If you are unfamiliar with SEO but want to explore it as a marketing alternative for your IT or technology company, this article gives you the basic understanding you need to make that assessment and launch a successful campaign.
An Overview of SEO
SEO, or search engine optimization, is widely used in the IT and technology sector. The two primary goals in any SEO campaign are:
- To make targeted pages of your website rank highly in organic search results on Google when people are searching for the products or services you sell, thus driving more organic search engine traffic to your website.
- (This is really the more important one.) To make that organic traffic convert, either by generating online leads (submitting an inquiry form or placing a phone call) or by generating online orders.
IT and technology companies are attracted to SEO for several reasons.
- Exposure. Google processes billions of searches every day and is often the place consumers and business buyers start when looking for a new technology or IT product. Tapping into a market the size of Google is almost sure to produce results if the SEO campaign is managed effectively.
- Relevance. Because links to your website appear in organic results when people are searching for what you sell, SEO connects you with buyers at the time they are most likely to inquire or buy.
- Brand perception. When your web pages appear prominently on Google SERPs (search engine results pages), people perceive your company as established, credible, and successful. Unless your brand is a household name, and especially if you are a startup with a limited track record, this fringe benefit of SEO is almost as important as lead or revenue generation.
- Ongoing results. Although SEO campaigns can take several months to pick up steam, once high rankings take hold (and continuously improve, with effective campaign management), lead or revenue generation continues month after month, year after year. If you achieve a very high ranking (positions 1-5 on Google’s first page), your rank position represents not only the rich dividends of successful marketing — it also demonstrates company success and can become a valuable company asset that raises the strategic value of your company to a buyer or in the event of a merger. In IT and technology, where acquisitions and partnerships abound, this underappreciated aspect of SEO is worth its weight in gold.
Misconceptions about SEO
If you’ve done any online research about SEO, you’ve probably encountered several contradictory ideas and pieces of advice. Since SEO best practices change frequently, information quickly gets out of date. These misconceptions must be avoided.
- It’s all about rankings. No, it’s not all about rankings. SEO is about ranking well for keywords (the search terms people use) that generate website traffic and conversions. Think about it this way: Which would you rather have, #1 ranking for a term that generates no traffic, or #30 ranking for a term that generates 50 visitors a month and 10 leads?
- Linkbuilding is unethical. No, linkbuilding that follows SEO industry best practices is a legitimate marketing tactic that produces results when executed effectively. Yes, Google has come down hard on unethical linkbuilding practices over the last five or ten years, but without properly building your backlink profile, succeeding with SEO is nearly impossible.
- SEO is an inexpensive marketing option. Sorry, no. People get this idea because SEO does not require buying advertising or constructing tradeshow booths, etc. But even though SEO is a purely digital marketing activity, the skill and time needed to succeed are considerable. For instance, guest blogging is an excellent way to build links, but it works only with high-quality content and careful selection of publishing sites. Producing and publishing even one guest post a month (and you’ll likely need many more) simply cannot be done for a few hundred dollars a month. Cheap, cookie-cutter SEO campaigns seldom, if ever, work.
Elements of an SEO Campaign
SEO has very specific components. Each must be executed well, or the whole campaign will get limited results, no results, or if things are really botched, negative results. Here’s what goes into an SEO campaign.
- Keyword research and selection. Targeting the right keywords is the first order of business, and it is crucial. The goal is to pick keywords that drive traffic and conversions — and for which your company has a good chance of ranking highly. The right keywords for you are not necessarily the largest volume keywords — sometimes those are simply too competitive. However, keywords must create enough volume to generate enough traffic and conversions to produce meaningful campaign ROI.
Keyword strategy for IT and technology companies can be a little tricky. First, you must decide which buying stage to target — researchers, comparison shoppers, or people ready to buy. Some campaign budgets cannot support all three. Second, you must really understand your target buyer, so as not to target keywords that are too technical or too general. Third, you must think about how product/service updates and innovation will affect the lifespan of your target keywords. SEO is a long-term proposition; keywords likely to be out of date in a year or two may be poor choices or require expert handling as the campaign progresses.
- Website page targeting. Keyword research produces a group of primary keywords (usually, keywords relating to various products and services) and larger groups of secondary keywords. Critically important is having a specific page of the website dedicated to each primary keyword. These targeted pages (along with the home page) are the pages you want to achieve high rankings, because these pages feature the things you most want to sell.
- On-site SEO. Your website must be easy for Google crawlers (Googlebots) to find, index, and rank for relevant searches. Often, technical issues with a website prevent this from happening — such things as confusing navigation, duplicate content, pages dedicated to several products/services, and much more. Problems must be fixed at the outset of the SEO campaign, and technical issues of all kinds must be monitored continually, since they can crop up at any time. On-site SEO also involves creating or reworking on-page content to incorporate keywords properly and to provide the high quality of content that attracts Google search engine users.
- Off-site SEO. The main off-site SEO activity is linkbuilding. Google’s search algorithm, the formula it uses to rank content, has hundreds of ranking factors, but the quality and quantity of backlinks are thought to be the most important by far. Building links can be labor-intensive, and always involves skill and a clear understanding of current best practices. Editorial links such as guest blogs are very important, but non-editorial links, such as listings in certain directories, are also effective and sometimes less costly to obtain.
Is SEO Right for You?
Now that you’ve considered all this, you may still wonder if SEO is the right Internet marketing choice. To succeed, you will need:
- Patience. You’ll need six months or more to cast a verdict on your SEO campaign.
- Budget. For a custom SEO campaign (the only kind that works), you’ll need to budget several hundred dollars a month or more.
- Time and talent. Technology and IT companies often have a staff capable of handling the technical aspects of SEO, which is great if they know what to do. In addition, you will need in-house or outsourced expertise in keyword research, content creation, content marketing, analytics, and campaign management. SEO campaigns have a lot of moving pieces. Activities must be tightly coordinated and results carefully and granularly analyzed.
- Competitive opportunity. If your niche is dominated by global companies with six-figure-a-month SEO budgets, can you find a winning keyword strategy? Sometimes the answer is yes; sometimes, no. Another issue that comes into play in the technology and IT area is if your product/service is too new, too specific, or too rapidly evolving to have any associated keywords with enough volume to drive results.
If these four areas are favorable to your situation, your company has an excellent opportunity to thrive with SEO, both in the near term and long term.
Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, a Chicago-based Internet marketing company that specializes in SEO. With decades of marketing, sales, and management experience, Shorr has written for leading online publications including Forbes and Entrepreneur, and for the American Marketing Association.