No Free Lunch or SEO

24thSep. × ’10

It seems like I’m on some kind of SEO Truth-Quest lately…last month I posted an article pointing out that CMS (content management system) is not equivalent to SEO.  I was driven to do that by claims I was hearing in the competitive space for insurance web marketing  that essentially amounted to this:  We give you CMS so therefore your site is search optimized.  If you want a summary of the article, it boils down to this:  NOT.

More recently, I came across some literature from an insurance company who is providing their agents with *free*, search optimized, websites.  It reminds me of an office Christmas party I went to years ago, during which we had to exchange token gifts with a co-worker whose name we drew from a hat.  My giftee wanted a Jaguar for Christmas.  I got her one – a toy, Match Box, Jaguar.  Hey, it *was* a Jaguar.  Likewise, there is SEO and there is SEO.  Robust SEO takes time, effort, and expertise, and as wonderful as it might seem to get SEO for free, you probably aren’t getting much; of course, if you really want to know if you are getting SEO value, take a look at your website analytics after a few months – that’s the proof.

There are levels to SEO, and I suppose someone can say they provide SEO, even at the lowest levels, but it seems disingenuous to me to claim search optimization without providing any details.  Below are four levels of website search optimization – I’ve started with the most basic level – some form of which I suspect the aforementioned free SEO really consists of.  But next time you come across a website provider who claims to deliver SEO for a price that’s too good to be true, go back and ask them which of these SEO components they are actually delivering.

Site Structure – This includes having a well organized website, including elements like xml site maps, good meta data, URLs and H1 tags, using canonical URLs and server header response tags where appropriate, highlighting the most important site content by keeping it near the top of your site map, and architecting a website for fast page loads.

Content – Unique content, for a variety of reasons, is king in web search.  Keyword research and optimization is important; for instance, if you have a choice between using the phrase ‘car insurance’ or ‘auto insurance’, in your page copy, which would you choose?  Hint:  one is searched on a lot more than the other.  You cannot optimize one page for everything, so a well SEOed website will use separate pages to concentrate on one or two keywords each.  Ease of editing and adding web content in and of itself isn’t an SEO practice, but it sure does make practicing SEO a lot easier, so I’m including it here.

Internal Site Linking – Some SEO practitioners view how well a site is linked within it self as accounting for 25% or 30% of SEO performance.  Confluency Solutions subscribes to that view – your most important pages should be linked to and from other pages within your website and different, keyword rich, link text should be used.

External Links or Back Links – Google and other search engines consider each third party website link back to your insurance agency website as a ‘vote’ for your website.  More weight is placed on what Google considers higher authority websites, but any legitimate* link will help improve your website’s search visibility.

SEO Today, Gone Tomorrow – Search ranking is extremely fluid:  your competitors** are changing their SEO and the search engines are constantly tweaking the algorithms that rank web pages for relevance.  More robust (and generally expensive) SEO monitors your page rank for key search terms, as well as your competitors’ and watches for changes in search engines ranking formulas; this leads to periodic modifications of your website.

Visitors are Nice But Conversions are Money – Put another way, 10 website visitors a month, all of whom become clients of your insurance agency is a better bargain than 100 website visitors, none of whom become customers.  Robust and full featured SEO will help you define conversions and make changes to improve conversion rates – and get the money.

I also notice that some insurance website providers will do a *free* evaluation of your current website.  (Geez, I wonder how that will come out?)  Again, you have to be skeptical about what you get for free.  At Confluency Solutions, we offer an SEO audit and road map, but it’s not free.  A thorough SEO evaluation can take 8 – 10 hours, and it’s hard to give that kind of time (and work product) away for free and stay in business.  Confluency’s SEO road map can be used to make improvements on an existing website or can be taken to a third party for implementation – it isn’t a sales trick to get you to become a website customer.  How much depth and specificity does a free website evaluation go into?  Is the information sufficiently detailed so you can improve your existing website or use the evaluation as a blueprint and have someone else build your website?  If it covers the elements itemized above, it will.  If not, it’s probably just a sales trick.

*Links you buy from an offer claiming to be able to deliver hundreds or thousands of back links aren’t going to be legitimate

**Competitors in this regard aren’t necessarily other insurance agencies, but rather, other websites competing for the same keyword.  These could be law firms, medical care providers or even directories.

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