The State of SEO and What Entrepreneurs Need to Know

SAN FRANCISCO -- From frequent changes in search engine algorithms to new social media platforms, the world of search engine optimization (SEO) is in constant flux. For businesses, that means online marketing strategies need to be redesigned more often than ever.

The SEO experts here at the Search Engine Strategies Conference are trying to shed some light on these issues for business owners, as well as fellow online marketing professionals. One of those experts is Mike Grehan, group interactive publishing director for Incisive Media, the London-based company that owns the conference, as well as marketing news sites ClickZ and Search Engine Watch. Before joining Incisive, he spent nearly two decades as a search marketing consultant for a number of major brands.

We caught up with Grehan and picked his brain about all things SEO for business. What follows is an edited version of our exchange.

Related: 5 SEO Metrics You Don't Need to Obsess Over

Entrepreneur: What's the biggest misconception about SEO among business owners?

Grehan: The biggest one is that there is some secret SEO code somewhere that you can use on your website to rank higher at Google. There is no magic bullet.

Do as many searches as you like and analyze the top ranking sites at Google. The one thing that makes them stand out more than others is that they're really good at marketing themselves online, and most likely offline, too.

Entrepreneur: What's a business owner to do about the frequent search engine algorithm changes?
Grehan: My advice is to not lose sleep over anything regarding algorithm updates. Be aware that it happens, but don't change your entire business or marketing plan every time Google burps.

For Google, the critical analysis in their information retrieval algorithms is based on relevance feedback. What that means is that given you've done all of your SEO fundamentals and you have other websites linking to yours, the end user data kicks in. How many times do people click on your link in the search results compared to others? How long do people stay on your pages compared to others? Those are basic examples, but the real secret to success is still based on creating compelling, relevant content that is both informative--and maybe even entertaining--in order to provide a richer experience.

Google has penalized many websites for trying to game the algorithm. In my experience, the two most important things are to design your website for human beings, not algorithms, and to gear your business toward multiple sources of traffic, not just from Google.

Related: What Google's Panda and Penguin Updates Mean for the Future of SEO

Entrepreneur: How are tools like Apple's Siri changing local search?

Grehan: Siri is the forerunner of what you could call concierge search. It's not just about voice-activated commands. It's about multimodal search -- information which is aggregated from many sources to suit a given environment or set of circumstances. This is a glimpse into the new "information provider" as opposed to search engine of the future. Google's new Nexus smartphone has a similar feature called Google Now. It proves this type of search is going to be big.

Entrepreneur: "Data" seems to be a buzzword at the conference. What's that about?
Grehan: Data is the modern equivalent to black gold in digital marketing terms. In much the same way that Google has been able to take implicit data about end users to provide more relevant results, marketers use this "big data" for exactly the same reasons. I use an analogy sometimes about Google. People look at Google and it's a mysterious black box and nobody knows how it works or what goes on inside it. Yet, it is looking at you, the end user, and you're a mysterious black box, and it has no idea how you work or what goes on inside. But if you share some data together, there's a much richer and more personal experience. Mining data is a way of personalizing information for you, and that includes advertising.

Entrepreneur: What's the key to managing SEO on top of everything else an entrepreneur has going on?
Grehan: SEO doesn't have to be rocket science. If you choose to set up a business online, then you should know something about how the Web works. So the jargon involved in SEO and the process is something you'll pick up pretty quickly along the way.

The hardest part of the job for most people is understanding why links are so important. Search engine algorithms begin with an analysis of how many other Web pages link to yours as a sign of popularity. The big mistake is to start thinking about "how do I get links?" The better your marketing is online, the more links you'll gain as a byproduct.

Even for smaller businesses, it's possible to do all of this in-house, just as they would probably handle their offline marketing. It's more of a case-by-case thing than it is a rule.

Related: 5 Things You Need to Know When Hiring an SEO Consultant