Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
There is no avoiding the fact that SEO is not an exact science; partly because a portion of SEO is strongly influenced by factors that are simply out of the hands of SEO practitioners! This challenge can lead to far too much speculation and ‘expert’ advice being handed out, with the less scrupulous tempted to offer many unfounded assurances and expectations, which then leads to further confusion and head scratching when they are delivered.
Just the simple term SEO cannot reasonably describe all aspects of it, and thus means different things to different people. SEO is not something you ‘do to a website’. It’s a better described as a multi-levelled discipline, involving a sequence of actions that are carried out in a certain order, and according to almost constantly changing parameters (Google released upwards of 300 updates to its algorithm in 2012 alone). SEO can take years to get to grips with, and must be something you are immersed in day to day if you don’t want to risk doing more harm than good. That’s why jumping in and out with the occasional tweak, will never deliver the results you might expect.
So what are the basics and how do you choose a good SEO partner from a bad one?
Old Skool Principles Still Matter
SEO is essentially divided into two areas, which we’ll call On-Page and Off-Page.
Simply put, on page elements are those you can physically code into your website in order to help Google and others rank its relevance and importance, and thus it’s likelihood to be included in search results. This ranges from the correct use of tags and descriptions, the textual content, how the links and navigation are structured, what Google ‘properties’ you make us of etc. and can also heavily be influenced by the way the site is developed in the first place.
This foundation work remains a very important element of SEO that must be done, and should all be taken into account every time a site is built. Failing to get these basics right can quickly render further SEO work much less effective. These basics are how Google knows what your site is supposed to be about, what it expects to see and be told, so if you can’t be bothered to tell it – well you can guess how important it will think your site is.
However, even if you do this on-page side of SEO perfectly it will likely only make up about 35% of your websites overall rank, so any promises about doing this for a few hundred pounds and placing you on top of Google are, frankly, absolute twoddle.
Almost all other rank is based on your website’s off-page factors. These include: links to your website (a discipline all in itself), the relevance of its content, it’s overall size, whether you have a Blog, your social ‘footprint’, engagement, readership and several others. These elements have the vast majority of impact on Google’s willingness and likelihood to rank your website more highly, and how it prioritises your website over others.
Google Changes the Goal Posts
The important off-page optimisation is largely done according to what Google publicises is best practice. However, the kicker is that Google keeps changing what it deems best practice. Within the industry and often in wider news, we all hear about major Google updates to look out for such as the Farmer, Panda and Penguin updates (who names these things?) Not only do these major updates sometimes radically change the SEO landscape, Google actually carries out hundreds of other minor updates every year, making keeping up almost a full time occupation.
So yes – your site may just ‘disappear’ for no good reason, and you may scream at your SEO team. But when you also factor in the latency Google has in re-ranking sites, being dumped (or ‘slapped’) by Google does happen.
Therefore what you need to do is pick a SEO partner that has an established record of doing enough of the right things, enough of the time, to keep you in a positive trend. You want a team that does nothing but SEO, in all its forms, all day long. Not a bit here and there, but a dedicated resource. Liaise with someone who speaks plain English rather than code and tech-babble, and that you are confident will give you the truth rather than just what you want to hear. The last thing you want is to pass on assurances from someone who’s essentially guessing!
It’s an old saying but still true: SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time and results are often delayed for many months while the search engines compute, digest and compare. And think about this: if Google made SEO really easy and quickly effective, why would it need AdWords?