This isn't a normal thing for me to blog about, but I've had the desire recently to share more about Puget Systems behind the scenes: what makes us tick, what we value, and how we do things. Search engine optimization, or SEO, is something that we have been particularly strong at. I want to talk about the misconceptions about SEO that are out there, talk about why we are strong at it, and why I'm not worried about sharing these secrets to our competition!
Its pretty well known in our industry that we are very strong on the search engines. Search for “custom computer”, “customize computer”, “Seattle computer”, “gaming computers”, “video editing workstation”, or any number of hundreds of other terms, and you'll find us at or near the top. This brings in thousands of visitors per day. How much sales has that brought in? I hesitate to say, but conservative estimates put it in the millions per year. There's a lot of value in simply being seen. But how did we get here?
I think many people look at SEO in entirely the wrong way. They think of it as a set of tricks or special rules you need to follow to trick search engines into listing your website higher. These misconceptions are fueled by shady SEO companies (just like any industry, there are both good and bad SEO firms) that are out to make a quick buck. They'll tell you they know the tricks, and with a flip of a switch, your site could be at the top of the listings. Don't fall for it!
Real search engine optimization is based on hard work, and is not a set of tricks. The point here is that search engines reward helpful, content rich websites. Therefore, making a helpful, content rich website for your industry is the best way to gain search rankings. There are no shortcuts (none that last, at least), and there is no easy route. I believe this is a big reason why SEO has been so successful for Puget Systems. We are a very transparent company. We enjoy talking about what we do, and why we do it. We write articles explaining things we've found, or choices we've made. We make our testing procedures public. We blog our thoughts. This creates a rich base of content that is great for optimizing.
If optimizing isn't about tricks, then what do the good SEO firms do? They manage the content. They research the popular terms, identify areas of improvement, and stimulate their client to contribute content in that area. Trust me, this is no small task. SEO isn't about winning the “big search terms” that I listed above...SEO is about the long tail – winning the thousands of small terms. It takes an incredible amount of organization and proactivity, and since there is a lag between content changes and search engine updates, it also takes a “gut feeling” that you only earn after spending years of active SEO work.
But guiding website content creating is only a piece of the puzzle. The other piece is just as much PR as it is SEO. Search engines take a hard look at who is linking to you, to help determine how important your website is. Its contextual – if you have a website about cars, it does little good to have your brother Joe link to you from his Facebook page. But if Ford links to you, even deep in their website, that's a big deal. In the days were social media and bloggers are earning more and more public mindshare, getting your website recognized as a great resource is evolving. It is becoming more about networking. Gone are the days of paid directories and link farms. No tricks, remember? A good SEO firm can scout these industry leaders, and put them on your radar. Its up to you to do the networking. The SEO firm can tell you where to go.
This isn't to say that SEO isn't something you can do on your own. Honestly, I think everyone knows that SEO is an important part of any website, whether it be a company like Puget Systems, or someone running a simple blog. The question is: is SEO something you should do on your own, or hire out? Certainly, hiring a SEO company has immediate gains – you gain their experience. They can prioritize, and get you on the fastest route possible to better rankings. In the long run, I think it depends on the type of person you are. If you can dedicate an hour or two per day, and are great at data mining and organization, you could have what it takes to go it on your own. At Puget Systems, we feel like we have other things to do. We're good at making computers, and if we're spending time on SEO, we're not spending time on computers. So, we happily hire out. Puget Systems has been using Hay Meadows, a local SEO firm, for basically the life of our company. We work directly with the owner and I think the results speak for themselves!
I said at the beginning of this post that I wasn't worried about giving away any secrets to competitors. First of all, I doubt I've said anything that most people don't already know. But if I did, I know that there are no shortcuts. If they want to compete, they'll have to work hard at it. And no matter how you slice it, that's good for the industry. If they're willing to work for it, I know they're a company that deserves to be here. That competition amongst the smaller system builders fuels our strength in taking away more and more market share from the big box stores. I celebrate every sale that a quality competitor makes, because it didn't go to Gateway, and that's one more person that will experience the quality of a smaller system builder and never go back. That's a win for the industry, and even if Puget Systems didn't get the sale, we have another person singing the praises of small builders, and maybe we'll get the next one :)