We get this request all the time: “Can you SEO my website?” (Or variations such as “Can you add the SEO to my site” or “Can you turn on SEO for my site?”

Like most things that can be ‘optimized,’ it’s not a yes/no kind of thing. A web site is not optimized or not optimized. It’s one big conversation of ‘where along the gradient’ are the optimization efforts? Also, like most things that can be optimized, there is the low-hanging fruit–the stuff that can be done easily and provides a lot of impact, and then there is the stuff that starts to become extreme in effort for greatly diminished results. (That said, bear in mind that the top place holders in any sort of category are typically only separated by tiny margins, and that’s where things are usually won or lost. But it costs a major premium to play at the top of any performance area.) Anyway, to further complicated matters in the world of SEO, there are at least three distinct realms that can be optimized: 1.) technical, 2.) content, and 3.), popularity.

Technical SEO

This is often the easiest part of SEO.  When client say to us, “Can you SEO my site,” this is typically what we’re talking about.  These efforts include the actual web-development things that can be done to help search engines better see and read your content.  Specifically, we do things like install SEO-specific modules in Drupal, enable fields to let content managers provide more meta data for each article, create pages using best practices that the likes of Google tells us to so that their spiders can ‘see’ our pages easily.  Speaking for Taoti, we pretty much do this part of the SEO job by default.  It’s not something you have to pay us extra for.  If we built your site, then we’ve already been given careful attention to best SEO practices all along the way.  (Now, that’s not to say that there is nothing more we can do here.  Again, there is always something more you can do to eek out a bit more optimization.  But such heroic efforts are costly and not considered mainstream best practices.  We can do them, but we’d want to have much more involved conversations with our clients before going down such roads.

Content SEO

This is probably the most-overlooked SEO component, and frankly, the most important one.  At the end of the day, Google (and other search engines) have one main task: to make sure the people using their services can find what they’re looking for.  If they fail to do that, then no one will use them.  And so this whole industry built up around the notion of having computers trying to figure out what a site (or page) is about so that it knows to show it if that’s what a user is looking for.  And all the tricks in the world won’t negate the fact that your content needs to be relevant to what a user is looking for.

People searching for things tend to glance, then skim, then read (think about how you read a newspaper.)  So it’s important that you get really good keywords big and bold at the top of the page so that it’s easy for them to do so.  And they need to be descriptive!  You know what you’re writing about, but unless you’re explicit, your users won’t know until they read it.  And if they have to read it first, it’s probably too late to grab their attention.  Google knows this too, so they give lots of weight to pages that have highly relevant titles, headings, subheadings, etc.  Let’s consider an example:

If you have a page called “About Us,” then you’ve told the user very little.  Especially a user that hasn’t even found your website yet (ie, someone using a search engine.)  So what if you put, “About Taoti.”  At least now, they know WHO the page is about.  But if you don’t know who Taoti is, you don’t know that we build Drupal websites.  So what if we put, “About Taoti –  A Washington DC Drupal Development Firm.”

If you were searching for a web designer in DC, and you saw two search results, which one would you likely click on first?

About Us

About Taoti – A Washington DC Drupal Development Firm

See my point?  Granted, I’m waaaaay over simplifying here.  There are a million other things to consider, but you get the idea.  So if you “want more SEO,” consider going back to your existing content pages and adding in keywords to make them more specific and explicit.  Do so in the page titles and the headings.  That’s where you’ll get the most traction.  Of course, re-writing the entire copy of the article for SEO purposes would also be very effective, but that’s a big lift.  Save that for after you’ve picked some of the lower-hanging fruit.

Popularity SEO

Sorry, but the web is a popularity contest.  Search engines basically take the position that if lots of people visit your page, and lots of other sites link to it, then you must have something relevant to say.  The more credible and relevant those people and sites linking to you are, the more credible and relevant Google presumes your own to be.  So getting a link to your site from CNN.com counts for a lot more than getting a link from your great aunt’s blog about her garden.  But nevertheless, ‘linkbacks’ are really important to your search engine rank.  And they have to be real.  You can’t just post fluff links on unrelated sites or you’ll eventually get penalized for trying to trick the search gods.  Same goes for social media: generating a buzz in social media networks has a major impact on your popularity, which gives you what is effectively artificial weighting in terms of where you come up in search engine listings.

So you’re sitting there thinking, “I get it.  But how do I force other sites to link to me?”  You can’t.  You need to have content that is good enough that people want to link to it, tweet about it, etc.  It’s tough.  This is definitely the hardest part about SEO since much of it is beyond your control.  But it’s also a critical factor if you really want to take SEO seriously.

A Three-Legged Stool doesn’t stand without all Three Legs

If you only address one or two of these SEO areas, then you typically aren’t going to end up on the first page of Google for anything mainstream.  Even if you’re highly successful with 2 of the 3 three legs, you may get from 82nd position to 47th.  When’s the last time you clicked on the 47th search result?  Don’t get me wrong—every bit helps.  And just because you can’t focus on all three initiatives at once doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.  The popularity thing especially takes time, so doing at little bit of effort there over months or years will eventually pay off.

Okay, okay.  I get it.  But now, can you just SEO my site?

No.  We can’t just “SEO a site.”  It’s not a line item in a proposal.  It’s not something we can invoice for.  SEO is a big picture strategy that needs to be considered as a function of resources, goals, priorities, etc.  And this article didn’t even touch on the importance of what you’re actually trying to optimize for, who you’re trying to target, and how to set goals that don’t just result in more traffic, but actually move the needle with regard to business objectives.  Sure, we’re happy to help you pick the low-hanging SEO fruit.  But being found online by search engines really is a big part of your business strategy, then we need to sit down and really talk about what can be done and what it will be take to meet those expectations and goals.

That said, we do that.  Call us.  We don’t have all the answers, but we’ll at least be straight with you about what we know, what we don’t know, and what we don’t know whether we know or not.