Yes, I just titled my blog post, “Cats That Eat Elephants.” What is scarier is that you are actually reading this post. That begs the question of “why?”
Not why are you reading this post, but why did I write a post with a title that seems to be talking about elephants that get eaten by cats. After all, this doesn’t seem like a technical topic, it isn’t political (that I know of), and it really just doesn’t fit with my other topics.
The answer is SEO.
SEO is Search Engine Optimization, which is a big topic for those involved with web development or putting content on sites. People who have built websites want them to be found in Google and the other search engines. The process of adjusting your site and its content to get better ranking in the search engines is called SEO. There are many companies that charge a lot of money to help you improve your site’s SEO rankings.
The goal is generally to have your content listed by the search engines in the top spot on the first page for a topic related to your site. If you can’t get to the top spot, then you want to be on the first page. Most people aren’t going to look past the first page of results when they search. One way to get to a top spot is to pay the search engines for placement. The other is to try to make sure your site follows as many SEO “rules” as they can.
SEO rules are not really rules, but rather guesses that people have made regarding what they believe the search engines are doing to determine what sites and content ranks above other content. In some cases the search engines will increase your ranking if you do certain things, and in other cases they might penalize you. For example, lots of ads on a page is bad, where as good content that really explains a topic is good.
The “rules” can change at any time, and often do. Search engines, such as Google, have algorithms that do the ranking. These algorithms are updated regularly to try to help the better content rise to the top. As such, some things you do today might not be good tomorrow.
Why do I mention cats that eat elephants?
I oversee a number of technical web sites including WebDeveloper.com. SEO questions are constantly being asked on the site. This includes questions around hiring SEO experts. My general response is that there are tools and sites that will provide you with the same information that an SEO expert can provide you. In general, most SEO information is available online or via web applications if you look or ask.
I get ads from SEO experts that promise first page ranking. If you hire them, they guarantee they will get you on the first page of search results. This alone sounds like a fantastic reason to hire an SEO company. Can they get you on the first page of search results?
As I mentioned, there are no guarantees for first page, but it can easy be done. For example, my intent is to get this blog post on the first page of search results. Hopefully I succeed, or what I’m writing now about elephants that cats eat will be just silly. Am I going to rank on the first page about hiring SEO experts (something that would be valuable)? That is very unlikely. However, I bet I end up on the first page of results for searches about “cats that eat elephants”.
SEO Ranking Can Be Meaningless
SEO ranking can be meaningless if the search team is one that people don’t actually use. Obviously, my ranking on cats that eat elephants will be of no value. Similarly, phrases that a SEO company gets you ranked on will be worthless if people aren’t actually searching for them. As mentioned before, there are tools that will tell you if people are searching on a term – free tools. I can use these tools to learn that there are a lot of searches on “elephants”, there are a lot of searches on “cats”. If my intent is to rank on those two terms, then it is going to take more than my little blog to make it happen. It would be unrealistic (I won’t say impossible) to rank on those two individual words. An SEO company would be unlikely to agree to help me rank on the first page for those two words. They would, however, be able to suggest a phrase like “cats that eat elephants.” They could even help me get a first page, if not top ranking for the phrase.
Being Fair to SEO Experts
To be fair to SEO experts, they might still be worth hiring. While information is available online, an SEO expert with (real) experience can help you understand what is likely to truly impact your ranking. They can also help you find the right tools to tweak and hone your content and site for the best chance at ranking on real keywords. They can help you determine the chances of ranking as well. If they are aware of search algorithm changes, then they can also caution you on things to avoid. Like with any activity, an expert with real experience can provide guidance that justifies the cost. Of course, if you hire an SEO expert, make sure they aren’t simply packaging up reports form software packages and selling you the ‘prettified’ results.
In short, be careful what people try to sell you. If promises are made, make sure you understand how they are going to be accomplished. If a coach promises that he’ll train you to be a runner that an have top 10 finishes, then make sure you are going to be in races with more than 10 people. Similarly, if an SEO expert promises you rankings, make sure those rankings are relevant and will actually drive traffic.
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