With advertising spends decreasing in economic uncertainty, companies of all sizes are starting to shift their strategies to focus on the long-term impact of Search Engine Optimization. This tried and true method for increasing website traffic, and subsequently sales, continues to evolve as Google regularly updates their algorithm.
To gain some insights on how to compete in this changing landscape, I recently interviewed Sam Page, Senior SEO Manager with Bluehost, on what it’s like to compete for rankings in an extremely competitive industry for one of the world’s largest web hosting companies.
Magnus: Thank you for lending me a bit of your time. I’m excited to be able to share some insights from your impressive career in SEO. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started?
Page: It’s kind of a funny story. When I was in college, online gambling was allowed in the U.S., I was winning enough money that I actually decided to buy an online casino. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I just jumped right in because I was young and dumb and started teaching myself some of the SEO basics to grow the traffic to my site.
I ended up selling the online casino when I started working for an agency in Dallas after college. I tried to learn as much as I possibly could at that point in time, but the Google algorithm was still pretty rudimentary and there weren’t nearly as many people focused on rankings, so there was a lot of opportunity. It was an interesting time to be in the industry.
Throughout the years, I worked in-house as CMO for a tech company for a while, run several of my own businesses doing SEO and Amazon optimization, and now working with Bluehost.
Magnus: It sounds like you’ve accomplished a lot in your 15 years within SEO. Over that time, what do you think has changed the most?
Page: The search industry is changing rapidly, and I think that’s what makes it fun to be in SEO, is that you can always learn something new. At various stages of my career, I’ve sort of progressed with the algorithm and tried to take a bit more of a holistic approach than some SEOs do. I quit looking for the short-term wins and have focused more on how Google will be tailoring things for the end user in the long-term.
Magnus: I think that many businesses have sort of a “if you build it, they will come” mentality about their websites. Although content is important, can you give a brief explanation of why the passive approach isn’t enough to rank?
Page: Yeah, just because your page exists doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily going to rank for anything. A simplified explanation of how Google’s algorithm works is that it “crawls” websites, cataloging all of the words and content on the first page it arrives at.
From there, it follows any links on that page to discover new pages to index; that may be another page on the same website, or it may follow those links to another website to index the content. As such, the more links someone earns pointing back to their pages from other sites, the more frequently Google will index the content on their page, and the more quickly they will start ranking for things.
Magnus: You say “quickly”, but that’s a fairly subjective term in SEO. Realistically, how long can businesses expect it to take to really see their SEO efforts paying off?
Page: SEO is part of a more forward-thinking strategy since the results can have substantial long-term financial impact, but you don’t see those shifts immediately. Google doesn’t want anyone “gaming the system” so to speak, so they’ve evolved the algorithm to avoid fly-by-night ranking manipulators.
It can really depend on how big your website is, how many other sites link to it already, and how much traffic you have. All of these things impact how frequently it gets indexed. If you are running a website for a big international company like Bluehost, it can still take maybe four to six weeks to really see the full impact of any new efforts we implement.
Sites for small to medium sized businesses are going to take much longer, likely three to six months. On a brand-new website, you might be looking at a year’s timeline before results really kick in. That’s not meant to discourage anyone from doing SEO, that’s actually to suggest that you need to start doing it right now.
Magnus: What are some of the things that small businesses can do to start increasing their search engine rankings locally for their products or services?
Page: Business listings and directories are a great place to start for local businesses. Make sure that your business is listed on YellowPages.com, Google Maps, Bing, Facebook, Yelp, FourSquare, and those types of sites. However, consistency and accuracy is key. If you have moved, and there’s a different phone number or address listed in two different places, it can confuse Google and actually penalize you. Or even if one listing has a suite number, but the other doesn’t, Google doesn’t know which is correct. You’d want to fix that to match. Getting your business information indexed consistently across as many listings as possible is key for local SEO.
Magnus: You mentioned getting links back to your website from a directory can help, but what about links from other local businesses or perhaps even local news outlets?
Page: Those are both great for ranking in local SEO, particularly if people are search for the phrase “near me”. Having those links from other local sources verifies to the search engines that you are actually serving the area you claim be doing business in, which is good. A website for a newspaper will generally have a decent amount of traffic, particularly within the geographic area you are trying to reach, so a little bit of PR can go a long way in helping rank your site locally if you can manage to get a link in the story.
Magnus: This is all be quite helpful. If someone were interested in learning SEO, where would you recommend that they start?
Page: SEO is just like anything else; you have to learn about it and then practice it to get good at it. Consume as much content as you can, but make sure that it’s recent. This industry changes constantly, so authoritative information from even 2 years ago may not reflect current best practices. Maybe try to meet a good, practicing SEO through networking, at something like a local MeetUp, and see if you can volunteer to help them with something. Chances are, they’ll give you the most tedious piece of the work they don’t want to do, but that can be a great way to learn. Just don’t let yourself get taken advantage of in the long run. Generally, be resourceful and learn as much as you can.
Also, SEO is great now because there’s so many different facets of SEO that you can pursue something that you really liked. If you really enjoyed the cutting-edge aspect of SEO, you can go down to the technical SEO or analytics route. Or if you like the writing part, you get into the content marketing aspect of SEO. If you enjoy PR, you can get into link building. There are so many more avenues you can pursue with SEO now than you could when I started that there’s just more opportunities to find what you like and be passionate about it.
Magnus: I think a lot of people think of SEO and ranking for Google as some sort of technical wizardry, so this has been quite insightful.
Page: I’m glad to hear that. The last thing I want to mention is that we’ve talked a lot about Google, but the concepts of SEO can actually be applied beyond that. You can optimize content on Amazon, the AppStore, or evening TicTok. Be aware of the broader landscape and know that, just as quickly as Google disrupted the newspaper, Google can be disrupted too. The nature of technology is to evolve things, so you don’t want to be left learning something so specific that may not be applicable outside of that context. I would say, find what interests you, pursue it, and then just keep your mind on the broader SEO trends.