as well.
Be aware - if an agency says they can deliver quick results - be suspicious. They may be using so-called "black hat" tactics that can damage your website in the long term.
There's no guarantee - there are so many external factors around competition and search trends, and we will never know 100% how each search engine's algorithms work. Therefore it's very difficult to ensure results. To improve your chances you should be prepared to focus on niche markets and product areas - the less competition the easier it will be to make an impact.
Keeping up with the search engines themselves - Google et al are constantly trying to change their algorithms to ensure that a) nobody is cheating the system, and b) they are serving the best websites for the search terms. This can include technical aspects, so you need to constantly be looking for updates and ensuring your site is meeting any new requirements. For example, you will be heavily penalised for not having a mobile optimised site.