Be Found: SEO Isn't as Scary As You Think

A long-term plan to improve customer experience—even incrementally—should be at the heart of your SEO strategy

Words by Ryan Atkinson

There’s a lot of noise out there regarding SEO (search engine optimization). Poorly written emails promising “top page number one on search engine,” numerous listicles that tell you the “5 SEO Things You Must Do Now,” all pushing various tools, platforms, and consultancies that will solve all the issues that will bankrupt your business if you don’t act now.

I’d like to propose another approach to the daunting topic of SEO—don’t be afraid.

The functionality of search engines has changed drastically and frequently over the past 20 years, but it’s all been in an effort to make it easier for themselves, web developers and designers, business owners, and the end-user that is using all that they have to offer.

The 2 Purposes of SEO
When all is said and done, search engines have 2 purposes:

  1. Index the internet.

  2. Provide a quality experience and reliable answers to user queries.

Which means the purpose of search engine optimization is as follows:

  1. Help search engines understand your content, so it can be indexed more easily.

  2. Provide a quality experience and reliable answers to user queries.

Purpose #1: Index the Internet
When search engines started doing their thing 20-plus years ago, the internet was the Wild West. Search engines had little to go off of to understand what a website was. Web developers had to code in a lot of signals that would help search engines better understand the topics that their website covered.

Many of these signals still exist today and are a recommended best practice of any SEO strategy. But many web platforms—like Shopify, WordPress, Squarespace, and, yes, even SmartEtailing—have implemented these best practices right out of the box.

Also, in the past two decades, search engines have become much smarter at understanding our content, with or without our help. We can ask our refrigerator to pause the recipe video we were watching and tell us what internal temperature we should cook the chicken to. It’s a brave new world.

Purpose #2: Provide a Quality Experience
Provide a quality experience and reliable information to your customers. Think of your website as if it were your store. For example:

  • Is it clean and organized?

  • Can customers find what they are looking for?

  • Are there people there who can answer their questions?

  • Are you selling current year model inventory?

  • Is the checkout process painless?

Everything you are going to do in your store to provide a good experience, you should also be doing on your website. For example:

  • Simple and clear page navigation and helpful links throughout the site

  • FAQs and content to answer common customer questions

  • Merchandise and promote new product inventory and staff favorites

  • Easy to use online payment features

Just like your store, you will always be making tweaks to improve the customer experience on your website. Listen to feedback and stay current. Making a good experience for your customer should be your #1 SEO goal.

As mentioned, search engines today are freakin’ smart. They will recognize that your customers' interactions with your website are valuable and that will benefit your entire website’s organic health.

If you have stale old content, links that are broken, information that is incorrect, etc. visitors to your site will bounce off and not be engaged with your content and go somewhere else. Search engines will recognize that poor experience and will be less likely to show your website in search results when there is a better option.

What Should You Do?
Odds are, you know if your website’s experience is good or bad. Even the best sites have room for improvement and need to change things to stay relevant. The key takeaway is that it’s a long-term strategy to provide what’s best for the customer.

Like your shop, you might make changes to the layout of the shop once a month or quarter. You’ll bring in new products every so often and give your staff some talking points to discuss with potential customers.

Same can be said for your website. Update the homepage a few times a year with the latest sale you’re running. Write a blog post that answers a frequently asked question like “How do I figure out the right size bike for me?” or “Do I have to wear those really tight shorts?” Focus on some newer products that you’d like to push.

This is all to say that there is little you need to do RIGHT THIS INSTANT. Your website is likely 95% of the way there, and you’ll spend the rest of your days tweaking that last 5%. There are always little improvements to be made and nice touches to add, and that has to be taken on as a long-term, ongoing project.

Helpful Resources
As much as I bad-mouthed my colleagues’ writings at the start of this article, they are still very helpful. But search engine optimization is a long-term strategy. If your website is an obvious dumpster fire, get help immediately. Otherwise, take on a few tasks a year and steadily make those improvements to your website’s experience.

Below are just a few good articles that all highlight best practices for SEO. Start work on doing them all, then start over and do them again. And always remember that five years from now this all may look very different. But the one guiding principle that has remained true over the past 20-plus years of SEO, is to provide a good experience for the folks visiting your website and the rest will follow.

And if you still want some more help, or just someone to talk to, give SmartEtailing a call—we know how to search engine optimize the heck out of independent bike dealer websites.

This post was authored by Ryan Atkinson, President and Co-Owner of SmartEtailing. SmartEtailing provides website, marketing, and data solutions to help independent bicycle retailers compete in an evolving retail world.