What is SEO and what are Agencies Selling you?


In 1998, “SEO” or “Search Engine Optimization” was a technical term that meant ‘get your site on search engines.  At the time, Altavista, Google, AOL and Yahoo curated lists of websites driven primarily by scraping content and allowing users to search for terms found on the page.

At the time – it was the wild west.   Hidden text, graphics, html tags and metadata hacks allowed site owners cut-throat access to the first page of search.  But over the last 10 years, the search experts have weeded out those hacks, and now use a combination of experience, computer learning and even AI to best match searches with pages.

When you go looking for an ‘SEO’ service – it’s important then to understand what kinds of work are involved in performing SEO for a site, and what your expectations should be.

Agency Activities for SEO on a Typical Website


Technical SEO

The foundation of ANY SEO project is to ensure that the site is constructed using best practices, and includes all of the key features that search engines are looking for.  Are titles, and metadata complete, and within expected parameters?  Are pages named correctly, and are Titles, subtitles, and content in agreement with the other parameters.  Are the pages being indexed complete?  Are they following multi-device expectations – and is the user experience in line with ‘best of breed’ sites?  

Many of these elements are simply ‘forgotten’ in web-site builds. For a site to rank well on google in 2020 it needs to serve searchers with the right information, in the right way, at the right time. In order to do this – the site must be able to communicate with the indexing algorithm which means ensuring that the technical implementation takes advantage of every possible mechanism to share that data.

Overwhelmingly – sites that rank high in the search results have their structure, and foundation done well, in addition to all other search optimization.  It’s rare to have high ranking pages display a lack of good structure.  

  • Time to implement changes:  Fast – depending on site construction.
  • Contribution to Search Change:  Moderate to High.
  • Scale of Impact on Search Results: Moderate to High. 

On-Page SEO

Most ‘On-Page’ SEO elements are references to ‘search focused content’.  In years gone by, this was a tactic built around huge numbers of ‘related’ keywords stuffed into content.  Over recent years search improvements continue to better identify the ‘intent’ of user searches.  In the case of google, this has lead to significant improvements in providing accurate, effective results being returned for potentially ambiguous search terms.   Consider a search for ‘Apple Boxes’.  Is this related to fruit, or computers?  If it is fruit – are you looking to buy apples, or are you looking for the boxes for another purpose?

Keywords alone will not solve this problem.  Context and semantics are the key to understanding the purpose of the search, and your content must therefore be specific about how YOU relate to those queries.   If you sell apple boxes, then you need to identify how your products will be used, what types of application they serve, and how you can provide value to that person searching who means to find your boxes.

  • Time to implement changes:  Moderate.
  • Contribution to Search Change:  Moderate to High.
  • Scale of Impact on Search Results: Moderate to High. 

Integrated Site Content  

Good Content is the real star of the show. While Google never reveals the algorithm used by the search engine, it is clear that their efforts over the last few years that their strategy can be summed up as follows:  “Deliver the best search result for the user based on the users search intent, and recent behaviour.

Given that Google has put so much effort into their local search enhancements, and additional depth into items like knowledge graphs – sites that have content that speaks to those criteria will clearly rank better.

Natural language is evolving for search as well. A search that once looked like “high efficiency furnace” might now look like “Who sells efficient furnaces in Edmonton”.  Sites that build content around that concept will now fare better on search results – and the manner in which that content is provided can maximize exposure, through video, images, and text content.

Mtek works with our Clients to ensure that we capture the best possible content about their products, services, expertise, and experience to provide a response for the things searchers are looking for.  We see it as a contract with the user.  We identify questions, or needs that users might have, and work with the client to create content that describes the problem, and provides actionable solutions to solve or respond to the topic of the content.  

Content Development is a long term, strategic effort.  Weekly or monthly additions to the stable of content that already exists builds the expertise and authority of your business, or site online. Rank in search will follow these efforts, slowly, building over time as you become better recognized.  As with many things – nothing ‘good’ happens fast.  Mtek utilizes a combination of content capture through video and audio, Video Production, and both staff and outsource content writers to create targeted, relevant, and evergreen content to support this goal.

Often considered a part of this content creation is ‘keyword’ targeting.  Identifying the ‘search terms’ or ‘keywords’ that users express to find content like yours is a long-term process also.  Expect to have to review, add, and remove keywords from your content over time to remain consistent with user behaviour and expectation.  This is usually part of ‘long term’ SEO engagements – with monthly ongoing fees.  Be sure to review your partners as these can be ‘packaged’ into high-cost low-return ‘SEO Projects’.

  • Time to implement changes:  Moderate to high – based on site construction, nature of content.
  • Contribution to Search Change: Moderate to High.
  • Scale of Impact on Search Results: Moderate to High.



“SEO” or “Off Page” SEO

Perhaps the most difficult and dark area of SEO is the ‘Off-page’ factor.   This includes directory listings, citations, reviews, business or personal profiles, and anything online that ‘anchors’ your business, skills, products, or location.  

Ranking changes as a result of these efforts can be rapid, or incredibly slow.  They are the foundation of MANY ‘SEO Offers’ from unscrupulous vendors – who promise huge ranking increases, while delivering little to no ‘real’ change or value.

Search analytics are wildly varied, and day-to-day, month-to-month fluctuation is not only common, but anticipated.  In our experience – anyone who promises the first page of google is likely taking you for a ride.

That’s not to say the work isn’t valuable or necessary – in fact it’s quite the opposite.  But most SEO’s will tell you there are a limited number of factors that we truly understand the value of, and that they are again larger effort long-term plays.

Back-links are a key element in this phase of SEO effort.  Most frequently created by finding sites whose focus aligns with your capabilities, and creating content for THEIR sites, that links to you.  The value of these is dependent on the content quality, their site quality, and Googles estimation of their ‘worth’ as an authority.   Like blogs on your own site – only one in a hundred will benefit you, but when it does there is value on the search results page for you.

  • Time to implement changes:  Long term 4-6 hours / month.
  • Contribution to Search Change:  Low to moderate.
  • Scale of Impact on Search Results: Low to High based on ‘niche’ and keyword value. 

When will I see results?

This is likely the question with the most variable, and unpredictable answer.

Less ethical agencies will tell you that you’ll bubble up to the top of search results in just weeks by signing up for a big monthly package.  They’ll provide some glossy reports that show you on page one, but not necessarily for searches that reflect actual improvement.

Long term growth and improvement for common search terms and intents can be hard-fought and even unreachable. Competition will come from incumbent sites, as well as changes in user behaviour.  Success in up-ending the incumbents comes from regular, conscious effort to meet user behaviour (trends.google.com) and their search language with the content on your site. 

What we do know – is that content is the fundamental to all search growth.  Mtek Digital actively works to improve the foundation through Technical SEO work. We then offer services to assist clients in building solid, authoritative text, video, and social content. Through a combination of these items, we’re able to create solid platforms for our clients to build on.  

In Conclusion

In 2020 – managing your web-site is no longer restricted to ‘building one’ and paying for a domain.   Websites are the most commonly used method to learn about you – and search readiness is the key to users finding you.  Continued creation, development, and management of content onto a stable site provides additional opportunity to capture searches, and build value.