Last week, I uploaded a post called The Truth About Content Marketing That Nobody Else Will Tell You and it proved to be a popular (and controversial) post. I always appreciate it when our community gives me feedback, so I thought I’d continue the series with a new post called The Truth About SEO That Nobody Else Will Tell You.

This post isn’t intended to trash the use of proper SEO techniques on your website. Nor do I intend to trash the legitimate SEO companies that exist out there. It’s simply intended to help you understand how to spend your money on SEO, assuming you’re going to spend any money at all.

But First, a Little Background About Search Engines

As you probably know, Google, Bing, Yahoo and others have search engine spiders that crawl virtually every website on the planet. The job for these spiders is to “read” and analyze a website and to provide information back to the parent company so they can calculate how the website should be ranked on its search engines.

The result is that when you type in the word “Lincoln,” the search engine serves you articles about President Lincoln that (hopefully) you’ll find interesting. (It’s worth noting that the search engines also take your online behavior into consideration when serving up articles. That way, if you’re an old car buff, when you type in “Lincoln” you get information about the automobiles, but if you’re a history buff, you get information about the President.)

Enter The World of Search Engine Optimization

Once businesspeople like you started realizing that search engines were the primary way people found their blogs, the science of Search Engine Optimization was born. White Hat SEO firms used legitimate, approved techniques to structure your website so that it was appealing to Google, Bing and Yahoo. But at the same time, Black Hat SEO firms came in and tried to teach people how to game the system. In other words, they used tricks to fool the search engines into ranking their websites higher than their competitor’s websites.

This didn’t make the search engines happy, so Google, Bing and Yahoo worked hard to figure out ways to identify the companies using White Hat techniques and the companies using Black Hat techniques. Over the past several years, the search engines have done an excellent job rewarding businesses that use White Hat techniques and penalizing businesses that use Black Hat techniques. It hasn’t been perfect, since there are still businesses that successfully game the system, but it’s been better than nothing.

Which leads me to a key point…

Don’t Try to Game the System

There are some Black Hat SEO experts pretending to be White Hat SEO experts who will try to use sketchy techniques to improve your results on Google. It’s your responsibility to understand SEO well enough so that when your SEO firm makes a suggestion or a recommendation, you can distinguish between a Black Hat trick or a legitimate White Hat technique.

For the record, 95% of the SEO practitioners I know are White Hat and I suspect you’ll find the same ratio. So, the odds are pretty good that if you’re working with a professional outfit, they’re only going to be providing you with White Hat techniques.

So, now that you know the difference between White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO, let’s talk about the big news, which is this:

You Can Spend a Lot of Time Trying to Improve Your SEO and You’ll Just be Wasting Your Money

Don’t get me wrong, setting up your website so it’s SEO-friendly is important. In fact, it’s critical. But assuming your website is structured properly and you’re using all of the fundamental SEO techniques that most people use, your return on investment will drop dramatically the more you spend.

Let’s re-visit the chart at the top of this post which highlights the potential investment you can make in SEO along with your return on investment.

As you can see, once you’ve gotten the basics taken care of, your ROI starts to diminish. In other words, once you’ve gotten the fundamentals out of the way, you’ll have to invest significantly more to continue to make progress on the SEO front.

Think of it this way. If you build a car from the ground up and invest $20,000 to get four wheels, an engine and a body, you can count on a car that can reach speeds of, say, 130 miles per hour. But if you want to get your car to reach NASCAR-like speeds of 220 miles per hour, you’re going to have to invest $400,000 or more.

In other words, in order to generate a 75% improvement in performance, you’d have to increase your investment by 1000%

See how it works?

Of course, if you’re Dell or Cannon or HP, your investment in SEO is worth it because you’re a multi-billion dollar corporation that relies heavily on SEO to drive visits to your website. But if you’re a firm with less than $100 million in revenue, then spending vast amounts of money on SEO doesn’t make sense.

The chart below illustrates the point — if your company is like 85% of all businesses in the U.S. and generates less than $100 million in revenue, then your spending on SEO should fall into Zone 1. But if you’re a large company with more than $100 million in revenue, then spending 1000% more to generate a 75% increase in performance just might make sense.

Is the Science of SEO Dying? Well, Yes, it Kind of is

The game of SEO has changed significantly recently. After Google updated their algorithm (again) with Penguin 2.0, the old-school techniques of managing your keyword density and alt tags have decreased in importance.

Today, Google Authorship, social signals and quality of content are more important than keyword density and alt tags. In fact, moving forward, there are several items you should spend your time and money on. I’ve included them below (Side Note: This list was inspired by an excellent article by Jayson DeMers on Search Engine Journal):

  1. Keep the Quality High: The days of quantity over quality are over. Search engines don’t respond as well to a bunch of short, low-quality posts. Instead, they respond to longer, in-depth posts (like this one, hopefully)
  2. Vary Your Content: If every single one of the posts on the 60 Second Marketer were written by me and only offered my point-of-view, you’d probably get bored after a while. (I know my wife does, anyway.) So be sure to mix up your content with different authors, videos, infographics and other techniques. That’s good for your visitors. And what’s good for your visitors is ultimately good for your SEO.
  3. Use Google Authorship: By linking your Google+ profile to the articles you post, you’ll improve the click-through rates of the search results. Want to learn how to use Google Authorship? Check out this article on the Google+ website.
  4. Manage Your Link Text: According to Jayson DeMers, “Experts estimate that if more than 30% of your anchor text is identical, it’s easy to see that you’re actively building links in a way that might be manipulative. Instead, now and going forward, it’s more important to think about linking from an organic perspective.” In other words, if your link text is all the same, Google sees it as gaming the system. Instead, link text should be more natural. The example Jayson uses in his article is that a post about Twitter marketing might have “Twitter Marketing,” “Marketing on Twitter,” “Twitter for Business,” and “Social Media Marketing on Twitter” as the organic anchor text pointing to the article. That’s a signal to Google that the link text is natural and organic instead of something manufactured by link farms or Black Hat SEO types.
  5. Great Design is Important: Our team at 60 Second Communications is working with a client on ways to improve their website design so that users come in for a visit and stick around. One of the techniques (used on the 60 Second Marketer home page) is to keep things clean and simple. I could go on for a long time writing about website design, but I’ll save that for another day. That said, if you’re looking for inspiration for your website, just watch what Apple, Google and other companies from the Bay Area do with their websites. All design in the U.S. originates in California, so just watch what they do and be inspired by it.
  6. Social Sharing is More Important Than Old SEO Techniques: Google is interested in quality and one of the best ways to tell if something is worth reading is to see if a post gets shared on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social platforms. So, if you want to get on Google’s radar screen, encourage your readers to share your posts via social media. That’s an important social signal that has a good amount of impact on the Google search results. (Speaking of social sharing, if you like what you’re reading here, feel free to share it by clicking one of the social sharing buttons on the left. Perhaps your friends would enjoy the post, too.)
  7. Mobile Performance is Growing Increasingly Important: When I wrote Go Mobile with Jeanne Hopkins, one of the key pieces of information we shared was that up to half of your website visits will happen via tablet or smartphone. Having a mobile site is critical to your future success, but using other mobile techniques to drive people to your site is also important. (For more on that topic, read 50 Insanely Simple Ways to Grow Your Revenues with Mobile on the 60 Second Marketer blog.)

There’s a lot to digest here, so I hope you either print this out or bookmark it for later reading. But one of the key points made by Jason DeMers (who, by the way, might disagree with some of my points-of-view above) is this: Your SEO should be less about tactics and more about strategy.

In other words, SEO isn’t just about executing a series of White Hat (or Black Hat) techniques. Instead, it’s about thinking strategically about what content is most interesting and relevant to your reader. Assuming you’ve got the fundamentals of SEO all worked into your website, then it would be better to spend your time and money on great content (that gets shared by your readers) than it would be to spend your time and money on sketchy techniques that are designed to game the system.

We’ve covered a lot here and I’m sure there are points you agree with or disagree with. Feel free to share your comments below. And, assuming you like what you’ve read here, feel free to share the post using the social sharing buttons on the left.
Jamie Turner is the CEO of the 60 Second Marketer and 60 Second Communications, a marketing communications agency that works with well-known brands and organizations. He is the co-author of “How to Make Money with Social Media” and “Go Mobile” and is a popular marketing speaker at events, trade shows and corporations around the globe.