The overall aim of SEO is to improve your Google rank in a search engine result page (SERP). That usually means to improving your position on most other search engines, too.
SEO = Search Engine Optimisation
NB: This article has recently been updated because of Google’s algorithm changes. But I agree whole-heartedly with Google’s changes. Too many SEO companies have been taking too much money off people without doing very much for it.
Search Engine Optimisation has become something of a misnomer overnight. In 2012 it meant one thing, now it means another. SEO no longer refers to a process of for for search engines – it now refers to optimising your web site to make it easier to read for people.
Tidying up text, tags and HTML to make your pages easier to read and navigate.
Improving offsite pages – such as Twitter, Google Places and attracting in-bound links.
The aim of SEO
Many other search engines actually hire Google’s technology, so getting a site to rank highly with Google is often synonymous with getting it to rank for say, Yahoo.
What do search engines want?
Google wants to know as much as possible about your business through your website. The more you tell the search engines (in terms of textual content) the more they can determine your site “quality” (Google worthiness) and, theoretically, the higher you will appear in a search for that topic.
Google’s Panda update (early 2012) turned SEO back to on-page factors rather than in-bound links. Many SEO companies were setting up fake websites linking to their clients. Well, finally the game is up on that. Google (in particular) wants the best page for your search to show up on page one. Not the page with the most in-bound links.
Being numero uno #1
There’s an obsession with being #1 on a Google SERP. It can be done but paying an SEO expert is a really lazy and highly expensive way to get in-bound, regular traffic. I offer SEO services for clients, but I try to research the underlying issue/s first. In some cases, it’s a missing page title tag. In another case the client didn’t have a contact page or an email address. Poor HTML code, industry saturation and missing meta tags are the usual culprits.
It’s fine to be top dog in search but if your web pages are poorly constructed, unclear, look unprofessional or are inefficiently worded and with no strong on-page “call to action” (e.g. a buy button). Missing elements like these make it difficult to convert site visitors into buying customers even if you are #1. Getting on the first page in a competitive industry can be a long and complex journey. Geoffrey Multimedia can help you – even if we didn’t author your site.
Website traffic isn’t everything
I had a client who was making thousands from only 30 monthly visitors. I was actually embarrassed by her traffic (often we web developers bear some of the blame for low traffic). It turned out that 5 or 6 of visitors were renewing accounts worth hundreds of thousands via the website on a regular basis. Who wants to be number one if you can make a million with only 30 visitors per month?
I have another client who is number one for a search in her chosen industry, but the phone never rings. Sadly, there’s not much local demand for her services. Often the market is saturated and people have bought all they are ever going to buy of your thing.
Spending thousands on an SEO expert to be in Google’s #1 top spot is, frankly, tunnel-visioned. If surfers don’t convert to loyal, returning customers, you are wasting money.
When I do a search, I’ll scan links on the first 2 or 3 search result pages. SEO has been “gamed” for many years and up until only very recently, the first page of a Google search was often full of rubbish sites. Lat year, in-bound traffic affected a website’s quality score – now it’s different. Your website has to be genuine.
Put your “I’m Google Number One” ego on the back-burner for a moment and ask yourself the really hard question :
[alert style=”warning” text=” Why should anyone visit my site in the first place? “]
The answer to SEO anxiety is really plain and simple and it’s something I try to drum into clients’ brains on an almost daily basis. It’s also why I prefer to develop websites that take time to put together. I’d be a millionaire if I sold cheap, ineffective websites but there are enough of those and I honestly want to go to my grave making a real difference in this world. It’s too easy to make a quick buck in this industry as most people don’t know what’s going on.
I personally don’t find it either 1. satisfying or 2. challenging – to make a quick buck.
Most of what makes a great website has nothing to do with me. It’s more about what a client does with the site long term. In all too many cases, the answer to that one is “not much”.
The Best SEO is no SEO (slideshow)
So. Why not build a great website instead?
[alert style=”success” text=” A good website is one with informative and varied content that is updated regularly. That’s all you need for website success. “]
Bicycle Transport Association
The best performing website (in terms of numbers) I have built is the Bicycle Transport Association of WA. Every week they upload as many as 3 different blog posts or news articles – all related to bicycling. Bicycle users comment on articles and link to the site all the time. The BTA traffic used to be a healthy 1,250 unique visitors per month, but after Google’s Panda update mid 2012 year, this grew to 5,000+ visitors per month.
Within a short time they had #1 spot with Google on multiple bicycle-related search terms.
So. You rank #1. How’s that working out for you?
Not many people can write good copy, but the ones who do are rewarded with high rankings. Google rewards people and businesses who add something to their industry conversation on a regular basis. This is more than ever the case since Google’s 2011 Panda update. Many sites which aren’t regularly updated lost traffic.
Google wants to reward leaders in a field.
People linking to your site are important too. Google assumes that people link to sites which are best in their field. Naturally, setting up a million sites with in-bound links to yours is deemed “gaming the system” and it’s actually the reason why Google had the Panda update in the first place. Suffice it to say, many SEO “professionals” lost their jobs. People will link to you if you are constantly updating your blog with quality articles.
Plus, you are more likely to get a higher ranking if Google sees other “high quality” websites in your field linking back to yours.
Is SEO a waste of money?
Sometimes it is.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a very misunderstood term. In the web design industry, the term is oft met with scorn and sidelong glances. Even Google Webmaster Central warns about dubious SEO practices. And it’s not hard to get banned.
If an SEO firm says they can get you to the top of page 1 in a search, they’re more interested in taking your money than telling you the facts. It’s a promise nobody can seriously make. Many still do. Nobody knows how Google’s ever-changing algorithm works. It’s a closely guarded secret because billions of dollars are at stake.
Google have recently been accused of anti-competitive business practices because their algorithm determines who gets the business. Add this to the fact that many of your industry competitors are also employing SEO experts on a weekly basis, it’s easy to see why SEO is often referred to as “The Google Dance.” With so many people on the SEO dance floor, toes get crushed. So why dance in the first place? Why not simply build a better, more relevant website?
Black & White Hat SEO Marketing
I’ve had sites banned from search results because I unwittingly employed Black Hat SEO techniques. Doing things such as;
- innocently using the same phrase too many times on a page
- using invisible writing (white text on white background)
- using 0 pixel sized keywords and phrases
… will get you banned by Google (meaning that your site will disappear from SERPs).
Search engines consider Black Hat SEO techniques “spamming.” They send spiders (little programs) to crawl the web looking for genuine and viable sites. If you are caught “cheating” the natural flow, they see you as a spammer. It’s completely understandable and you know what? As a reformed web developer, I’m with them.
More blatant techniques such as building doorway websites with the aim of funnelling customers to your main website or flooding search engine results with your results are also considered “Black Hat” or “unfair” by search engines. If caught using these techniques, you’ll find yourself mysteriously omitted from the search results.
In my case, I was banned for a month and my client lost a LOT of business (we’re friends again, now). I’m currently doing an SEO audit as many clients have asked for Search Optimisation services.
The best thing you can do is build a great website. Google always finds me (and my client sites) and ranks me highly in search. I don’t really care about being number one as I have enough work. It’s hard to accept praise for getting a client to number one in their industry when all that may have happened is that other SEO operatives might have been eating a smadwich.
Search engines want to give humans genuine results, not manipulated responses to a search query.
SPAM is bad, mmm’kay?
I’m forever deleting spam from my inbox, sent to me by self-proclaimed SEO experts promising higher rankings in search results and thousands of new customers. I get emails from clients asking if they need to “do anything” about seemingly important SEO emails.
Write a blog.
Writing might actually be the hardest thing to do on Earth, but by jove, the pen is still far mightier than the sword.
Search engines read text. It’s pretty much all they do.
While there are many things you can do to improve your web site ranking, you really need to keep your eye on the ball. That ball is NOT SEOnecessarily. Before obsessively monitoring your position on the Google search page like it’s a stock market, ask yourself a very simple question. Is your site worth visiting? There’s no point in ranking number one in a search for “hardware stores melville” if your site is impossible to navigate and you’ve forgotten to add a contact form. You have to be worth it.
Client : Why doesn’t anyone share my enthusiasm?
Stop promoting your services
Yeah. Controversial thing to say, right? One thing I’ve learnt in my 16 years as webmaster to hundreds, is that the web turns everything upside down. Literally. If your site is about promoting your services, increasing brand exposure, building a customer database and showcasing your awards … you’ve got it all wrong. That’s “old school.”
Your website isn’t for you. It’s for your customers. Sure. You’ll check your new web layout on your friend’s iPad, set it as your office homepage and gloat over your company history and embedded YouTube ad for hours. After all, you’ve come a long way. Plus, your logo looks great and your company name ranks #1 in a Google search for “Homocentric Slippers.” You’ve made it!
Client : But where are the customers? This is the 24hr web. New customers should be pounding my door and I should be collecting untapped leads and making sales while I sleep. Something’s wrong.
Nothing is wrong.
Don’t subscribe to “if you build it they will come.” They will – for about 3.5 seconds on average – but if you’re boring or banging on about your company and your awards, they’ll quickly go find someone with an offer. There are plenty of other places to go.
You are enthusiastic about your new company website because it’s really a substitute for YOU. Nobody cares about your company unless they find something of value in it for themselves. Your employees will be loyal if you respect them, give them a pay rise, a bonus, or let them take the afternoon off. Customers will care if you include a few useful freebies with their swiftly delivered product. Is there some way to offer an upgrade path on your physical item or service? Think outside the box?
If I’m going to buy a product, I’ll research it … to death. I’ll ask questions on Whirlpool Forums. Attending such forums and answering other people’s questions not only is good for business, but it’s good for SEO because it creates in-bound links. Sometimes price isn’t the only factor. Shipping, delivery details and speed of service might be important. I’m often interested in an “upgrade path.” It’s all the rage with software. Buy it today for $50 and when a new one comes out get 25% off!
The key to a successful website is to find an obvious (or overlooked) weakness in your market, and deal it properly on your website.
Find the weakness
It’s kind of why I’m writing this blog entry. SEO is such a minefield, that I really needed to get this off my chest. Also, to be honest, the web industry is full of sharks and charlatans, feeding off the technologically illiterate. I may get picked up by the Google search robot writing this article and (possibly) rank slightly highter on subjects like SEO, web development and web design in Perth, Western Australia, (there I go – seeding those crawlers, again) but my real volition here is to help wean small businesses (and people in general) off an unhealthy obsession with Search Engine Optimisation. Why rank highly if your site is nothing more than an egocentric business card floating in cyberspace? Why even have a website in that instance.
If you don’t want to put the effort in, it’s better to spend your money on a strategic letter drop than build a website. I encouraged one client to do just that and he got lots of work. He came back two years later for a website. 2 years is a long time mind you. I don’t know about you, but I want to visit a great website that is updated frequently with lots of information and customer feedback and reviews or the service etc. I want to go where other people go and I want to read about what they say about the company. Good and bad.
Blog about it …
Search engines read. In fact, until they come up with a better image recognition software, that’s all they do presently. So if you have something to say, write about it. And let others respond to your writing. Be brave. Go with the good and improve the bad.
If you take a look at all the great professional websites in the web design industry, you’ll notice something in common.
All these web industry sites revolve around a blog structure for a reason.
My Company Name?
Nobody will search for your company name besides you. They might search for “comfortable slippers queensland” but they won’t tap in “Johnno’s slippers”. They’d be nuts, wouldn’t they? So why obsess about your company name?
What do I do?
List 5 reasons why you visit 5 of your favourite websites and the answer will be staring right back at you. You’ll probably find they are doing one or more of the following things.
- Giving users a voice.
- Answering questions publicly.
- Providing good service.
- Posting the good and the bad.
- Encouraging discussion.
They certainly won’t be obsessing about their company name or the size of their logo.
Yes. There is such a thing as an SEO expert, but the only one I regularly read (and therefore trust) is Ian Lurie over at Conversation Marketing. I read this marketing blog daily. He’s a sensible man who doesn’t do the hard sell and speaks plain English about search engines and what you can do to rank higher. Here’s a link to Ian’s site. Interestingly enough, like the web professional sites listed above, Ian also presents information using a traditional blog format. He knows. The most important page on your site is your home page. And getting new content to the top of that page is best. If you are refreshing your website daily with regularly updated content (weekly is a close second), in the absense of a decent SEO budget, that should be all you ever need to worry about.
It’s a bad idea to spend thousands of dollars on SEO (unless you have many many pages) because search engine goal posts are forever moving.
If you have someone like me coding your site from the ground up (or at least checking over your existing code with search engines in mind) you’ll have nout to worry about.
This article © copyright 2013 – All rights reserved Geoffrey Multimedia
Edwin wrote his first (Harrier Jump Jet) text adventure computer program in 1982 during the Falklands War. He now builds websites utilising best practice, future-proof web development, marketing & SEO. He lectured for 15yrs+ at Curtin Uni where (in 2007) he was voted 5th best out of 2,500+ university lecturers in Australia. Now he wants to share what he knows.