A lot of people are confused when it comes to what SEO (Search Engine Optimization) actually is; what search engines are, and what they are getting in return for all the time spent on SEO and the cost that is incurred.
Allegory of Search Engines
The Shopping Mall
Placed near the main entrance of your local shopping mall is a small kiosk. This kiosk, often called “The Info Desk” is to provide the mall visitor with basic services. One of these services is a map with a list of the stores in the mall. Products and services are categorized. For example by Men’s Shoes (a small list) or Women’s Shoes (a vast list).
Over time, as the mall grew, this list became out of date.
Sally, who liked to shop at the mall would wander around in amazement at the vast number and variety of stores. She missed the list of shops in the mall and started to list her favorite stores on her own map.
Every morning just after opening time, Sally walks around the mall jotting down what is new, what is interesting, and what has changed. There are many stores selling exactly the same products and services. Sally rates each store on her Mall Map list, what she considers the best at the top.
Of cause Sally may like one store over another; it maybe the color of the window display or that one store has changed their stock recently, or even that she has personal preferences of one brand over another.
Sally will switch and change the order of the stores within each category with the ‘best’ at the top and the not so best on the back page. Sally started to give her Mall Map list to her friends; and then to their friends until she had quite a following for her Mall Map list.
Sally’s Mall Map
Over time, Sally found that customers going to the mall liked her Mall Map list and found it rather useful. Eventually she become very busy handing out the list and become well known for it.
It did take some time and effort to make the list, so she decided to charge for it. But, the mall customer didn’t consider it that worthy; as they can just wonder around the mall themselves and find what they are looking for; admittedly not so quickly or efficiently.
So, how about charging the shops for their placement on the Mall Map list, Sally thought. But some Mall Map customers might get a bit upset if they found out that the list was not actually based on good stores anymore, but whoever paid the most. So, after some thought, Sally decided to add a very small asterisk next to the paid listing and add some rather fine print at the bottom of the very last page to explain what it all meant.
Now, every evening before closing Sally would hold an auction between all the stores in the mall; the highest price for a higher placement on the list. The stores were not very happy about this. They had spent significant funds on their store and were effectively locked-in as this was the only Mall Map list in town.
The World Wide Web (Internet)
The Shopping Mall is the World Wide Web or Internet.
The Mall Map is the organic search results offered by most Internet search engines. The order in this search result list is based on proprietary rules and algorithms (which have never been published, but have been hinted at). There is no direct control over your placement within this search result list. The rules are based on technical issues, the performance and speed, and content within your website. It is a best guesstimate effort. As the rules change on a regular basis, it is common to fine-tune a website every so often (quarter). This is more art than science in obtaining a higher ranking on search engine result pages.
The paid services (Ad-words etc.) and auctions offered by the search engines are the paid stores on the list.
If you are not an online store engaged in eCommerce then your website is just a brochure. It will not generate direct sales for you. It is easy online reference to your product or service which the prospective customer can access and peruse at their leisure.
Therefore, marketing should be focused on marketing lists, email lists, and other activities which use the website as a reference.