Despite it being a red hot topic on the internet, most people don’t actually know what SEO is. Some have heard of it, thanks to recent tv ads, pretty much in the same vein as I’ve heard or a particle accelerator, so in this post I’m going to try and answer the question
What is SEO?
Well, dearest mother in law (or anybody who doesn’t know what I do for a living), SEO or Search Engine Optimisation, is the delicate art of getting a website to appear on the results page of a search engine’s website.
A search what?
Search engine. A directory of all the websites on the internet that allows you to search for phrases, pages, images, videos, anything that’s on someone’s website. The most popular one is the Google search engine. The people at Google have got a lot of money from this and keep moving the SEO goalposts so that people’s websites can’t be found any more on the Google Listings. The game, you see, ?is to get your (or your clients) website to appear on pages of search results for products or services you are trying to sell, so they visit you website and buy from you, not your competition. Appearing high up on these Google listings – or Bing* or Yahoo.
*Google is the biggest search engine, Bing is the next one, but the gap is huge. Like, Bing is seen as a spelling error in WordPress and twitter, yet Google is not. It’s like Coca Cola and Pepsi. They both make the same drink, yet you never year the phase “I’ll have a Pepsi”, do you?
Local SEO – National SEO – International SEO
Local SEO? Yeah, you can want your site to be found by local, national or international audiences. And just because it’s local doesn’t mean it’s easier. You see, you ideally want to be on page 1 of the search results, which means in the top 10. An unusual phrase such as ‘mobile mechanic chesterfield’ is quite easy, there’s only two guys doing it and nobody else seems to have typed those words into the body text of their website. ‘Web designer Nottingham’ is a lot harder, everybody and his dog make websites it seems (but they don’t do it proper, not like me!) and they are all internet savvy and there’s a hell of a lot of times someone has typed the words ‘web site’ into a website, so that top 10 slot is slightly more elusive.
Yeah, but what do you do when you’re doing this SEO thing?
Well, I find ways to get a website found on the internet. How?
Google Places is worthy of it’s own blog post, and not just because it’s a low competition keyword with 27,000 monthly UK searches, but because it’s a really useful tool for local SEO. It’s a great way to get your business a page one presence on search engine results pages (SERPS). Oh – and it’s free, all you need is a gmail and a G+ account to set one up. It asks you to post the basic information about your business – address, location, contact numbers, opening hours, what you do etc. and it will ask for POSTAL verification, you’ll get a postcard with a PIN for you to finally activate the account, which has to go to the address listed on the page, which can cause some businesses problems. For example, a friend of mine has a holiday cottage in a remote location a good 4 hours drive from his house. As the postcard has to go to the bricks and mortar address of the cottage, not to his home, he’s relying on someone else to get the PIN for him. But the postcard never arrives, and we want to make it perfectly clear that it’s not the fault of the Royal Mail, and it’s only coincidental that the postmaster of the local community has his own holiday cottage and runs a tourists website. The point is, you have to be at your location to get the PIN.
Keywords are the thing and content is king.
Keywords are the phrases typed in to a search engine when I want to find information on the internet. It used to be slightly simpler, because you could simply fill your site with all the phases you wanted to be found for and bingo! you would get found. However…. Google et al decided that was too easy so started ‘penalising’ sites that were what’s known as keyword stuffing, so now you have to write meaningful, informative content that provides value to the reader. Kind of like the opposite to my blog really. These big changes to the search algorithms upset a lot of people and a lot of innocent animals are now hated the world over because of Google’s habit of calling these devastating changes after cute, but slightly left of field, animals. The three big changes were called Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird.
If we are talking keywords, then Hummingbird is supposed to be the real game changer, although it was implemented without announcement and nobody noticed, so work that one out. Anyway, it’s supposed to use more natural search terms, explicitly for mobile or voice search, so instead of just optimising for, say, ‘plumber mansfield’ you have to also optimise for the term ‘find a plumber near me’, which we all say every day to our iPhones.
Link building is another huge aspect of SEO services, and again it used to be easier. In what I won’t call the good ole days you just had to put a link to your website ion any other website and it was seen by search engines as you adding value, y’know, building the web. You could put them any where and your site would rocket. I’ve even been asked to build 101 websites before, one for the business and 100 for links to guarantee a top search position, although that would’t have worked even then. Then the Penguin algorithm was rolled out and all your crappy links on spamming sites and comments on other blogs were not seen to add value to the web, and sites were penalised for having links from poor quality or irrelevant sites. Problem is, the owner of a website isn’t responsible for all the links pointing to his/her site, and many people had a devil of a job first disassociating themselves from perceived poor quality sites, then convincing Google that they were sorry, it won’t happen again, I didn’t mean to and please can I have my customers back. Some people didn’t like Google after this. especially people whos businesses were purely to provide links of any description for money, called link farms.
For more information on Google’s Penguin Algorithm, see here:?http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Penguin
Back to the content thing.
The other algorithm cataclism was Panda. This was when Google took a much more subjective approach to sites as a whole and branded them as thin, poor quality and substandard in some cases, and devalued their position in the Google search engine listings. This also had an effect on links (see above) and again send some sites right to the back of the listings, never to be profitable again. Of course, some people say that the difference between page 2 and page 2million is insignificant, as no-one really looks past page one anyway.
Anyway, the up shot of ?all this was that sites are now required to provide good quality information, to answer questions, provide instructions and relevant opinions. They have to have good content, and so content marketing was born. Content marketing is the providing of information and help relevant to your industry, so you see more and more blog posts with titles like “5 tips to improve your performance” or “How to repair your washing machine” provided by companies, seemingly at odds with the need to sell products and services. After all, if a washing machine repair man tells you how to fix your washer, you don’t need his services, right?
Expert, authority, guru
Well there’s a few ways this helps to actually sell. Number one, my website is full of everything to do with washing machine repair (no, not this site, my imaginary washing machine repair mans site) so I must know a hell of a lot about repairing washing machines. So, if I help you fix a minor problem for free and a big problem occurs later down the line, or if the small DIY repair goes wrong, who ya gonna call? That’s right, the expert you already know, like and trust who helped you before. So now sites are cropping up who want to run blogs for you, write posts and pages, and do it in a way that adds value to your website, and to the internet as a whole. Your sites’ loading speed and haw it looks are also taken into account, and while these ever changing and ever more specific rules are a real pain in the backside for SEO’s, on the other side of the coin it is a conscious effort to clean up the internet and make it a thing of real quality, which I applaud.
More info on Google’s Panda algorithm here:?http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Penguin
So to sum up, the answer to the question ‘what is SEO’ could roughly be described as:
- Finding out the best keyword phrases to be found for by users of search engines
- Placing these keywords in specific locations in your website – content, titles, images, meta description etc.
- Placing links on good quality relevant sites pointing back to your own site
- Providing good quality articles and information for visitors to your site
- Generating Social activity around your site and brand on Facebook and Twitter and other platforms.
- Rinse, and repeat.
Well, I hope that’s cleared the mists a little for anyone interested in finding out exactly ‘what is SEO?’ without getting into too much detail, and if you do want to know more, I’ll keep you posted via my newsletter, sign up on the page!
By Jeff Guest on Saturday, December 7th, 2013