In my 20+ years consulting with business owners, I have yet to meet one who didn’t know they needed to have a website. Yet very few owners understand the value of optimizing their website to rank on Google. They typically look at the cost and think they can’t afford it. The truth is, with 5 million new websites created each year, you can’t afford not to optimize your website if you want to leverage the power of the internet to grow your business.

Essentially, if your website doesn’t appear on page one when you search on Google for any of the words that a customer might search to find your business (other than your company name), then your website is invisible. To have a website that people can find on Google, it needs to be search engine optimized.

Before I explain how search engine optimization (SEO) works, it is important to understand how Google organizes search results.

When a customer searches on Google, the search results returned include:

  • Paid advertisements,
  • Google Map results,
  • Organic search results,
  • And suggested searches the searcher might use to find what they want.

You can identify the paid results because they are at the top and sometimes at the bottom of the page and have the word “Ad” to the left of the listing as shown here.

Paid advertising is done through Google Ads, which is often referred to as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. With PPC advertising, every time someone clicks on your ad and is directed to your website, you are charged a fee.

PPC is a great method for getting leads quickly, but when you stop advertising the leads will stop coming in. With SEO, once your site ranks on page one, you will continue to get leads so long as your site remains on page one.

Below the paid advertising (if there is any) Google Map results appear, and below that organic search results. Google Map results and organic search results are directly related to the information on your website and your Google My Business page. If your company doesn’t appear in the organic results or the Google Map results, SEO is the only remedy.

What Exactly is SEO?

SEO is the process of doing specific tasks to drive a website from being invisible on Google to appearing on page one for the keywords (terms) for which people are searching. Some keyword examples include “Denver home builders”, “home remodelers in Topeka”, “kitchen remodelers near me”.

When I talk about being invisible, I’m talking about being on any page after page one. According to a recent survey by Moz (an authority in search engine ranking) 93% of people who search using Google do not go past page one. Furthermore, their survey reported that 75% of people who searched through Google clicked on either the first or second organic search result.

Let’s look at what that means in terms of visitors to a website. According to Google, 170 people per month search for “home builders in Colorado Springs”. Statistically, if 75% of the people searching click on the first or second organic website listed, that means the first and second place companies combined are getting 127 visitors to their websites for one keyword. Now imagine if they rank for 10 keywords that have similar search statistics per month. That could be 1,270 visitors per month.

Of course, visitors do not equal one-to-one leads, but if you got leads from 5% of those visitors, let’s say 63, how many could you turn into sales and what would that be worth to you?

How SEO Works

Outside of employees at Google, no one knows the exact rules that Google uses to rank search results. However, based on a lot of testing and comparing of notes by many search engine optimization companies throughout the world, there is an ever-changing list of some 200+ factors that go into how they ranks search results.

Of those 200 some factors, the most important factor is your website’s content. Google is looking for content that is robust and answers questions for which searchers are looking. As I mentioned in my article “Five Reasons Why Your Website Doesn’t Generate Leads,” most companies write information they want the potential customer to know. To write content correctly for Google, you must start with a ‘customer first’ mentality. What does the customer want to know?

Google’s Suggested Searches at the bottom of the search results page will give you a hint because they populate those suggestions from previous searches. When working on a website project, I always ask clients which questions their customers ask the most. That is the kind of information they want to include on their website.

After the content is written, SEO breaks down into two parts: onsite factors and offsite factors.

Onsite Factors

Without getting too technical, onsite factors are things that Google looks for to understand the data on your website and how people respond to it. These are things such as headlines, sub-headings, page titles, descriptions and the keywords within the content, to name just a few.

Offsite Factors

While onsite factors give Google insight into what your website is about, Google uses offsite factors to determine if your site is legitimate. It also uses offsite data to determine the authoritativeness and relevancy of your site. Some offsite factors include:

  • How long do visitors stay on your website?
  • How many pages do they read?
  • How many leave within seconds of visiting your site without clicking on anything?

While this is just a sampling of the factors Google uses, it is important to know that not all ranking factors are equal, and some carry more weight than others.

Hiring an SEO Company

When hiring a company to perform search engine optimization, you get what you pay for. Some companies hire the lowest bidder and this often is a mistake. worked with a window-covering company owner who came to us after she was unhappy with another company. They told her they would build a website and get it to rank on page one of Google for $500. While they delivered the contract as written, it was for a single keyword “Window-Redesign”. This was a cheap and easy keyword to deliver as ‘window-redesign’ is never used in a search relevant to the services her company offered. No one types ‘window-redesign’ into Google when searching for custom drapes or custom window blinds.

After working with the business owner, we came up with a strategy which included designing a new website and ranking the website for 12 keywords that people actually search to find a window coverings company.

Some SEO companies charge a low monthly fee and have what I call the ‘checklist’ approach to SEO. They have developed a checklist of items they perform each month. If by some miracle you rank – great. If not, it doesn’t matter to them, because they are on to the next new customer. They don’t necessarily explain this to you, so you must ask questions.

The best SEO companies will analyze your direct competitors to understand what you are competing against. They will work through the basic items (the 200+ factors) but will also analyze your content. They will either make content suggestions or write content for you. And more importantly, they will perform in depth keyword research and make recommendations.

Many companies will go to Google’s Keyword Planner and pull a list of keywords and then ask you to select from the list. This is not a good way to choose keywords. Each keyword needs to be researched to ensure it is relevant to your business and that it is possible to rank. Here is an example:

We consulted on a website for a sculptor some years ago. The sculptor produced military awards (statues of about 12-15 inches in height), and also produced life size statues that one might see in a park. They hired an SEO company that produced a list of keywords from which they were to choose 10. One of the options on the list was “garden statues”. We Googled garden statues and what we found was pictures of little garden gnomes that sell for $19.95. Our client’s life size statues were more along the order of one hundred thousand dollars. Had they chosen that keyword it would have been a waste of time, money and effort.

SEO is a process. The time it takes to deliver results vary on a number of factors including: the popularity of relevant keywords, your market, your competition, local vs. national reach, budget, and the skill of the SEO Company.

Beware of offshore companies that promise champagne on a beer budget or that promise immediate results. Your best option is to find a marketing agency that will work with you to understand your unique business, analyze your competition, evaluate your existing online presence, and who speaks to you in plain language with your goals and budget in mind.