The truth about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

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Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of getting your website listed on search engines without paying for Pay Per Click (PPC) adverts. If PPC is the hare, letting you pay to jump to the top of the results, then SEO is definitely the tortoise. It is slow, requires consistent effort and will take many months, even years, to get results.

To keep the analogy going, it’s also a race where at any time the finishing line can be moved. Early in 2016, Google brought about what many considered to be the death of SEO by increasing the number of paid-for listings (see screenshots below) that appear at the top of the results for ‘commercial’ searches, pushing the organic (or not paid-for) results into a place that is not visible for most users without scrolling down the page.

PPC search results

On ‘commercial’ searches (i.e. where someone is searching for a product, business or service), paid-for advertising now dominates the search results.  Non paid-for listings are pushed down the page to a place that isn’t immediately viewable on most computers.

SEO search results

Google will also rank a mobile-friendly website higher for people searching whilst using a mobile phone.  Non ‘responsive’ sites can disappear completely from mobile results.

And this isn’t the first time they have moved the goalposts. Back in the early days of the Internet you could ensure your website listed high-up in search engine results by simply making your site repeat a specific keyword more times than anyone else’s. Web designers would set up sites where half the page was white text on a white background, repeating the same phrase and keyword over and over again – invisible to the viewer but read as normal text by the early, fairly dumb, search engine ‘crawlers’.

Then a website’s popularity started to also be taken into consideration – if lots of other websites were linking back to a specific website then it must be authoritative. So fledgling SEO companies set up vast ‘link farms’, auto-generating thousands of links back to a client’s website to try and trick the search engines into believing it was popular.

The days where you could ‘game’ Google are long gone. In fact, if Google suspects you of even trying to cheat it will actively down-rank your site.

Now, the days where you could ‘game’ Google are long gone. In fact, if Google suspects you of even trying to cheat it will actively down-rank your site. Methods that seem to give you a short-term gain today may well obliterate your website tomorrow when Google next updates its algorithm.

So what does make good SEO now? It breaks down into two areas: onsite SEO (the things you can control on your own website) and offsite SEO (other websites linking back to you):

 Onsite SEO

There is plenty you can do when you build your website to make it search engine friendly. WordPress plug-ins like Yoast can give you access to the code of each web page so that you can see how attractive your page titles and content are for the specific keywords you are targeting.

In the past, Google used to rely on what are called ‘meta tags’ which tell a search engine what a webpage is about. However, using these meta tags for keywords today can actively harm your ranking; Google’s web-crawling bots are clever enough to work out what a site is about themselves and don’t appreciate you trying to influence them!

Instead, Google loves high-quality, original, frequently-updated content on your website. If a site is constantly pumping out good quality articles and information that Google isn’t seeing anywhere else on the web, then it knows that you are worthwhile sending people to. The best SEO plan you can employ is a long-term strategy of writing and delivering good content around the topics you want your site to be listed for on search engines.

Offsite SEO

Although ‘link farming’ is now the quickest way to get you blacklisted by Google – gaining high-quality links back to your site is still a big factor in getting search engines to take notice of you.

If an authority in your marketplace (or the leading trade body for your industry) links to something on your site from theirs then this is a big indicator to Google that you yourself are authoritative. Links from other online platforms that you control (such as LinkedIn, social media or forums) also have some weight, but not as much as links from other good-quality websites in your industry. Again, this comes back to having quality content on your website – if you produce something worthwhile, other people are more likely to link to it.

So if you receive an email from someone guaranteeing they will get your website to the top of Google, it’s either through paying for Pay Per Click advertising, or it’s a scam best avoided!