Brutally Honest Guide to SEO for Business Owners from a 20 Year Veteran in the Industry

This article is intended for business owners who are interested in SEO, would like their websites to rank well on search engines, and figure out what it actually takes to do that. There is a lot of information to get through, so this article will be a little long but bare with me. I promise by the end of this article that you will not only understand what SEO actually is but know how to apply it to your business or hire an SEO expert confidently.

What is SEO?

SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization. The purpose of SEO is to rank higher in search engine results for specific keywords. The acronym is often used to describe a person, role, or job function as well as the act of performing search engine optimization.

How do Search Engines Rank a Website?

While no one can say for sure, because the search engines aren’t going to just hand over the secret formula, they do offer some guidance, see: and Some have even made the claim that there are over 200 vectors that search engines use in determining where sites rank. I believe that may be conservative and will continue to grow in complexity and sophistication over time especially considering the role that AI and machine learning will play in determining search rankings.

To really understand search engine rankings you have to see the forest through the trees, think about what its’ objectives and goals are and how they might achieve them. The search engines all want to be the best at helping users find what they’re looking for when they use the search engine, and the search engines utilize user behaviors to measure that. Knowing this you’ll understand what I mean when I say everything matters.

Imagine the following scenario: You own a cleaning company and 25% of your potential customers just look for a phone number to call when they land on your site and the first thing they do is call that number. If you don’t have a phone number listed prominently… You can assume that you are losing up to 25% of your customers and the search engine likely picked up on the fact that those potential customers find a competing company. Therefore signaling to the search engine, based on user behavior, that your site is less important for this keyword than the competitor site.

In that scenario, you might consider that having a prominent phone number on your website one of the most important ranking factors for your website. It’s not typical that an SEO identify this as an important ranking factor, although it’s obvious that you should. That’s why I like to tell people not to focus on SEO, think about giving the customers what they need and the rankings will follow. Aside from some basics and general guidelines, good SEO isn’t really even SEO at all.

BAD SEO Practices

Bad or black hat SEO practices are easy to spot. Doing something, outside of the basic onsite optimizations such as making sure you are using the right keywords, using meta tags, or site structure, for the sole purpose of ranking better is a bad practice. It’s important to note that bad SEO practices can have long lasting negative consequences.

Here is an example of an ‘old school’ bad SEO practice to give you an idea. Building or buying links from other sites just to get better search rankings. The only intent here is to get fake links to your site and attempt to fool the search engine into thinking your website is more important. Sometimes it can temporarily help your rankings, and to be perfectly honest I’m not even sure if this practice even has a temporary benefit anymore, but ultimately it might wind up hurting your rankings if your website is flagged by the search engine as a result.

Good SEO Practices

A good SEO is always looking for unique and original ideas to get customers exactly what they need as quickly and efficiently as possible. Finding ways to drive customers to your site and engaging them.

A couple of important basics include: Customer profiling. User experience. Site speed optimization. Keyword research and optimization. Meta tag optimization. Site indexing. Site structure and navigation. Social media engagement. Content strategies. PR Strategies.

How to Identify a Good or Bad SEO Provider

A good SEO provider should be able to articulate what and how they are going to help you, your website, and your customers. Aligning your business goals with your SEO. While every business is different, at the core of what they need to do is figure out how to capture and convert more customers. Admittedly, this is difficult to articulate in the first couple of meetings without getting to understand the business and customer profile more intimately. However, with a birds eye view of what this is all about, you should be able to get a feel for what sounds right and what doesn’t.

A bad SEO provider will attempt to keep it secret or try to confuse you with jargon. Offer quick or guaranteed results. Often provide spammy links. They may offer specific strategies they employ and you’ll be able to distinguish bad SEO practices after reading this article, when strategies are solely employed for search engine rankings rather than to help your business and your customers.

The Little Things Add Up

All of the things you do might have seemingly less than significant impact add up. It might be a little tweak here and there or simple changes like making sure the customers can reach you when they need to, make all the difference. It’s often hard to justify individually, but when you pull back and take a look at the bigger picture you can see the significance. Often business owners who are successful recognize the importance of the little things, and that is also true for those who are successful online.

Setting Expectations

Don’t rush into SEO and expect results right away. If you want long lasting results you have to put in the hard work and it takes time to culminate. Immediate results are often short lived and that can hurt your business more than help it. It’s not uncommon to wait 6 months to a year for adjustments.

Don’t expect to rank for keywords that your website doesn’t match the intent of the keyword. Broad generic keywords are very appealing but are often hard to rank for and the intent of the person who does the search may not be what it seems. For instance, if you have a website that sells fertilizer, don’t expect to rank for the word fertilizer. The person who is searching for fertilizer might just want information about fertilizer and not looking for fertilizer to buy. Not to mention the amount of competition for the keyword is incredible and you will be competing with large corporations that have considerable resources. A better keyword would have very specific intent, such as “buy organic vegetable fertilizer”.

Results change frequently and are based on the individual, the location, and a number of other factors including the search engine testing different results all the time. You may show at the top one day and not show up at all. It’s important not to just look up a keyword and see where you rank, but check your organic traffic statistics as well.

Success Begets Success

Success begets success in all facets of your business and SEO is particularly sensitive to this. If you are doing the right things, for the right reasons, and avoid doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons this is a recipe for success. Don’t give up, one of the prime vectors of a successful business or SEO campaign is persistence.

The Role of Paid Advertising

One thing that is often confusing is the need to explore paid advertising as part of the SEO efforts and it’s no coincidence that this is after the section labeled success begets success. The more of the right customers you can get to your site the more the search engines will be able to see the interactions of customers and importance of your site, the better they will understand how to rank your site.

You also want to be found everywhere you can. The impact of being seen multiple times in both organic and paid listings compounds the perceived trust in your company and significantly increases your chances that the potential customer will be interested to look further into your company.

Be Careful

The SEO industry is notorious for being riddled with fraud and outrageous claims. There is lots of misleading and bad information to wade through and it gets confusing. So be careful not to fall into the traps of bad SEO and if you don’t get anything else from this article… Remember that trying to fool the search engines will never work out in your favor, not for long anyway.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you still have questions or unsure of what direction your SEO should be headed please drop us a message. We will be happy to help.