SEO is the manipulation of search engine results, in order to position your page or pages prominently at or near the top of the SERPs listings for high traffic keywords and search terms.
When I say “search engine results” I of course mean Google…. the big beast with 80% of all the useful search traffic in the western world.
Google is a fickle, mercurial beast……. with a propensity to change its needs and desires on a whim…… well…. slightly more than a whim…. but it changes them none the less.
We can all live in the hope that it will never make another amendment to the complex series of search algorithms that it uses to filter and rank the most suitable websites for each search request……. but that is a little churlish to say the least.
Everything changes. If there was an SEO school (there isn’t by the way …. or at least not one that teaches anything that is still relevant by the time they start teaching it)….. then day 1 would be a lesson about dealing with Google Algorithm changes.
Google carries out hundreds of minor changes every day of the year. Most have a very minimal impact, or at least impact very few websites, but occasionally, they land a BIG ONE….. which feels like an earthquake, and can have a huge impact on even the most stable and resilient website.
Google is in the business of delivering what it considers to be the best list of results for its users. Ultimately, the majority of people use Google because it delivers the results that people find useful, quickly.
As a result, users come back time after time and occasionally, they will click on a paid result, earning Google a small part of the several Billion Dollars per month that it generates through paid search advertising.
If Google SERPs stayed constant, then it wouldn’t be long before their results were being spammed to high buggery by SEO companies such as ourselves. If we had a fixed target (as we did for a period between 2002 and 2008) then once you identified the sweet spot, you could dial in as many sites as you wanted to, for whatever keywords you wanted and dominate SERPs.
Google do not want to be spammed or manipulated!
In fact they actively deliver worse results for their users, in preference to being manipulated by SEO’s.
All search engines are in the business of providing the best list of websites for each search term variation. In doing so, there are only so many metrics that can be automated and built into an algorithm to automatically sort the billions of websites currently online into any kind of order.
Google want to provide a list of the best businesses that offer what you are looking for.
In the good old days, pre 2011, Google measured a variety of elements on your website, but since then, and a following a fundamental change in their ranking algorithm (that turned many website owners worlds upside down), Google started to measure the business behind the website.
Let’s face it, when you search for a locksmith in Hammersmith, you don’t want to click on the locksmith who has spent the most on his or her website, (and SEO), but you want the best Locksmith.
Google was the first search engine to understand this and even though the others, Bing et al have tried to follow, they appear to date to have done so less successfully.
There are however, only so many ways that Google can measure a business behind a website.
Each page is measured based on its on-page content relevance…… is it a useful, high quality page? Do users engage with the page? Do people stay on the page? Click links to find out more?
Further more, each page either has backlinks pointing to it or it doesn’t. Each of those links is analysed for trust, quality and relevance and the better quality they are, the more your page will climb.
Measuring the business behind the site is another matter entirely. Social proof is one measure of trust, so the more positive (and of course genuine) testimonials you can collect on trusted platforms such as Google+, Facebook, TrustPilot etc, the more confidence that Google (and your prospective customers) can have confidence in your business & the services or products you offer.
Additionally, successful, trusted companies are often talked about online and Google assesses these mentions, and online chatter and forms an opinion about your “Brand” based on the emphasis of this chatter as to the value that a business can offer to its users.
Why else would Google currently rank Amazon, eBay, Argos, John Lewis, Gumtree et al above almost every small, bespoke retailer in the UK or indeed the US?
Have you published your terms and conditions on your website? Real, proper businesses do you know….. whereas, doorway page, churn and burn sites tend not to as a rule because they are trying to hide who they are.
If you want to rank like a proper business, you need to present yourself as a proper business with all the criteria that demonstate that online.
Googles current Algorithm favours big brands over and above less well known outlets. Competing with these massive multinationals represents a huge challenge for smaller stores, that only a few years ago had a much fairer online playfield on which to sell their goods.
Back to Day 1 of SEO School…… everything changes…. get used to it, accept it, embrace it…… hating it won’t change it.
Our suspicion is that Google are aware of their current bias and is looking to redress the balance going forwards…… but you can’t bank on it!
The next BIG UPDATE that the SEO world has been anticipating for a while is “Mobile First” whereby, instead of using the PC version of a site to determine rankings, they will use the Mobile version of each site as the primary ranking content.
The primary reason for this in my opinion is that Google want everyone to build a mobile friendly website because it makes their life easier. They do currently rank PC and mobile versions differently and if you have a site that doesn’t have a mobile friendly version, it will rank much lower on phones and iPads (if at all).
With more than 50% of all searches now being carried out on phones and tablets, it makes sense to prioritise those results. If only to weed out the sites that don’t render correctly on small touch screens.
We have some clients that receive over 80% of their traffic on mobiles / iPads, and thus very little on PC’s. Different industries however do exhibit different demographics. We do also still have some clients in industrial and commercial sectors who see the majority of their traffic from 9 til 5 on PC’s and Macs.
There is even a school of thought that Google might not ever roll out their “Mobile First” algo, and it’s all been a ruse just to scare website owners into updating their sites for modern devices!
Google has a literal Fuck Ton of requirements that are needed if you want to compete with the big boys for the most competitive search terms.
Google measures how fast your site loads and penalises you if it’s too slow. You need to be faster than your direct competitors.
If a website is not mobile friendly you won’t rank on mobile devices, …….. there are many ways to rule yourself out of top spot.
In fact, there are over 300 SEO specific tick boxes that we work through in order to make a sites pages compliant and rank worthy. Read more about them here
Google will tell you that if you write great content that people like then you will succeed…… but that is a massive crock of shit…… you won’t.
Google doesn’t want you to do anything to improve your performance within their rankings. It doesn’t want you to manipulate their results and it doesn’t care where you rank…. of if you rank at all.
You can follow Google “Best Practice” write some great content, publish it, share it across your social channels and sit back waiting for Google to embrae your site as the leading site for your niche……. but that isn’t (for most people) ever going to generate the long term stream of traffic you need.
This strategy might work on occasion for large, high authority sites, who already have the Brand quality score, traust and authority in place, but driving a few day one visitors and expecting Google to love our content is a huge ask.
Within the world of Google, success begets success. If you receive traffic from organic Google searches and that traffic engages with your content, giving you a low bounce rate etc. then you will climb up the listings because Google can measure your engagement for a specific search term against your competitors, but if you don’t rank in the first place then this task becomes much more challenging.
So how do you get your content into Google organic listings in the first place?… read on…..
Every update that Google carry out makes the ranking process more complex. There are today so many ways that you can destroy your rankings, without even knowing you are doing so, it’s never been easier to disappear from SERPs.
The increasing complexity in ranking requirements means that you either need to do a lot of reading and learning so you can do your own SEO or you need to pay someone who has done all that learning for you.
You are shooting at a moving target and although the goal is an evolving one that only occasionally morphs completely in a Dr Who kind of a way into a different being, it is constantly changing none the less.
SEO is not the place to be guessing what will work for you……. one wrong move and you can kill your rankings for a page….. and often you won’t even know what you’ve done.
Google works on Trust & Authority so your mission is to give your site pages the trust and authority metrics that Google will like.
There are three main areas that need to pass high quality metrics;
We all think we write great content right?…….. often it’s not a good as you might think.
At least not from Google’s point of view.
Good content is so much more than just being a box ticking exercise……. has the page got more than 500 words? tick. Has the page got a primary keyword density of around 2%? tick. Has the page got an H1, H2 and H3 heading including your primary keyword? tick.
If you just look at content creation in these terms, then you are missing the point……
Your content needs to engage real people. It needs to offer value, useful information, knowledge, tips, how to guides, etc. that your readership will like, spend time reading and ultimately, will maybe even share across social media with their contacts.
Does your content get shared?
Viral content is your ultimate goal. If you want to dominate your niche then your content needs to be better than your competitors content…… the best available on your subject matter.
Your content needs to pass positive metrics back to Google; Bounce rate, time on site, share statistics, click through stats, video views, contact points, downloads etc.
Without these, your “Great” content is no such thing.
Back-links are the “votes” that power your search engine rankings. Relevant websites that recommend you by linking to you, pass some of their trust, authority and relevance on to your page.
Google assesses all of your backlinks and adds up the relevance score, trust score and authority score. If you have enough, relevant links from trustworthy websites, while avoiding links from negative websites your high quality content will rise up Googles listings.
Your backlink profile needs to exhibit several important attributes; not only do the backlinks pointing to your site need to come from Google friendly sites (i.e. indexed by Google) but they also need to pass the best possible trust and authority scores to your pages. Additionally these links need to pass category specific relevance to your website. More about link categories here
Backlinks are the lifeblood of your ranking campaign, and without them, all the reviews and great content in the world are not going to get you very far.
You are going to need themed, relevant, high quality back-links.
Social proof aids online conversions. Ultimately, most people are herd animals. If we can see that other people have had a good experience, then we will take a chance and buy the same goods, order the same service, etc.
Online testimonials and reviews serve two purposes; firstly, they will help to convince your visitors that they will get great products and service if they order from you, and secondly, if you collect them in the right places, Google will use them to measure your brand and the quality of your services.
There are several places that matter the most; these are Google+, Facebook and then additionally, sites such as reviews.co.uk and trustpilot.co.uk which will manage your reviews for you, for a fee.
As you collect more and more reviews on these different platforms, Google will analyse them as well as including them in the Business listing for your company. (search for your company name in Google and your Google Business listing will appear on the right hand side of the results page – if you have a business listing – if you don’t have one already, what are you waiting for? Go to https://www.google.com/business/ and sign up now!)
Reviews are generally scored from 1 to 5. Your aim is to get as many 5 star reviews as possible.
If you have a dozen or so, it is a good start, but imagine how powerful 100 reputable testimonials would be for your online reputation??