At nearly every seminar, I’m asked to give my thoughts on Search Engine Optimization.

SEO, as it’s called for short, is a very important component for any business that gets business via Internet searches.

So, if your business consists of people typing in your URL, or domain name, SEO is less important to you than if you rely on people searching for the words “where to buy a Canon camera for same day delivery.” This is because when someone is searching for a provider, instead of you specifically, they are likely to view Google’s first few results as the companies that can deliver what they need, making your company invisible at that very important point.

(In the event you cannot crack the top two pages of Google for one of the search terms you think are most relevant, you can buy pay-per-click (PPC) ads, which will come up on page 1 for that term when your ad, site and bid all line up. Bidding means when you tell Google the upper limit of how much you are willing to spend to have your ad seen by people looking at a specific search term. And the highest bid doesn’t always win; the one that is most relevant to the consumer while most profitable to Google does! But that would be payable per click or view, and a whole different strategy beyond the scope of this column.) There are white-hat strategies to improve your businesses position on Google and the other search engines; there are also what are known as black-hat and gray-hat ones. White hat ones include other sites, videos, articles and other data, such as yellow pages listing or reviews, that Google feels proves your site is relevant to the term being searched for. Black-hat and its cousin gray-hat are strategies that Google frowns upon. These might include getting random sites to include a link back to you with certain anchor words in the title so Google sees lots of relevant links for that term; these links can quickly move a business to the top of Google.

But... if you are in business for the long haul, this would be a very silly move to make. Remember, Google is a company that employs real people, not just computers. (I should know — I’ve spoken there! Every person I met there was a very sharp, talented person who takes the user experience very seriously and personally.) They hire talented engineers and pay them really, really well, to ultimately deliver a top-notch browsing experience that delivers the results that truly are the most relevant for a given search. And that being the case, they have every incentive to knock out all the sites that use black-hat techniques to move to page 1 of Google.

In the long run, stay white hat. “I didn’t know” isn’t a good excuse, either; Google will punish your site and move you from page 1 to page 51 and beyond in an instant if they see something they don’t like in your backlinks or see anything else they might think is causing the results to be manipulated. I’ve seen business’s income drop by hundreds of thousands of dollars when Google did an update of the search engine algorithm. Not a pretty place to be if it happens to you! Bottom line: deliver content that is relevant, and that people really do want to get to when they search for a given term. When you do, it will come up like oil slick on water, giving true value to the searcher, ensuring that your business stays on top for the relevant searches and driving traffic and new income your way.

A final point is to remember is that Google search is not the same everywhere: there’s local search, based on where you are searching from, as well as personalized search based on which results you clicked on in the past. You may see your site in the first page, but that doesn’t help you unless it comes up that way for your prospective clients! A good SEO company can certainly help with this, but make sure you are getting white-hat SEO. And real, relevant content. It’s the only way to make sure you are building a business for the long term, not just a flash in the pan.

In short, SEO works. And the easier the terms for which you want to rank your website on page 1 are to achieve, the easier the job will be. But no matter what you are trying for, it’s all about strategically positioned and relevant content, content and content.

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