The SEO Reality Check
More than 90% of all web traffic comes from three sources.
The traffic comes through these search engines through one of two major ways:
- Natural (Organic) Listings – 80% or more of all clicks from a search results page.
- Paid (Sponsored) Listings – 20% or less of all clicks from a search results page.
With the Natural/Organic listings, users select results that are ordered according to algorithms that the major search engines devised to rank those pages. The goal for any search engine is to give the user the “best possible experience” so they will continue using that engine, driving shareholder value and profits.
Getting Ranked in Organic Listings Can Be Difficult
To be ranked in the organic listings, your site must have some qualities that the search engines have learned to trust. Among these are
- Incoming links from other trusted sites
- Well-written, well-structured content
- Frequently changing content
- The rate at which you acquire or lose links
- The level of participation in social media and social networks (subscribers and mentions.)
When I first started in SEO in 1998, things were quite different. It was relatively easy to rank sites with a bit of technological wizardry and a little bit of work. Google, Yahoo and MSN were in their infancy. Other search engines such as Alta-Vista, Ask Jeeves, and Dogpile were major players – and their ranking systems were rather mediocre. You could pay a savvy SEO provider to work on your site and get ranked even in the absence of quality web content.
It’s Not 1998 Anymore – You’ll Have to Work to Rank Well
Things have shifted as the search engines matured. There is a lot more intelligence in the algorithms they use. In short, they are programmed to act human. When I talked with a Google engineer at a recent conference, they said “We want Google to be like the best librarian in the world, neutral, open, but very knowledgable about where to find the best possible content for any question.” This desire to act like a human librarian has led Google to take many more human needs into account when ranking pages.
In these 10 years, the responsibility for producing high quality content has increased dramatically. Most SEOs are not experts in the field like their clients are, which means that clients will be required to produce or acquire content for their site on a regular basis. This might sound daunting or expensive, but when you consider that 80% of all clicks come through organic rank, it is quite affordable compared to the “paid” alternative.
The confusion, expense or sometimes just laziness causes businesses forgo this 80% of potential traffic – leaving a huge opportunity cost. Why is this? Well, here are some reasons I’ve encountered.
It’s hard to create interesting content.
The Google sandbox effect takes too much patience (* the delay before a site is ranked.)
People want guarantees for money they spend (* no SEO can guarantee ranking.)
Requires changes to their website’s look (* snazzy websites often rank poorly.)
It’s easy to buy traffic from pay-per-click programs (* quick buzz.)
A few case studies and examples.