Reverse Engineering Google

 

In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen R. Covey repeatedly talks about a specific principle.  The verbiage he uses is “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  It’s a brilliant principle that is often easier said than done when it comes to human relationships.  As humans it is in our nature to always ask what’s in it for us and forget about what’s in it for everyone else.  This same principle applies not only to human interactions but to nearly everyone and everything.  We’re going to use this principle to put ourselves in the shoes of Google and understand them first so that we can then make decisions accordingly.

Everybody knows that Google is a search engine.  The reason Google is Google is because when you go to their search engine asking a question, you know with absolute certainty that you are going to come away with a satisfactory answer.  Think about opening up a new page inside Chrome or Safari and asking what local restaurant options are available and having all the results come back with food joints in a city two hours away.  The results wouldn’t be relevant to you and therefore would hold no value.  If this happened once or twice you may be forgiving and think nothing of it.  If this repeatedly kept happening you would undoubtedly never return to Google with another question and would begin exploring other options like Bing and Yahoo.  

Google is successful because it is relevant.

 

Relevant Search Results

If you know that Google makes their money because you and I keep going back again and again to have our questions answered, you also know that Google must do everything in their power to serve the customer the most relevant result first.  The more likely your site is to contain the answer that I as a customer and as human being have, the more likely it is to appear at the top.  You often hear that content is king.  That has always held some weight because truthfully told, the site with the most relevant and authoritative content will also be favored in Google’s eyes.  The word favored is used because content isn’t the only piece of the puzzle, but it definitely does play a huge role.

There are millions of sites live on the internet right now as we speak.  Each of them is gunning for the top spot on page one of Google for as many terms as they can.  Respectively each company and website is pulling out all the tricks in an effort to get to that top spot, grab the traffic, and convert that traffic to dollars.  So how does Google go through each site to determine which ones are the most authoritative and relevant?  Obviously it would take a literal army of programming and computer geniuses to go handpick what sites are the most relevant, so Google has instead employed a small army of robots that go and “crawl” websites.  These robots are built and programmed to read each word and piece of text on your site.  The robots cannot see what your site looks like, so the only way for them to determine what kind of a photo you have on your site is to read the file name and make an educated guess.  There’s your first nugget of advice.  When adding photos to your website, it is a good practice to first save these files names as keywords.  Don’t overdo it and save the files as 15 different keywords and put a “.jpeg” on the end.  It won’t work and could actually hurt more than help.

 

What This All Means To You

What this means to you is that every piece of content you create is under Google’s microscope.  They have to serve the searcher with a relevant result or they are no longer who they say they are.  Whenever you go to make a decision on your website, think from Google’s shoes and ask yourself if the content on your site answers the questions you and I may be asking.  

In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen R. Covey repeatedly talks about a specific principle.  The verbiage he uses is “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  It’s a brilliant principle that is often easier said than done when it comes to human relationships.  As humans it is in our nature to always ask what’s in it for us and forget about what’s in it for everyone else.  This same principle applies not only to human interactions but to nearly everyone and everything.  We’re going to use this principle to put ourselves in the shoes of Google and understand them first so that we can then make decisions accordingly.

Everybody knows that Google is a search engine.  The reason Google is Google is because when you go to their search engine asking a question, you know with absolute certainty that you are going to come away with a satisfactory answer.  Think about opening up a new page inside Chrome or Safari and asking what local restaurant options are available and having all the results come back with food joints in a city two hours away.  The results wouldn’t be relevant to you and therefore would hold no value.  If this happened once or twice you may be forgiving and think nothing of it.  If this repeatedly kept happening you would undoubtedly never return to Google with another question and would begin exploring other options like Bing and Yahoo.  

Google is successful because it is relevant.

 

Relevant Search Results

If you know that Google makes their money because you and I keep going back again and again to have our questions answered, you also know that Google must do everything in their power to serve the customer the most relevant result first.  The more likely your site is to contain the answer that I as a customer and as human being have, the more likely it is to appear at the top.  You often hear that content is king.  That has always held some weight because truthfully told, the site with the most relevant and authoritative content will also be favored in Google’s eyes.  The word favored is used because content isn’t the only piece of the puzzle, but it definitely does play a huge role.

There are millions of sites live on the internet right now as we speak.  Each of them is gunning for the top spot on page one of Google for as many terms as they can.  Respectively each company and website is pulling out all the tricks in an effort to get to that top spot, grab the traffic, and convert that traffic to dollars.  So how does Google go through each site to determine which ones are the most authoritative and relevant?  Obviously it would take a literal army of programming and computer geniuses to go handpick what sites are the most relevant, so Google has instead employed a small army of robots that go and “crawl” websites.  These robots are built and programmed to read each word and piece of text on your site.  The robots cannot see what your site looks like, so the only way for them to determine what kind of a photo you have on your site is to read the file name and make an educated guess.  There’s your first nugget of advice.  When adding photos to your website, it is a good practice to first save these files names as keywords.  Don’t overdo it and save the files as 15 different keywords and put a “.jpeg” on the end.  It won’t work and could actually hurt more than help.

 

What This All Means To You

What this means to you is that every piece of content you create is under Google’s microscope.  They have to serve the searcher with a relevant result or they are no longer who they say they are.  Whenever you go to make a decision on your website, think from Google’s shoes and ask yourself if the content on your site answers the questions you and I may be asking.  

Should I Do My Own SEO?

 

Small business owners are used to doing a lot of things themselves.  For most, when starting their businesses they didn’t have a lot of capital to work with and as a result are used to wearing many hats.  For this reason, the first thought that many owners have when realizing they need to started marketing online and performing SEO and doing things like backlink acquisition and keyword laced blog articles, they opt to do it themselves.  This isn’t a bad thing and if you are a business owner reading this right now that is short on cash, you have no other choice than to do it yourself.  Contrary to what many other SEO companies practice, we want to teach you everything we know.  If you have the time and patience and resources necessary to do it yourself, we hope you will!  As we’ve mentioned in prior SEO blog articles, it is most common for business owners to begin learning the process and then become overwhelmed with the depth and complexity of what it will entail.  

Let’s go through a couple of resources you will need to have readily available if you wish to start on this venture.  

 

Time

The number one thing you are going to have to be willing to spend is time.  Not only are you learning an entirely new process, but you are also embarking on a journey that is time consuming.  It is not uncommon for us to perform SEO services for companies here in St. George or nationally and spend 100 hours per month on that one company alone.  Much of the time we spend is on things like writing blog posts, (this article itself is proof of that) researching and acquiring backlinks, and building out citations.  We will go over these actions in detail in later blog posts.  

If you a new business owner that is just starting out and you have a lot of time to give and not a lot of money, doing your own SEO may be a realistic option.  You are going to be spending a lot of time online looking at SEO forums, blog posts like this one, and YouTube videos on how to do your own SEO.  We don’t want to discourage you at all, it is a very fun and rewarding process that can consume you (in a good way).  It’s always been a game for us knowing that we are going head to head with companies across the world that have much larger budgets to spend on SEO than we sometimes do.  We find great pride in being able to outrank these companies and prove to ourselves and our clients that we truly do know our stuff.  

 

Patience

If you’ve already decided in your head that you have and are willing to commit hours on end learning the online marketing piece of your business, you are one step ahead of the next guy or gal.  The next reality you need to face is that you most likely aren’t going to pick this up overnight.  For almost every digital marketer and business owner with a curiosity and appetite for SEO, there have been countless moments of frustration and doubt.  The concept of SEO in and of itself is asinine.  This is an entire industry built on figuring out Google’s algorithm.  An ever changing algorithm that is constantly being updated and fine tuned by some of the brightest minds in the world on a daily basis.  When you take a step back and think about it, it’s almost like building a house on someone else’s property.  

Even when you think you have this game figured out, Google will make sure to remind you that you don’t.  Something that has worked time and time again for you in the past can suddenly no longer seem to work.  Or sometimes even worse is that it still works, but it takes longer to reflect that and makes you question your actions and abilities.  This is patience game and any solution to SEO that doesn’t take time, effort, and patience usually is something to watch out for and to steer clear of.  

 

Everybody Should Do Their Own SEO

Our advice for those of you DIY people that have tossed around the idea of handling this piece of the business yourself, we suggest you go and do it.  Even if it is just for a short period of time it will provide an education that cannot be bought or replaced.  This advice seems counterintuitive to the advice you would expect an SEO company to give.  Our business and our livelihood depends on handling the online marketing for other businesses, so why would we tell you to go do it yourself?  We know that a customer that has attempted to do SEO on their own has a deeper appreciation for just how tedious and time consuming this process can be.  When results don’t happen overnight, they will be more understanding and less likely to point the finger of blame.  

Go do it yourself.  Commit to learning the process, spend the time needed to learn it, and then give it a shot.  If you end up like the majority of business owners and decide to turn it over to us to handle, we won’t fight you.  If you’ve got the time and patience, there’s no downside to going for it.

SEO 101

 

Before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s make sure and follow the example of legendary coach John Wooden.  Coach Wooden was obsessed with the fundamentals of basketball.  He stressed over and over again the importance of doing all the little things correctly to build a solid foundation before spending time worrying about anything else.

 

Search engine optimization is no different.  There are certain principles and actions that must be taken and taken correctly first to have any kind of a chance at earning a top spot on Google’s coveted page one rankings.  It’s also vital that as a business owner, although you may not be the one performing the actions and completing the SEO tasks, you know what SEO is and what it is not.  Good relationships are built by managing expectations.  If you don’t know what basic SEO is or have an understanding of the process of optimizing a site, you won’t be able to hold anyone to anything.  

 

Google is one of the most incredible, well known, and reputable brands in the world.  They have products that are so superior to other products in specific verticals that it isn’t even a discussion.  Their product line has grown and grown and grown as time has gone on.  Despite all this, it’s important to remember why Google started, what their purpose is, and where they make all their money.

 

They are a search engine.  

 

In order for search engines to be successful, they need to have their algorithms created in such a way that when you or I decided to go to them and search for anything, we are served up a relevant result.  If you or I were to have a couple of bad experiences where we went to Google and ask a specific question, but got no results that answered our questions, we would quickly stop using their service.  As long as people keep coming back to Google, they will always be around and thriving.  It allows them to make ridiculous amounts of money on their ad product, Google Adwords.

 

How Does This Affect SEO

 

That being said, you need to understand that when Google’s robots are crawling sites, they are looking for the one that is going to best serve that customer and answer his or her questions.  There are some other factors that go into it of course, but for the purpose of generally understanding how this works, that’s it.  Your job (or ours) is to build a site in such a way that it provides massive value through content to the largest number of people possible with the widest variety of search variations.  This is why you commonly hear the phrase, “content is king.”  The more your content can answer those questions that people bring with them to the search, the more likely your chance of ranking.  That means that if your content answers more questions and is lengthier, while still maintaining quality than the rest of the relevant sites, you win.

Finding An Affordable SEO Company

 

We use the word affordable, because the word “cheap” has a negative connotation that goes with it.  As business owners and as humans in general, we innately have a fear of loss.  Nothing is quite as painful as watching your hard earned cash go away with little to show for it.  We’ve all done it and made the mistake of buying something that we later regret and wish we hadn’t purchased in the first place.  Even worse than that is the experience of paying for a product or service that paints a beautiful picture and promise, but fails to deliver.  These experiences leave us with a bad taste in our mouths that subsequently force us to put up a wall of caution the next time we go to make a purchasing decision.  We aren’t faulting you for that, we are empathizing with your situation and want you to know that we too have dealt with such an experience.

 

So you’re a new business owner, or perhaps you are a business that has been struggling to get to that level of success you set out to achieve.  Either way, money is crucial to surviving and keeping the lights on.  If you haven’t invested or spent time marketing online it is our assumption that you have at least seen or been told of the importance of having an online strategy.  If you’ve done any research at all and Googled “how much is SEO,” you may be a bit discouraged thinking about the amount of money you will be required to shell out each month.  Our purpose with this SEO blog is to give you a few tips and tricks to finding an affordable and cost effective SEO company, as well as what to avoid and what to look for when interviewing someone to help with SEO.  

 

Blackhat SEO Company

 

After spending a little bit of time researching what SEO is and what companies actually do that offer this service, you have likely heard the term “blackhat.”  In short, a blackhat is someone who cuts corners and performs actions that Google has deemed as against their guidelines and policy.  This is an industry that is unregulated and has a low barrier to entry and therefore attracts a lot of shysters and scammers.  The only way to protect yourself from getting taken advantage of with a dishonest SEO company is to familiarize yourself with what goes into SEO.  Read SEO blogs, watch tutorial videos on YouTube, ask other business owners questions about the company they have hired.  Do everything in your power to know the process enough that you will know when you are getting taken advantage of.  As a general rule of thumb, a good SEO company with never have a billable rate less than $60/ hour.  Obviously the industry has a lot to do with it but for most industries this is going to require a minimum of $500/ month.  If the competition is stiff and you are in an industry with companies with large budgets for online marketing you could spend tens of thousands of dollars to get your company and page to the number one spot.  As is the case with most things in life and is the same for good SEO companies, you get what you pay for.

 

Ask the company you are looking to hire what their strategy is and if they will provide you with proof of work completed at the end of each month.  If the price sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  Get a few different quotes and compare them.  If one company comes in much cheaper than the rest, it’s usually a red flag.  Ask for an explanation, and if you don’t get one that sounds reasonable, run as far away as you can.

 

New SEO Company

 

Now that you know a few things to watch out for, let’s talk about a couple of simple hacks and best practices that may allow you to get the best deal.  

 

If you know what you are looking for in an SEO company, (that may require using someone’s opinion) there is always the option to take a chance on the new guy or the kid in college that is willing to put in the hours, learn and work his way to knowing exactly what he is doing.  This is a much riskier option, but if you are patience and have the time and not the money to spend it may be worth it.  New companies are always looking to build their name and their portfolio and will oftentimes work for free to leverage your name to get clients going forward.  If you get a good feeling when talking to them and you’ve had a second opinion from someone that knows the space well, maybe you should roll the dice.  You are going to spend a lot less money and in the case that things work out and this guy or gal actually knows what they are doing, you hit a homerun.  

 

Always remember to calculate the risk of what you are about to do.  If your business is going to be dependent on the online traffic your SEO company brings in, this is probably the worst idea you could have.  On the flip side, if an online strategy is only going to add additional business to what you currently have working in your favor, this may be the best idea anyone ever suggested.

SEO For a Restaurant

 

Our goal for our next few posts is to go into some really tactical and granule SEO strategy.  Blogs are fun to read and can be very enjoyable, but the goal of our blog is to make your time spent reading worthwhile.  We don’t have any SEO secrets to hide and believe in giving value first before ever asking for anything in return.  Sure we are great guys that have everyone’s best interest in mind, but we are also businessmen that understand that business owners are busy running their businesses.  It has been our experience that the business owners that best understand how SEO works and how it applies to their businesses are the very ones that come to us for help.  These small and medium sized businesses that don’t want to bring someone in house understand how complex the process can be and how crucial it is that SEO is done correctly.  In that sense we are doing this out of selfishness because we know that providing value for you upfront will lead to business for us down the road, whether through you directly or through a friend that you refer over.  

 

Let’s dive into how to do SEO for a restaurant!

 

As we mentioned in our post small business SEO, it is not always worth the time and money to do SEO.  There are a lot of factors that go into making that decision.  Generally speaking the best way to determine if it is even worth looking at SEO pricing is to ask yourself a couple of important questions:

 

  • Do people know about my service?
  • How many people are potentially searching for my product or service?

 

If you answered yes to the first question, then it is more than fair to say that hiring an SEO agency is at least worth exploring.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to be a yes.  

 

The logic and reasoning behind this is that if someone knows about your service (a restaurant serves food to people for example) then they are going to go online and search for it.  It’s very common when searching for a place to eat for example to go to Google and search “restaurant near me.”  The consumer already knows what a restaurant is and what it does, know they just need to see the name of your restaurant appear at the top to give you a shot at their business.  

 

How Much Potential Online Traffic Is There?

 

We’ve mentioned this before in other SEO based conversations and blog articles.  It’s important for you to calculate and consider the risk and reward of using an SEO company.  What we mean is that it’s important to understand that in order for you to get the benefit of SEO, you need to be ranking in the top three organic results minimum.  If you want the most upside you need to be number one.  Knowing that there is little value from being on any page but page one, you need to see just how much upside can come from earning that number one spot.  If the total amount of traffic is 50 visitors a month for example and you are a restaurant, unless there is no online competition, you are going to be wasting your time and money and be sorely disappointed once you’ve arrived at the top.

 

In order for restaurants to keep the lights on, they need to put people in seats.  It is always concerning when a restaurant is open but there isn’t a customer to be found.  The frustrating thing for a restaurant is that it takes a number of employees at all times to be able to function.  The hard costs of the employees stays the same, so if no one comes in and orders food, that means the restaurant takes the hit.  

 

Being in the restaurant business is a competitive place.  There are so many options for people out there that your value proposition has to be unique enough to get people’s attentions.  The internet has made everything that much more competitive.  Bob or Sally can go get a license and open up shop tomorrow and start dominating online if they’ve got the budget to do so.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they have the best food but the customer doesn’t know that.  What we’ve found that works best for restaurants on a budget is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and reverse engineer their mind.  Seriously, go ahead and close your eyes and think about that customer.  Is it a man or woman?  Are they young with kids or older with time on their hands?  What kind of questions do they ask?

 

If you can figure out what kind of questions your customers and potential customers ask online, you have won.  If you know that your customer is a senior that is on a budget, you can now begin optimizing and building content around the term “cheap restaurants near me,” instead of going after the obvious term “restaurant.”  The longer that term, the less competition you are going to have and ironically it is these terms that often prove to push the most traffic and have the highest conversion.  

 

Remember, you’re in business to provide value.  Reverse engineer your potential customer, ask the questions they would ask, and then build the content accordingly.  The results will blow you away.  

Do I Need SEO?

 

No.  

 

The answer to your question is no.

 

If you’re asking yourself if SEO is a must for you business, there’s your answer.  

 

Although generally speaking search engine optimization is important, it’s not always worth the time or money you have to spend to reap the benefits.

 

SEO For Small Businesses

 

A few years ago we struck a deal with a local carpet cleaner here in St. George, UT.  It just so happens that residential and commercial carpet cleaning is one of the most competitive industries to rank for online.  It doesn’t matter what type of terms you are looking at ranking for, it is going to be an online dog fight if you will.  The reason this industry is so competitive is because the barrier to entry is significantly lower than most other businesses.  So long as you don’t have a felony or some other crazy item on your record, it takes a business license and a little bit of hustle to start a carpet cleaning company.

 

This particular client had built a very successful carpet business on word of mouth and good service in a matter of just a few short years.  We were actually very impressed with him and the way he ran his business and hoped we would be able to help him out.  Instead of doing what we should have and done our homework and research before the meeting, we went into it without much data or information on this vertical from an online perspective.

 

Check Search Traffic

We had a short meeting about this man’s business and had earned his business by the end of the meeting.  Shortly after making the deal, we discovered something that would have been very important to know going into it.  We looking at the top three companies on the Google rankings for most terms related to carpet cleaning and made a note of the total traffic.  Much to our dismay, we quickly realized that there wasn’t a lot of online traffic.  In fact there was so little traffic that even at the number one spot in the SERPS this customer wouldn’t be seeing much difference in his business.  Even if carpet cleaning SEO had been an easy-win it wouldn’t have been worth spending a whole lot of time or money on for the upside that would have been involved.   

 

After just a few short months of attempting to rank this client in this competitive niche, we pulled the plug on the deal and gave the man his money back.  It’s not that we were quitting him or gave up, we just couldn’t justify taking this man’s money month after month when we knew at the end of the day this would not result in more sales.  

 

When you work withus you will quickly learn that we get it.  We know that our job is to help you market your business online and do everything within our job description, but we also know that at the end of the day if our efforts don’t result in more money to your bottom line, we won’t be getting a check from you the next month.  We don’t get paid to run your business, but it is in our best interest to think like a business owner and find little or big ways that we can add value.  The more success you have, the more success we will ultimately have.

 

Long Tail SEO

 

Even though we didn’t find immediate success with some of the obvious phrases that you would think were high traffic in this type of industry, we adjusted our approach to the more long tail terms like:

 

  • Carpet cleaner for hotel room
  • Carpet cleaner for rental property
  • Carpet cleaner forvacation rental

 

We did see a much better result from going after these longer tail terms, but ultimately given the lean budget they had given us, it wasn’t going to be worth our time or theirs.

 

The lesson learned is that when considering whether to do SEO, make sure to do your homework and see if the potential upside is worth your time or money.