Search Engine Optimisation

Can someone please tell me what search engine optimisation or SEO is all about?

Search Engine Optimisation or SEO for short is the art and science of getting a website to the top of the search engine results pages (or SERPs for short). This is a really interesting and challenging space to work in as it evolves at such a rapid rate.

To give a simple version of how things work – Google has an extremely complex mathematical formula called an algorithm which calculates numerous factors relating to millions of websites and millions of people searching for things and then sorts the answers into an order based on the findings – the order is how you see your results when you type something into a search bar.

Search engines like Google use their complex formulas to decide who to place and in what order in their results.

By giving their customers solutions which are as relevant as possible to what they are searching for Google retains customers as they are likely to use them for search the next time as well. By building a massive customer base by being the best in the search arena this gives Google the opportunity to sell millions of dollars in advertising (yes those little ads on the right side of your search page!).

What many people do not know is that Google alters this formula around 500 times a year.

Some adjustments are relatively minor and are barely felt by most businesses – smallish tweaks to the algorithm which may shuffle some  places a little based on whatever strategy they are aiming to strengthen or who they want to penalise.

However, several times a year Google rolls out, with no warning, a major change which has a dramatic influence on search results. The Panda Update is a classic example of this. The original Panda was launched earlier this year and it had a huge effect on many larger websites. A number of huge international sites lost 90% of their Internet traffic overnight.

This was part of Google’s ongoing battle against spam – and this one was ruthless! Many highly respected sites plummeted down the rankings as they had been grouped into a “content farm” category and punished severely!

And of course the advertising revenue which was an integral part of these website’s business model shrunk by the same amount… Ouch!

And there have been several major adjustments to Panda since it’s covert roll-out.

But before you begin to think that SEO is all about “rocket science” or “latent semantic indexing” or “complex IT solutions”, let me assure you it is not!

SEO is first and foremost about marketing!

It is about understanding how a business relates to it’s customer base.

Who are the usual customers?

Who are the ideal customers?

What sort of language do they use?

What are the demographics of the customers and where can they be found online?

Then it is about ensuring your business solutions are found at the top of the results for the keywords these customers are using in search.

Let’s demystify Search Engine Optimization now.

Let’s start with a cool little video from Search Engine Land – one of our favourite SEO blogs!

This video explains in three minutes what SEO or search engine optimization is all about…

OK not all of what it’s about but it is a pretty nice introduction to the concepts of SEO.

OK, now you have had a bit of an introduction to search engine optimization here is a bit of a run-down of some of the good things to do and some techniques to avoid.

Starting with the SEO techniques which get total approval from the major search engines.

Onpage Content

Keywords
Using keywords which are totally relevant to what your site is about is crucial. Finding keywords which are not overly competitive but which have relatively high search volume is the trick here. Then using a range of these keywords across the site without duplication or over vigorous use will get a tick!

Quality Content
Having a lot of very high quality content – well-written, informative, keyword rich content across the entire site will get you another tick!

Interaction
Having a blog on your site which allows visitors to comment and interact with your business is a great way to get another big tick. Alternately you could allow consumer reviews on your site or commenting facilities through Facebook plugins.

Shareability
Easy sharing options to repost your content to social media sites quickly and easily. Buttons to Tweet, Like, +1, In, Digg or share in any other way are a big plus.

Updated
New content added to the site frequently through blogs, newsletters, PDFs, new pages will also get a big tick!

Page load speed
Yes, the speed at which your site loads is important. If your site is slow to load many visitors will give up and hit the back button which increases your bounce rate which will hurt your site.

Domain name and URLs
If your domain and URLs are keyword rich this is worth a nice, big tick!

Technical stuff
Your pages need to be optimized for your target keywords in the Title tags, Meta Descriptions and Meta Keywords and these need to be unique for each page of the site. Too many websites have identical meta data which means that the search engines see the site as having limited content.

Headings
Using your keywords and related phrases in headings not only helps visitors skim read the page but the search engine spiders like this as well. Another tick!

Site age
Yes, the age of your site is also a factor in ranking. This is seen to add to the “trustworthiness”of your website!

Off site stuff

Back-links
These are the votes from other sites which the search engines use to judge the value your site offers. They ideally should be from quality sites with a range of PageRank and you should have a lot of them.

Anchor Text
Links pointing at your site should be keyword loaded – there is very little benefit gained from anchor text saying “Click here”.

Social Media Authority
Having a large, engaged community on social media sites is a very big tick! Big numbers of fans/followers etc are a start but large numbers of conversations are also hugely beneficial.

Geographic location
If your business has the type of products or services which are directly related to local consumers then geographic position is very important and this is reflected directly in search results.

OK let’s look at some of the “To avoid” techniques.

Lack of content
A site with very few pages and with little content will not do well in search. Definitely a cross!

Paid links
Don’t ever be tempted to buy links. You will find offers everywhere online – buy 1000s of links for $49.95! You will be busted and you will be punished.

Duplicate Content
Definitely a no-no! Make sure you do not have the same content more than once on the same domain.

Spamming Social
Being consistently blocked/reported in social media for spammy behaviour will hurt your website rank.

Keyword Stuffing
This could be in the onpage content or in the meta data. Over exuberant keyword repetition will get you penalised – no doubt! Keyword stuffing is common and foolish!

Comment Spam
This is nasty! Software driven comment spam to target thousands of blogs is damn irritating to the site owners but is also picked up by the various algorithms. Don’t do it!

Poor back-link spread
If all of your back-links come from a couple of sites or if they are from consistently low quality sites you will also get a big cross! Ideally you should have a natural PageRank range across your links.

Crawl Errors and Broken Links
If your site has a lot of broken links (links that go to an error page) or if there are a lot of crawl errors on your site you will be marked down.

Advertising Overload
If your site has much more advertising than content you will definitely be judged to be poor quality. Think about sites that have those hugely irritating flashing ads all over the place… would you stay there long?

Well, that is hopefully a bit of food for thought!

The reason why SEO is such a dynamic and exciting field is simply because of the speed with which it evolves. SEO will be a different art in 6 months time…

And 6 months later it will have shifted again!

You can be sure that mobile is going to be a stronger factor in SEO and social media use will continue to grow in influence.

And have no doubt that the search engines will continue to challenge SEO consultants with a range of strategic alterations to the algorithms.

And who can guess what other amazing technological developments may have exploded across the interactive, plugged in world!

Bring it on!