Five Analogies to Help Explain SEO to Your Clients

If you work as an SEO, chances are you have problems explaining to your friends and family what you do. When I try to simplify my job, the quick version is “I make my clients’ websites rank better on Google”. The first most common reaction is “so do you work for Google?”. No, I don’t. “Ok, so you work in IT”. Well, you could say that, but it’s not accurate either.

A few more words and they understand that I have clients who want their websites to appear more often when people search for whatever they sell. But it’s not completely clear yet because the curiosity now leads to “how do you do this?”. You have to explain about content, links, codes… Definitely not an easy thing to be understood, like many other “new” jobs out there.

Sometimes clients are looking for an SEO, or they already hired an agency. Fair enough, they hired you because they need a specialist and in many cases, SEO is a small point far in the horizon. They are business people or have many areas of marketing to take care of, having SEO as just another box to tick.

At Spark Foundry I often have to explain clients not only what my recommendations are, but why they need to do this or that. So I came up with a few analogies to help them understand the why behind some of the most common issues I find on a website.

These analogies are for you to use and to inspire creating your owns. Maybe something more specific will work better to grab your clients attention. I use the following analogies when I am on the phone or in a meeting with a client. The nodding heads are proof they finally got why something has to be done.

External Links

Imagine external links as votes for your website. Google visits millions of pages in the web. When they find a link to another website pointing to a page of your website, they count this link as a vote. More votes are like more people talking about your business. More votes mean more power. You subsequently pop up more often on Google.

Not all votes are the same: if a chef tells that your sushi restaurant is great, his opinion matters. If he’s Japanese, it probably matters even more. So, in general, links from pages that are closely related to your business field are more valuable. As a general rule, you can also trust newspapers and the media in general for those. If it’s a website that you trust, earning a link from there is probably good for you company’s website.

Google is constantly counting the votes. They come again and again to check if these same pages with a link to your website are still there. These count as independent referrals. People other than you decided to mention your business publicly – That’s why they’re so valuable.

Internal Links

Have you ever spent a lot of time trying to find something at home? Something you know is there… Somewhere. I mean, food is in the kitchen, toothbrushes are in the bathroom. This is absurdly obvious in a house, but not always on a website.

Having a clear internal link structure is like having everything in the right place in your house. Pages that are more important for your business are also the ones that your customers want to see more often on Google. I’d guess you feel annoyed when it takes ages to find something in the attic and you might not even be 100% sure what you’re looking for is actually there. A page in the attic of your website is hard to find since it will need a lot of clicks until someone can reach it. Google assumes this is less important and might not even bother trying to find a page if it’s too far away to reach easily.

Improving your internal link will make the most important more prominent, easier for your clients to find. They are also a good clue to help Google knowing which pages they should come and visit again more often. Google is back every couple of days or weeks to make sure your page is still there. If it’s in the attic, maybe once every few months.

The same way as an organised house is a better place to find your things (and ultimately, a better place to live!), a website with good internal links is a happier place for Google and most importantly, for your customers.

Redirects

Have you ever discovered that a shop you used to go to moved to a different address? Maybe it had a sign saying where to? A redirect is the equivalent of this door sign to Google. Let’s say you already have a page ranking for a relevant query in Google and you delete this page. It’s the same thing: where should Google find this page now?

You can still search and find out where this shop moved to, but would you always bother doing it? Think about how many options you have online. Until Google finds your new page and tries to discover if it’s the equivalent of the one that disappeared, it will take some time. Meanwhile, bye bye customers!

Also, do you remember all the external links (votes) you earned? If they point to a page that doesn’t exist anymore, it’s like a chef recommending you to go to a restaurant that moved away and left no message with the new address at the door. You’ll find good food somewhere else, and Google will provide a tasty page from your competitor to serve hungry searchers!

Page Speed

Are 10 seconds much? If you are waiting for a page to load on your phone, is like an eternity. Same as staying stuck in traffic on a Monday morning. The irritation feeling applies to both. The difference is, while you have little or no option to run away from a massive cue of vehicles, if a page is slow you do have a simple choice: close the page and go to another page.

Just remember how much businesses have speed as a selling point. Fast food, airplanes, same day delivery. I could go on here. Speed makes a huge difference. A slow website can really hurt your business.

To build up in your analogy: if your client underperforms against competitors, use the visual loading comparison from WebPagetest. That’s the quickest way to show how slow a page is!

404 pages

Isn’t it frustrating when you are looking to reach a place, take the wrong turn and end up on a dead-end street? 404 pages are the dead-end streets you got stuck by mistake.

Sometimes websites create these “streets” by mistake. A page deleted, a redirect never placed, a link without http in the front. Look back and put the reverse gear on and load the previous page again.

They mostly don’t cause direct SEO harm more than the frustration of a “not found”, which is a lot on its own. Your customer might just try Google again instead of hitting the left arrow on the browser. You still take one risk: if a 404 page earned a valuable vote (aka links). Lose the page, lose the vote, lose the position on Google.

Conclusions

A friend of mine is an engineer working for a company that provides emergency lights. His simple way to explain his job is “I install those green exit signs”. Later I learned he does much more than this, but at first, I had a glimpse of his universe, and that was sufficient.

The client doesn’t need to understand our SEO world and terminologies, 301s, link juice, compression. If he can be sure that the emergency lighting is complying with the best practices and why they need to be installed in several places, that’s all it takes. Make it easier for your client to make your job and results easier to achieve too!

On time: If you need an analogy to explain what SEO is, I suggest the post SEO is like personal training from my State of Digital buddy Steve Morgan. Great read!

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Gustavo Pelogia

About Gustavo Pelogia

Enthusiastic SEO, fanatic blogger and graduated journalist. Gustavo Pelogia lives in Dublin and is a Client Manager – Search & Analytics at Mediavest Ireland. He can talk about Seinfeld all day long.