Do I really need to spend money on SEO or SEM for my website to be successful? The short answer is probably not, but this is one of those questions where the answer starts off with, “It depends”.
If you build a quality website and populate it with, interesting original content, then sit back and let Google robots crawl your site chances are you will show up in Google's search results for search terms relevant to your content. You can spend thousands of dollars on SEO and rank a little higher in the search results. It's like taking pictures with a fancy, professional camera. If you put it on automatic you will get reasonable photos. If you spend hours learning to use the “professional” features of your camera your photos will probably be a little better.
So what really happens when you invite Google, Bing or any other search engine to index your website? In the case of Google, robots start downloading copies of each page of your website. These pages are indexed by proprietary Google software then added to the Google database of web pages. It's kind of like new books being delivered to a library.
When a searcher types a search phrase into the Google search field the search program scans the database, containing billions of web pages before it prepares a list of web page links that are most relevant to the search term entered plus personal behavior information it knows about the searcher. This takes place is less than a second even though the search program considers over two hundred parameters to evaluate the individual pages when deciding on the relevancy and value of your web page before including your web page links search results. This process is very fast because the indexing program has already contributed heavily to the selection process by making judgments as to in importance of your web pages in addition to cataloging their contents. Factors such as searchers location, device, and personal preferences are considered by the search robot when preparing the search results.
When handed a search phrase, the Google search engine searches the Google database, not the internet. The Google database is built and maintained, by robots continuously crawling the web so the information may be stale. The database contains indexed content and judgments as to the importance of the content with the robot being influenced by the web pages linking to your web pages. This is generally referred to as “page rank”.
Search result lists are links to actual web pages but the decision to serve them, and the order of the results, is based on the indexed information in the Google database regarding page content and importance of the web page along with the location of the searcher, the device (smartphone, tablet or desktop) being used by the searcher and information Google has about the searchers previous web search behavior.
The question we started with was: Do I need to spend money on SEO?
SEO means “Search Engine Optimization” but in reality its the process of attempting to influence a search engine to place our web pages higher in the search results rank. Fifteen years ago when clients asked me if they needed SEO my answer was always yes. Today the answer is “no” for some and “it depends” for others. Fifteen years ago the search engines were dumb and we could easily influence them. Twenty years ago they were really stupid and we could manipulate the search results with a few simple tricks like stuffing our written content with key search phrases. In the last ten years companies like Google have spent hundreds of millions of dollars making their search engine robots think like humans so we flatter them by creating website content for humans then our web page links show up high in the search results because they are the most relevant result for the searcher.
Success is a straightforward process. Build a modern, mobile-friendly website that provides a platform to deliver high quality, original content, relevant to the search term and unique interests of the searcher. If you publish high-quality content on the web other sites will link to you establishing you as an authority site giving the importance of your pages and impressing the indexing robot.
Before we discuss SEO lets define what a modern website is and how it will affect your search results. More than 50% of all internet activity takes place on mobile devices so it stands to reason that you must have a “mobile-friendly” website. Google as a company is very passionate about this. So much so that they provide a series of test sites where you can check mobile friendliness and specifically “mobile friendliness” as defined by Google.