Tuesday, 20 December 2011

SEO: Is It Worth The Effort?

One of the problems of being a one-man band is that I have to do everything myself. I've got skilled rivals to contend with who have been around longer and know more than I do about SEO. For that reason, I'll never float to the top of the search results under "web designer Manchester." Is there a point in carrying on with it?

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines via the "natural" or un-paid ("organic" or "algorithmic") search results. In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine's users.- Wikipedia

It's about being able to be found in a search on Google or whatever. The first five or so results are most likely to be clicked on in a general search. It's only when you're looking for something more specific that you're likely to find a particular thing. My website floats to the top of the search results on my name and is second from the bottom of the first page (at the time of writing this post) on my tagline, "Your website - your way." But who in the world is going to search for a web designer they've never heard of by name? By tagline is unlikely, but they might.

The problem

  • The internet is chock full of web designers of varying ability who all use the same keywords

  • People who have been in the game longer have more inbound links, i.e. links leading to their websites

  • People who have been in the game longer have more people visiting their websites, i.e. they're more popular already

  • People who have been in the game longer have optimized their websites and know their SEO

  • They also have more pages indexed

I'm not even on the thirtieth page of the Google search results on "Web Designer Manchester" because I've got all these other people ahead of me and they've been there longer. The best I can do is

  • Sign up to online directories, promotional websites like Skillpages and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter

  • Comment on industry-specific blogs and forums

  • Guest blogging

  • Blog here on my own website to get more pages indexed

  • Make sure my website is as standards-compliant as possible so I don't get penalised for anything

Well I've been doing that so far, and in eleven months, this is how far I've got. The fact is, since I started, other people in Manchester have also gone into business as web designers, swelling our numbers. That's more people using "Web design Manchester" in their keywords and on their websites. And at this point, you have to ask if it's really worth all the effort if you're going to stay at the bottom of the search results on the keywords you need whatever you do. The main problem I have as a one-man band is having to do everything myself. This includes

  • Updating my directory entries

  • Updating my portfolios on the general and industry-specific job boards

  • Blogging

  • Posting on other websites

  • Adding new content to my website

This has to be done on a regular basis (good luck with that!) or I start to lose whatever ground I've gained. It's tedious and time-consuming enough, but since Google keeps changing its algorithms to stay ahead of the ad farm shysters and black hat practitioners (white text on white background, etc.), you have to keep working with whatever they're doing and keep on learning more about SEO and how it works. It's really a full-time job, is what I'm saying, and it's not my primary discipline; I'm a web designer, for goodness' sake! I've considered paying for backlinks to .edu, etc., but I've come to the conclusion that my rivals have already done this and they've paid more. Getting onto DMOZ would be great if I could manage it but they haven't listed me yet. If you need help updating your website free Article WritingServices will help you out with content for your site.

Is there a point to doing SEO at all?

What, without paying some industry expert an arm and a leg? Don't get me wrong, they're very, very good at what they do but I just can't afford it where I'm at. When you're up against a tsunami of competent professionals who do it full-time you haven't really got a chance, have you? It takes up so much time as well. When I'm attending to my SEO I have to drop something, usually an interesting design or writing project but I will say it's worth doing because

  • You have to be findable in some way, shape or form

  • You need to be able to demonstrate some ability in SEO to clients or they'll go to someone else

  • Failing to update your portfolios, etc. means that if you do get found by chance, they're seeing your old work

  • Getting on directories, etc. makes you findable by people who use them

  • Intelligent comments on blogs, forums, or social media gets you noticed for the right reasons

Basically, it's unprofessional not to and we're expected to do it. People who don't understand SEO think you'll float them straight to the top of the search results. Erm, no. Not without paying for advertising. But it is worthwhile and we should do it. Just don't expect miracles from someone who doesn't do it full-time.

Image by Ian Parkes Licence: Creative Commons

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