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The Truth About S.E.O.

In just about every website sales process prospective clients have questions about search engine optimization. On the one hand the answers to these questions are quite simple, and I’ll get to those in a minute. But on the other hand, with respect to the client’s expectations about SEO, the answers are more complex. But addressing these S.E.O. expectations provides a different kind of trust building opportunity.

Managing Expectations 

Every prospective client wants their site to rank well in search results. And there are some simple things they can do to optimize their pages—but even a properly optimized page is subject to external S.E.O. factors outside their direct control. And ongoing changes to Google’s secret algorithm can cause a page to rank high one day, and disappear the next. 

And so the trust building opportunity here is to honestly address their expectations. It can be tempting to tell a prospective client what they want to hear. To tell them that their new website will be super optimized and rise to the top of Google. But that would be seriously over promising. Instead you need to tell them the truth. That, while there are factors that they should give attention to, in order to rank well, their actual rankings will be determined by factors outside their control. 

Trade-offs in SEO

Aspects like how many other websites link back to their pages, or how long their URLs have been in Google’s index. These are things that a redesigned website will not affect. 

In fact, when redesigning a website we often need to update the overall information architecture including changing menu categories. Also, some older content may be dropped in the process, and some pages may be consolidated. As a result many existing page URLs will change due to this reorganization. Now the proper way to manage these changes is to create what are called 301 redirects to inform Google of pages whose URLs have changed or been removed. But sometimes 301 redirects can trigger Google to re-evaluate content, and might even demote some of the changed URLs. 

So while addressing S.E.O. properly can provide improvements, there are also trade offs that might have slightly negative impacts on the position of some pages. 

This is the truth, and it’s not what a client necessarily wants to hear. But telling the truth, while scary, is an over-powered opportunity for building trust. 

So, when addressing S.E.O. questions be sure to lay out the full picture, both the risks, and the opportunities for S.E.O. 

Leveraging Tools for Improvement

Now the good news is that there are some pretty simple things a client can do to improve their S.E.O. results. And in the case of WordPress, there are some excellent tools available to facilitate these practices. We install Yoast S.E.O. on all our sites. Their free version provides robust S.E.O. tools. And they offer a pro version that can take things to the next level if S.E.O. is particularly vital for a client.

With tools like Yoast installed a client can edit each page’s meta title, and meta descriptions. This simple practice has the greatest impact on a site’s optimization. The meta title is not necessarily visible on a page. It’s more behind the scenes, though it does appear as the text in browser tabs. It is also what a page’s link title will be when it appears in search engine results. The meta description also appears as the snippet of text in search engines. 

If you don’t craft effective meta titles and descriptions, then search engines will just grab the default page name for the title and the first few words of content it finds for the snippet—which may not be very informative, and therefore not rank as well in search results, or be very compelling to a searcher.

If you start paying attention to the text in those browser tabs, you’ll start to notice that often a site’s home page has the meta title of “Home” or perhaps slightly better, the company’s name. Neither tells a searcher what the company is or does. So thinking through your titles and snippet text, to use concrete and informative terms is the easiest and best thing you can do to improve search engine rankings. 

Additional things you can do include adding internal cross links on pages, and even adding a few external links can give a boost. You can also optimize images for efficient download and add descriptive alt tags to those images. But even those efforts won’t be determinative. At the end of the day factors outside of a client’s control significantly impact rankings.

Unfortunately, most sales processes are full of overstatements, over promising, and evasion of uncomfortable realities, and the topic of S.E.O. is one where such dynamics abound. 

But that’s your opportunity for strategic positioning that differentiates you from competitors. By giving clear, truthful answers to these concerns, highlighting both the risks and opportunities, you will build significant trust with your prospects.

There is one other aspect of S.E.O. that I did not mention, and that’s page speed. We’ll pick that topic up next week. 

So until then…

Be Clear. Build Trust. Win Clients.

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