Huffpost Technology
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Larry MacDonald Headshot

SEO: An Open Letter to CEOs and Boards of Directors

Posted: Updated:

Search engine optimization? CEOs and board members, as well as managers of international companies wrote me asking why they should be concerned about SEO (search engine optimization) when they already have an attractive website. Foreign companies wanting to get traction in the U.S. on search engines are especially interested.

This letter was my response and may help others like them understand they are leaving billions of dollars on the table for others to pocket if they ignore SEO.

Dear Bob,

Your question is well taken and certainly not unusual, for many leaders are not aware of the singularly most important aspect of marketing on the web: appearing at the top of the search engines is the least expensive way to capture more orders.

Do you believe that it is enough if your company's website looks fancy and is easy to navigate? It isn't.

Do you have any interest in customer who don't know you and won't be referred because they don't know any of your current customers? If you don't why are you in business.

For centuries in retail the key to success was "Location, location, location!" That worked because people passed by, saw your store, and would walk in and buy. The corollary in the internet age is "Position, position, position!"

But position now refers to where you appear in the buyer's crowded field of vision when they try to find your service online. The most effective place is right in front of the buyer's nose when he calls out for your service, and these days, that is at the top of the search engine results, where the action is.

The great majority of leaders are unaware of the critical importance of their position in the search results when a potential customer does a search, or even that there are different positions possible because no one has explained it to them.

If you do a Google search for "SEO" you will see that Google counts over one billion results. But somehow you found this article! How did that happen? Google thought is was important for your search.

In normal life, when you search for anything, you normally, without any conscious effort, eliminate all but about five possibilities. Think about it. Where do you want to go for dinner? What movie? Which event? What car dealer? The number is close to the number of fingers on one hand.

What if I could guarantee your business would not show up when someone searched for your business offering? Is that a scary thought? Well, in most cases, I can.

If you don't pay attention to SEO, I guarantee you won't show up. I guarantee new customers will never find you without knowing your name beforehand. I guarantee your marketing will cost three times as much as it should. I guarantee you will fall further behind your competition every single day.

Now that I have your attention, let me explain briefly in non-technical terms what SEO really means. As you know, 80% of the people in the United States use Google to initially discover new suppliers of everything. I'll bet you do, too.

Google is what the Yellow Pages used to be, and back before Google, no one would think of neglecting their Yellow Page ads. For now, when those yet-to-be-customers search online for your service, regardless of what it is, if you don't show up on the first two pages, you will never hear from them, for like you, they don't usually read past the first page, much less the second.

Leaders have been led to believe that having a website was all they needed for customers to find them. That works fine only if they already know your name. But what if they don't know your name?

Potential buyers will type any number of keyword phrases into Google in their attempt to describe your service or their problem in an attempt to find you.

And here is the tough part to swallow: if your competitors have made the effort to optimize their pages for the search term your potential customer uses, I guarantee you that they, yes all of them, will come up above you on the search engine, giving you a near zero probability of getting the business. They will have already bought before they even see you.

The truth is that regardless of how great your website looks, if they can't find you in the search results, the money is wasted. And more importantly, your customers are using search tools to find your competitors. Do you want them ahead of you?

Keep in mind that a great many people believe, wrongly, that ranking is qualitative. They think that if someone appears above another company that Google thinks the one on the top is simply better. It is not true. Google just thinks the website is a better match for the query being searched. SEO is about creating a webpage that Google considers to be the best match for a particular query and that takes special effort and knowledge.

To prove my point, ask yourself whether you are getting all the business you could from your website. Even if you say yes, you can be almost positive you are leaving the majority of possible business on the table, because I have yet to see a website that I can't dramatically increase traffic and conversions for. See for yourself: type in several keyword phrases that people searching for your services might use to search. Are you on the first or second page? You aren't getting calls from the website, are you.

Hint: if you aren't getting what you consider a reasonable or even a substantial amount of new business from your site, then you have no idea what you are missing, since most of my clients get nearly all their new business from the web. The web is the biggest fishing hole in the world and if you aren't optimizing your website, you don't get a license to fish.

I hope by now you are coming around to the idea that maybe you should give some thought to how you might maximize marketing with the most cost effective tool in existence, SEO.

If so, you need to know that web designers are not experts at SEO, even though they often think so. SEO is easy to read about and even take courses about, but difficult to do in practice, just as it is easy to read a book about being a great CEO, but a bit tougher to carry off. In fact, there is no reason to expect web designers or IT professionals to be proficient at SEO. SEO is best done by someone familiar with marketing, rather than a technical background.

Why marketing? Google has one goal and that is to get you to use its search engine. If not, you won't be clicking on their money bunny, those Google Adwords. If the search results give you the best results when you search, you will keep using Google and they will be happy, too.

So SEO is really the process of optimizing a website for the user's benefit, not Google's. Google has spent millions developing its algorithm to determine what should be at the top for a particular search. While the algorithm has more than 200 variables, the reality is much simpler. Google wants to rank the site with the most valuable content the highest.

In the end, SEO is simply making a site appear to Google to be the most appropriate and valuable for the searcher for a specific search. We make such judgments intuitively, but Google has to do it mathematically.

SEO has to take into consideration all the phrases and methods a potential customer might use to find each of your services. This requires a marketing approach and is supported with some technical tools, but the marketing mindset is the key.

Not having an appropriately optimized website is a bit like having a bleeding ulcer. You might slowly bleed to death without even knowing it is happening. In your case, it is the cash bleeding away that you might have received, if the customer only knew you were there.

Bob, I hope you now have a better understanding of how you can improve your profits through SEO. The extra revenue you get from SEO is cream, because you have already covered your fixed expenses through your existing sales. That means it is the most profitable business you can have and it costs the least to use. SEO can be a one-time expense that keeps on giving for years to come.

Best,
Larry

From Our Partners