Search Engine Optimisation and Link Building in 2018

Let’s face it, SEO is considered by many to be a ‘black art’, by others to be a waste of time, whilst those who do agree that SEO is worthwhile will endlessly debate about what is good and what is bad, what tactics are ‘white’ and what are ‘black’.

“If you ask six SEO experts a question you will probably get 7 answers….”

Then again, if you turned to Google to ask them about SEO, they appear to suggest that they disagree with the concept (wanting their results to be natural and not manipulated), whilst at the same time knowing that without someone to help all the website owners ‘understand’ how to set up their sites so that Google can read them properly, they (Google) would be lost.

The Death of Link Building Announced Again (and Again and Again)

When it comes to the thorny topic of Link Building, not only do we see Google denouncing the process because it is not natural, we also see them desperate for some help in deciding what sites to list and what ones not to bother with. Like it or not Google needs links..

BUT, not all links are equal and there is definitely a way of gaining Google’s displeasure when it comes to building them. Do it the wrong way and your site is doomed, that is one of the known Google rules and is put into play all the time.

Turning to the Experts

This is why many businesses turn to the experts, as here they can rest easy, knowing their site will be built in a way that Google can read and the content will be created to suit the Search Engines and their readers alike. They will also know that the links built to their site will be created in such a way that it will not be penalised by Google. They will then expect that their site gets better rankings and more traffic. In many cases this is exactly what happens, but in some it does not, and sometimes it is impossible for anyone to discover just what has gone wrong, what appears to be working in one area, fails to do so in another…

Either way, you can be pretty sure that the website owner will not really be aware of what is going on and that there are many ways of creating a ‘buzz’ and the boost of (relevant) traffic that all website owners want.

The Key to Top Class Traffic

If you own a business which has a website, you will, I am sure, have been inundated with telephone calls and emails promising you top rankings on Google, sometimes for little cost. You will also have seen countless bits of software that will boost your site, often, they say, at the touch of a button….

Some of these claims will be by bona fide companies and of the software – particularly research software – can be useful, but what few of them will tell you is that it will be the CONTENT of the site that will win the day, both for getting traffic and for converting your visitors to customers.

The True Power of Content

So why is content so very important? This may seem to be a strange question, but many site owners do not give it much attention. They spend a get deal of time discussing format and presentation, but often give scant regard to the content the pages are to hold. So doing things this way is simply not going to work because there is nothing for Google to get its ’teeth’ into, so the rankings are poor. When (and if) a potential customer arrives, there is nothing to ‘make’ them want to buy or at least to take the relationship any further.

The correct way of approaching any market place (and the keyword market place of the web is no different) is to see what people want. When it comes to Google, this means finding out what phrases people use in the market sector which relate to your products, and thus the pages of your site that will be selling those products.

Reverse Engineering and Latent Semantic Indexing

Then you can start writing content that uses those phrases (and similar words using a technique called LSI (or Latent Semantic Indexing) – this being vital as Google gets cleverer and cleverer). You can even reverse engineer the top sites in Google for a given phrase, therefore TELLING you what words to use.

Pages written this way will not only give Google what it wants, but will also give the visitor the information that will enable them to decide if your product is for them or if you can help them solve the problem that drove them to search for help in the first place.
This content ought to include images, videos, flow charts and anything else that will help them to make a good decision (which hopefully means doing business with you).

The OTHER reason for TOP QUALITY CONTENT

Saying all this, content has another VITAL job to do in the battle for traffic and sales. Having good content will mean that others will link to the site and mention it in their Social Media postings, after all they will have good reason to, they will have something WORTH SHARING.

content is king internet concept

content is king internet concept

But, it is not always easy getting people to notice how good your copy is. The whole thing is a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. After all, your fantastic copy can’t get links until someone finds it, and reads it. Without rankings or some form of Social Media chatter, no one will ever know it is there..

Priming the Pump (and keeping the pressure up too)

This is where SEO, Paid Search and Social Media come into play. By using all or some of these systems, website owners can start the ball rolling so that people can see just how good they, and their all important copy, is.

Great Copy Required

This is where the need for the top rate copy comes in, as even though the SEO and Social Media work above will bring in the visits, if there is nothing there to grip the audience, all the time and effort will have been wasted as no sales will be made and perhaps as importantly, no one will find anything worthwhile to come back for, mention or link to.

Without these mentions and links Google will not get the signals it wants to give the site repeatedly better rankings and thus more effort is needed to keep things going. If, however, there is something to ‘write home about’ then the links will come in, your site / product will be mentioned on Social Media, and what is more you will get repeat visits.

Are you Getting Returning Visitors?

This is just one area where Google Analytics can help. Just as having lots of New Visitors is good, a low percentage of Returning visitors indicates that you site is not delivering and people are not coming back for more.

 

Are you getting a high enough level of returning visitors?

Are you getting a high enough level of returning visitors?

If your site is one with a poor level of returning visitors, then a long hard look at the contents is a must…

The Different Processes of SEO

The term Search Engine Optimisation covers a host of things, usually divided (basically) into Technical, On Page, Off Page and Social Media.

Technical SEO

This covers the way a site is built, how fast it is, how easy it can be read and navigated as well as topics like Rich Snippets and Schema. Some of this is easy to do, some of it a bit more difficult, and not all website developers or SEO professionals cover all of these areas.

On Page SEO

Here we are talking about the words on the pages and the placement of the ‘target keywords’ in the important places on the page, all with a view of ensuring that Google finds what it needs in the ‘appropriate places’ on a sites’ pages. Of course this includes the copy / content of a site, but that is not SEO.SEO is how you make sure that the copy is found, not the actual copy itself (except that SEO will help you find out what to talk about in the first place via the Keyword / Market Research phase).

Off Page SEO

This area covers the issue of Links (and to a degree Social Media). It is these ‘signals’ that attract Googles attention and that will get the rankings and ‘seed’ traffic needed. Creating links also helps to keep the pot boiling while the site builds up its momentum.

Social Media

This is included here because even though this is nothing to do with SEO per say, it is important when considering the process of getting the site, brand and product noticed and talked about in a way that will enhance the site in Google’s eyes and extend the reach of the site beyond that of the Search Engine Results.

The Basic SEO process

In all cases it is necessary to carry out the keyword research so that you can target the phrases that are relevant to your market place AND are being used today.

The site must then be built the right way (the technical SEO bit), and then the copy created. This should be of a high quality, but does not have to be as good as it has to be for ‘Top Notch SEO’, for reasons that will be apparent later. Things such as internal linking should be carried out of course, but basically this is a ‘quick’ method of SEO.

Then the link building starts. These are built in the right way at the right speed, using techniques like ‘Power Link Structures’. Social Media signals are also created using this method. In some cases the pump is also primed by actually creating a small amount of traffic to some of the articles and posts that form a part of the linking structure.

Guest Posts Are Used in the quick method too

Guest posts are included in the ‘quick’ method too of course, but they are used differently. As you will see later on, the ‘proper way’ of placing Guest posts is to find a top Infuencer site, chat to them and get them to accept the post (or pay an lot of money for the privilege). However, this process is a LOT more expensive than just placing an article on a relevant site, so for those clients with limited budgets this is the way we go. Basically, these Guest Posts are ‘link vehicles’ and as long as they are well written (no article spinning here at SOM) and contain links that are not going to trigger a Penguin penalty, they do help, we have many examples  the prove the point.

Carrying out SEO in this manner DOES work and is the way the majority of SEO companies work.

The Top Quality SEO process

If you talk to those SEO professionals who practice only the whitest of white SEO, then they will say this is the only way, everything else being a waste of time. Well I disagree with that, but there is no doubt that this process is superior and offers a greater chance of success, BUT, it is a lot harder and thus more expensive in time and money.

This process includes all the On page SEO that Basic SEO requires, including things such as having explanatory ‘Category Pages’ for Ecommerce sites. These are needed as most sites of this type have lots of product pages that (a) often use the same words as a host of other sites and (b) are also often far too short. Thus these Category pages allow the owner to present the products they sell, with links of course to the product pages themselves. These pages can be much better at getting rankings and thus their use should be seriously considered for all levels of SEO.

Power Pages

Remember, this whole process is based on having TOP QUALITY content on your site. Such pages are often called ‘Power Pages’, their contents varying from ‘How to do something’ to a great infographic, anything that would be interesting to visitors and has not been done before (or at least as sufficiently).

Text based Power Pages need to be around 2,000 words long and contain images, videos and links to other authoritative content on the web, PLUS of course the areas in your site that you want people to see and the pages that will result in conversions and sales. Infographics can be just that, but having some words on the page as well can help in my opinion (just as having a transcript of the words used in a video can).

What to Create the Power Page About

The Keyword Research for the site would of course have been carried out first, so the target phrases are known and understood. Using these words, the bulk of the site, (the ‘normal’ pages) will be written and optimised, this including interlinking relevant pages (Google likes this).

Power pages, however, have a different mission. Their job is to get noticed BIG TIME, to become a fount of knowledge and a ‘go to’ source of information on a particular subject (relevant to the products and services of the hosting website). With this in mind it is easy to see that the very first thing you have to know is what subject to write about.

Research into Trends (or try to start one yourself)

This is where checking on trending posts and web pages can be a great help, as it allows you to see what people have become interested in over a period of time (which you can set). You can then have a look at these posts / pages and use them as a basis of your own works, all in the knowledge that people are INTERESTED in the topic.

finding trending topics

 

Of course you can also plough your own farrow, choosing a topic that is relevant to your market place, for instance ‘What is the History of Plastering’ or ‘How to choose the right lawnmower’. There are countless topics to choose from. Besides Kudani, you could also use Buzzsumo.

Writing the Page

Either way, you can start your research into what to talk about, and that will mean looking not only at the trending sites, but also at all the top INFLUENCER sites, in this instance the ones that are at the top of the Search Engines’ results for some top terms.

All the while it is vital to make sure that the page will be ‘entertaining’ and fulfil one of its main purposes, that of being WORTH SHARING.

Note, for a great definition of what an Influencer is, click this link.

Supporting Guest Posts

One important part of this SEO process is to make sure that there are links to the Power Page from trusted sites, but as it can take some time to get an INFUENCER to mention the page or allow a Guest Post on their site, the first thing that needs to be done is to place a well written ‘taster’ post on a High Domain Authority site.

Thus one post (perhaps more) is written and placed on some relevant sites. In most instances this means paying a ‘publishing fee’. Here I must state that there are some SEO’s who think that placing a post on a site that is known to take money for the privilege is worthless. However when you know that high profile sites like the HuffingtonPost take money for Guest posts, you can see that their argument holds little water.

Converting the Influencers

This starts at the website level, where some selected sites are contacted with a view to them mentioning the Power Page or by having a Guest post placed on their site. It need not contain a DO FOLLOW link as we are after traffic as much as link juice, but if they will allow a FOLLOW link then all the better.

It is best if these influences have been contacted and nurtured for some time before you make a request to place a guest post on their site (this also being the case with Social Media Influencers).
Hopefully one of the sites you contact will allow the publication and thus provide you with a link and the potential for a lot of relevant traffic.

Create a Press Release

Press Releases are a well known way of creating a ‘buzz’ in a manner in which Google approves. All the posts are the same of course, but as the links are always NO FOLLOW this does not matter. Google, it is said, really loves press releases and so one pointing to your power page and telling all about how interesting it is and how they should not miss it, is a good idea.

Posting on your Own Social Media Channels

Presuming you have some Social Media accounts, now is the time to start posting about the power page, (although maybe you have been talking about it coming for a few weeks already – another neat trick). Remember that you will have to post again and again here, Social Media posts being, for the most part, short lived, as they are soon replaced with the next tweet and thus scroll off peoples screens. This makes choosing the right time to post important too.

Contacting the Social Media Influencers

Now is the time to start contacting the Social Media Influencers. There are various ways the leaders in a field can be found and once found the ‘nurturing process’ needs to be continued. This process needs to have been started before the power page is posted, the SEO Agency in question having to have commenced this process some time before.

The idea here is to mention that they may be interested in the Power Page’s contents, perhaps also mentioning the Guest Posts that have already been posted and the Press Release. All of this with the aim of getting them to ‘add their weight’ to the campaign.
This is important, as if they can be convinced to mention the power page on their Social Media accounts, the ripples will build and build, all resulting in more traffic and higher rankings.

Monitor and Interact

Hopefully you will have had some comments on your Social Media channels and on the Guest Posts (where the sites allow). It is VITAL that you monitor these and respond as that will only strengthen the whole campaign.

In Conclusion

So there we have it, a brief summary of what SEO is, and how the two main types differ. Hopefully you can see the differences between the two approaches and can understand why SEO carried out ‘by the book’ is such a long, complicated and thus expensive process.

The good news for businesses with shallower pockets is that the ‘basic SEO’ does work in most markets, you just have to choose to approach any highly competitive areas in a cleverer manner, and not try to charge headlong in to get top rankings for highly competitive keyword phrases.

95% of websites are HURTING their Own Google Rankings

We have checked hundreds of websites over the years and the sad fact is that 95% of them are actually doing things that will make it harder (or impossible) to get rankings on Google.

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Is Your Site One of the 95%?

The question that you (as a business website owner) might well be asking is MY site one of the 95%?? Of course, you may not be bothered, thinking that your site’s ‘job’ is just to ‘be there’ when someone wants to check on you. But that is really a waste, your site could be doing so much more than just sitting back, waiting for the occasional visitor…

Brochure Sites

Brochure sites are sites that are just meant to act, well, as an online brochure, a means to impart information about a business to anyone who is interested. They are often just visited by people who having heard about a company (or maybe they met someone at a networking event?) want a bit more information before they contact them for a quote etc.

A Wasted Marketing Opportunity?

This is a good way of using the power of the Internet (saves on a lot of brochure printing for a start), BUT, is it also a wasted opportunity? The thing is here you have a website, full of (hopefully) interesting stuff about your business, the services that you offer and ‘what makes you special’ and yet no great efforts are being made to get more people to read it all. This must be a wasted opportunity, as any one of those visitors (that the site is not getting) could be a potential customer…

So What Are These Sites Doing Wrong?

The fact is that there are many ways that business sites are ‘getting it wrong’ when it comes to getting Google to ‘like’, and thus give their pages a prominent position for a given search term. Some of them are quite basic mistakes too and could easily be fixed with a few clicks (and a little bit of thought).

Some Examples of the Mistakes Sites Make

The Title Tag

You may not notice (although Google always does) this one, as it a bit hidden, but if you take a look at the top of your Internet Browser window, you will see the ‘Title’ information for the page you are looking at. In many cases you will see words like ‘Home’ or ‘About Us’. Whilst not being incorrect (as you would be looking at the Home or About us page), they are not really very informative to the very ‘person’ you really want to impress and that of course is Google.

Think about it, would not a phrase like ‘IT Support Services | Computer Repairs’ ‘tell’ Google a bit more than the word ‘Home’? It really is a no brainer and so very easy to fix….

The Meta Description

When you look at a page you don’t even see this (not even at the top of the Browser), it only being visible in Google’s search results, under the Title and the URL of a site. This might make you think that it is worthless from an SEO point of view, but you would be wrong. It is true that the words in the Description do not have a lot of clout SEOwise, but if you leave the field empty or use the same one on many pages, you run the risk of making the site appear to be ‘lazy’ as far as Google is concerned and that ‘black mark’ could make all the difference when Google has to decide what site to list for a phrase you want to be found for.

Again, a few clicks on the keyboard can make the problem go away.

The Elevator Speech

Another thing you should bear in mind is that a good Description can make all the difference when it comes to getting that all important click from the Google search results. Think of this 160 character text block as your ‘elevator’ speech and create one that would make someone just have to click through to your site, as it is only then that you get a chance to start that dialogue that could result in a sale or enquiry.

The Header Tags

This is another of those things that you will probably not have noticed (and yes you guessed it, Google is looking at this too), other that is that the text might look a bit bigger. But why is the correct use of Header tags important? To explain this I need to give you a bit of a history lesson, it all starting with the way that documents are constructed. This actually goes back to the time that newspapers were laid out using lead type as here the editors had to be able to let the people who were laying out the type which bits were the important, that is, what words (like the Headlines) needed to be big. This was all done using a ‘Header Tag Number ranging from 1 to 6 (or something similar).

This rule set was used when the code that describes how a page would be displayed on Wordprocessors and screens was written , it again being used to control how words would be displayed. This in turn fed through to the language that controls printers and also, most lately, how web pages are rendered by Browsers, this of course being HTML.

The Advent of CSS Styles

In the early days on the Internet there were in fact only a few ways you could control how big the words on a page were, these Header tags being one of them. Today of course you can control the font, size and colour of the text on your webpages using CSS Styles, but the importance of the Header tag lives on as Google still use these to work out which words on a web it should take more notice of, something that is vitally important when trying to get your page to the top of the results.

A Problem With Web Designers

It must be said that most sites use these Header tags, but the problem is they are often used incorrectly, the majority of web designers still using them to control the size of text, often compounding the issue by then using them for such terms as ‘Home’, ‘Contact Us’ or ‘Blog’. Highlighting words like these to Google is useless, far better to use them to point out to Google those words that you want to be found for like ‘IT Support Prices’ or ‘Best Anti Virus Software’.

Putting this right is a little harder than both of the above, but it is still not that big a job and makes your site that bit better in Google’s eyes and thus that bit more likely to get a good listing in their results.

Links – The Popularity Voting System of the Internet

Whilst the majority of the power that links bestow come from links to a site from other sites (so called ‘backlinks’ as they link back to you), the links FROM a webpage to other sites and the INTERNAL links in a site are also important. The first tells Google that you are a part of the community that makes up your market place (as well as pointing them at some other valuable resources, which Google likes to see), whilst the second type helps Google understand what each of your pages is about as well as helping people move about your site. As Google rates sites that offer the best ‘user experience’ higher than others, such internal links can only help.

Incoming Links

Whilst the links to a site cannot be put right by making changes to the site, they are a vital part of the ‘battle’ to get a site listed on Google, accounting for about 40% of the marks that Google allocate when deciding what site to list for what term. However, the fact is that the majority of sites either don’t have the any (or enough) links or have the wrong sort. Both of these can really hinder a sites chances of getting a first page (or any) ranking. Fixing them can take a long time and a lot of work though and has to be done very CAREFULLY.

 

SEMANTIC SEO and the Words on the Page

Semantic SEO is all about making sure that Google understand what a site is all about, thereby ensuring that it’s ‘meaning’ is fully comprehended. This is easier to do than you might think, the major thing to get right being to make sure you use the right words on the page. The right words of course are the words that Google wants to see. The good news is that Google will tell you what these words are, all you have to do is to ask in the right way, this being done by ‘Reverse Engineering‘ the top pages on Google …

Writing the Right Copy

Armed with these words and phrases, and a good understanding of the subject (it helps if you are a genuine expert) you can then write the right copy, adding some images, and if you can audio and video components as you go. Sprinkle some internal and external links at the same time and you have gone a long, long way of cracking this particular nut.

 

Polishing the Spitfire

You may not believe it, but it is said that back in World War 2 they used to polish the photo reconnaissance Spitfires (as well as painting them pink so that they were harder to spot in the dawn or dusk skies) just so that they could gain a few mph, something could make all the difference, life or death in this instance, when being chased by enemy fighters.

If you follow the guidance above and fix any of the items mentioned in the above information, it will in effect polish your website a little, perhaps gaining just enough extra speed to get your site onto Page 1 of Google and thus get the extra traffic that could make all the difference to your business.

 

Need Help With the Polishing?

However, if you need help with the polishing, even if it’s just some assistance in finding out what bits to polish the hardest, please do give us a call. We are here to help and offer a lot of free advice and assistance.

WHAT IS SCIENTIFIC SEO?

First a bit of history about Search Engine Optimisation

SEO can trace its history way back to 1994 when the early pioneers discovered that they could use the Internet to drive traffic to their sites and hence sell their goods. As this idea became more accepted, people started competing with each other for traffic and that meant that they had to ‘convince’ the Search Engine of the day to list their site for appropriate terms.

The Search Engine of the Day has changed over the years, Alta Vista, Ask Jeaves and Yahoo all being the top dog at some time. However, today, the big player is Google and thus that is the engine everyone wants to get listings on, and that of course means you have to understand the rules.

 

The Rules of The Old SEO

The rules that the Search Engines use have altered drastically over the years, as they have become more and more sophisticated. At the start, it was easy to ‘trick’ the Engines, all you needed to do was to stuff the pages with your keywords and get some links to the site (Google’s first stab at SEO was based on something called PageRank which basically is all about the number of links to  a site – and not much else).

These ‘old’ rules however had one big problem, in that the SEO professionals of the day kept finding ways around them and thus the Engines had to keep taking steps to close these ‘holes’ in their rule sets.

This process escalated over the years, especially since 2010, and basically Google decided that enough was enough and decided on a whole new approach, one that could not be
tricked and relied on one thing, perceived quality.

 

The New SEO and Perceived Quality

Today, with the advent of something called ‘SEMANTIC SEO’ (the meaning of a site, what it is really all about), things are a lot different, it being all about the quality of the content of a site.

But Why use the term Perceived Quality?

I use this term as I believe that there are limits to what Google can do, in that its computer algorithms cannot ‘really’ decide on what is real ‘quality’ content and what is not. Also, as mentioned above, links had, and still have a vital role to play in how Google decides what site to list for what.  But it cannot always tell if these links are ‘real’ or have been created, thus in all cases Google looks at a page/site and decides (using it’s rule sets) if it is quality or not.

This is why I say it is the quality that Google perceives in a site that is important. So how can you convince Google that your content is good enough to get a top ranking??

The Rules of the NEW SEO in Detail

Despite all the changes that have taken place in the world of SEO since 1994, but all of them are based on four things, one of these only recently coming to the fore.

The Four Things SEO is and was Based Upon

 Site Construction

The way a site is built is important as if it is constructed in the wrong way then Google cannot (or may just not want to be bothered to) find all the pages in a site. Also if the site is built in such a way that it is very slow, or is not mobile friendly, then too Google will downgrade the site in various ways.

One thing that does not cause so much of a problem today is that of the ‘Code to Text’ ratio (the amount of code that is used to build a site versus the number of words visible to the visitor). In the old days, too much ‘construction code’ was an issue, but today, with the advent of WordPress and the like, Google has been ‘forced’ to ignore this area, virtually all sites being very code heavy.

You MUST however ensure that the site can easily be navigated, a failure in that department being very serious indeed. Plus you should also use a fair number of internal links (not just the navigation) to highlight to Google what each page is about.

Words, Pictures and Videos

This is the area most affected by the new SEMANTIC SEO, it being vitally important to use all the ‘right’ words in a page. Gone are the days of just stuffing a page with the words you want to be found for. Today you need to understand what words Google wants to see and then make sure you include them in the copy, also making sure that you include pictures and where possible audio and video content on the page.

Reverse Engineering is the Key

This is where reverse engineering can help, the idea being that if you know what words are being used on the top pages (for a given term) then by including them (using correct grammar of course, as this is also checked) you must be getting closer to the perfect page.

Links

In the early days of SEO Links were vitally important, in fact they could, all by themselves get a page listed. However, today things have changed a lot. Links are still important counting for some 40% of the reason for a site getting a rank, but they are not as all powerful as they used to be.

Google is Watching You

Besides not being as important as they used to be, the links to a site are now carefully checked by Google. Their aim?, to make sure that the links to a site are ‘natural’ and not all built by an SEO company (although they know of course that the practice goes on all the time).

This checking is carried out by Google, the process being labelled as ‘Penguin’. Basically this checks a sites linking structure to see if it complies with the ‘rules’ and is hence seen to be natural. Here the number of links using the domain or URL of the site as the anchor text (the bit we humans click on) are checked, as are the number of links using ‘money words’ (the terms that a site wants to be found for) and those ‘noise’ links, like ‘see this site’, or ‘click here’. If the balance is not right, or they seem to have been created too fast, then a site can be heavily penalised.

This means that a site’s links have to be built very carefully over time and not all in a rush.

Social Media

This is very new in SEO terms and the amount of ‘power’ that social media chit chat, comments on Facebook and Twitter provide is not fully understood. In my view, the importance of Social Media is more to do with other marketing channels, but nevertheless, obtaining links via things like ‘Social Bookmarks’ can be useful.

Putting it All Together – Scientific SEO

So, what does all this mean?? Basically, it means that you must

 

  1. Find the words you want your site to be found for – KEYWORD RESEARCH
  2. Find the words you need to include in the copy of the page(s) using Reverse Engineering – CONTENT RESEARCH
  3. Build the links to the site, CAREFULLY
  4. If you can get some Social Media comments going (more important for sites selling direct to the public than B2B sites)
  5. Monitor the progress and make changes to improve matters further

 

 

I hope this helps you understand how the matter of SEO has to be approached today.

Semantic SEO and Google, the (not so) Blind Man

In some of my previous posts, and when discussing SEO with my clients, I’ve often alluded to Google being like a blind man in a department store. I used this analogy as, without some help, both the man and Google could easily get lost and not be sure that they were in the right place.

In the case of the blind man, this would result in him leaving the store without making a purchase (perhaps never to return); in Google’s case it could mean that they will not understand what the site is really all about. This could be catastrophic as far as getting rankings for just about anything is concerned.

Leaving signposts on your web pages

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Of course, in a store you have Braille signs, but what is the equivalent on a website? The answer is of course the Meta Title, Description and Header tags of the pages. Using these to inform Google about the content of the pages is a great first step; even though it’s very much part of the ‘Old SEO’ it’s still vital today.

Google ‘the not so blind man’ and old and new SEO

Even with all of its power and the new SEO practices that it’s forcing us all to follow, Google is still like a blind man in that it needs help to ensure that it gets the right end of the proverbial stick. There is however a huge difference between Google of old and the one that is evolving before our eyes.

If you’re of a certain age, you may remember the TV series Kung Fu. In it, David Carradine stared as a Shaolin monk (Kwai Chang Caine) who, through the training he received, became a martial arts expert. However, it’s not David that’s interesting here, but his mentor, Master Po. Po was totally blind, yet he could ‘see’ everything, pointing out the grasshopper at the feet of the young Kwai Chang – something the latter, even with his perfect vision, had missed.

Today, Google is like Master Po: it can’t see everything, but it can see a lot and all that it does see is taken into account when considering what site to rank for what. But it’s vitally important to understand how it is planning (and to some degree already is) to use this enormous amount of data. That’s because this is the big difference between old and new SEO.

Old SEO equals keyword matching

To be fair, old SEO was more than simply matching a keyword phrase to the ‘best’ sites for that term; even the old systems had 200 or so ‘factors’ that were taken into account. But in the end, it was mostly to do with how well the ‘signposts’ you placed on a site (be they in the Titles, Headers or copy, not to mention all those links) matched the keyword phrase; that’s what really counted.

This of course led to gaming of the system. SEO companies would alter the pages of a site to SHOUT the target keywords to Google. And to reinforce the message they’d create thousands of links to reinforce the message. Pages without any real merit reached the top of the listings and Google came out with more and more rules to try to combat the situation. It was a time of new trick after new trick, with each one being found out and the gains it had brought removed. But it worked, and to some degree still does.

The days of Old SEO are numbered

Google, it seems, concluded that it wasn’t going to continue with this ‘arms race’. Instead, it would change the game entirely. In my view, it didn’t do this out of spite; I believe Google just wanted to ensure that it would always be able to pick the best sites for any phrase and never be tricked again.

This was no mean task, but Google has a plan based on the fact that, instead of just matching keywords to sites, they will (try to) look beyond the words to the meaning of the search phrase – in other words, what you or I, as searchers, are really looking for.

This was one of the reasons for the introduction of the Hummingbird update (technically this was more like changing the engine than replacing a part of it, but let’s call it an update for simplicity). In doing so, Google wanted to be better able to understand what people wanted when they used the new Voice Search feature on smartphones. (By the way, according to the experts, the reason for this is that people express things differently when speaking, compared to when they write them down.)

The reason it’s called Semantic SEO

This leads nicely to the reason this whole process is called Semantic SEO. Semantic is a Greek word that means ‘meaning’. As Google is trying to work out what the intent (and what it really means) behind a search phrase is, this has led to the whole process being called Semantic SEO.

Google does more than just try to work out what the real user intent behind a search phrase is. In order to come up with matches in its database of sites, it must also understand the real meaning of any page. To do this, it must work out what the content is trying to say; that is, how it can help, inform and entertain.

It is thus vital to understand what message you are trying to put across with any content. You can read more advice on this in the next post.

But how does Semantic SEO work?

This is the big question for anyone who wants the best rankings possible for any relevant search phrases. But it’s here that we hit the first real change. You see, even though keywords still have their importance, they’re not the be-all and end-all that they used to be. That’s because Google no longer relies on simple keyword matching.

So, if Google isn’t using the words on pages to decide what it should list, what is it using? This is where it gets tricky to explain; basically, Google will look at the information, the real meaning of a page and the site it is part of, and the purpose behind its creation. It will also look at what others say about it (and on it in the case of comments) before deciding if this matches the meaning behind the search phrase.

Being found when you’re not even being searched for

This is what Serendipitous Search is all about. It’s another another huge change to the old SEO because Google is now more of an ‘answer engine’ that provides suggestions for sites it thinks might be useful – even though they don’t include the keywords being searched for.

The more you make your site answer the questions and needs of your potential customers, the more Google traffic you will give you.

 

Semantic SEO and the feedback loop

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This is another very interesting (and potentially scary) thing about the new Google. Not only does it look at the words on pages, their meaning, links to and from a page, and social media comments (as well as who made them). Google also looks at the data it has gleaned from the billions of searches it makes every day and sees how each one went.

This means that every time a site is listed, Google can tell how popular that site was from the CTR (click-through rate) to the site. It has been using this methodology for years with Pay per click (AdWords); adverts getting the best CTR are charged less than those with low CTR. With organic listings there is of course no payment. But if a site’s Title and Description don’t get people to click on the link, Google will eventually notice and simply stop giving that page a listing for that term. You can imagine that, if this happens too often, a whole site could just disappear from the rankings. So beware and do check the CTR in your Webmaster Tools.

There’s more too. You see, a site could well have a really great Title and wonderful descriptive text causing all who see it to click through. You might think that’s good news, but if the site doesn’t live up to the visitor’s expectations and they click back to Google to try again, Google will notice this – and conclude that, for that term at least, the site doesn’t deliver the goods. As with poor CTR, this could eventually lead to the site not being listed at all.

Google will also use the feedback process to ‘learn’ what people want to see in the first place, which helps it understand what the meaning of the search was really likely to be about. This allows Google to make its best guess about what sites it should list for any term, and then just sit back and wait to see how people react. If they click on a site and don’t bounce, then they’ve got it right. But if they bounce they haven’t, so Google ‘learns’ with every decision searchers make. What’s more, it will never forget and will keep updating its knowledge all the time. Spooky, eh?

There’s more too. You see, a site could well have a really great Title and wonderful descriptive text causing all who see it to click through. You might think that’s good news, but if the site doesn’t live up to the visitor’s expectations and they click back to Google to try again, Google will notice this – and conclude that, for that term at least, the site doesn’t deliver the goods. As with poor CTR, this could eventually lead to the site not being listed at all.

Google will also use the feedback process to ‘learn’ what people want to see in the first place, which helps it understand what the meaning of the search was really likely to be about. This allows Google to make its best guess about what sites it should list for any term, and then just sit back and wait to see how people react. If they click on a site and don’t bounce, then they’ve got it right. But if they bounce they haven’t, so Google ‘learns’ with every decision searchers make. What’s more, it will never forget and will keep updating its knowledge all the time. Spooky, eh?

The above process is made even more powerful by the fact that, just as Google can deduce what a page or a site is about (and therefore what answers and information it gives), when it really does satisfy a user it can then deduce the original intent. This is yet another part of the great feedback loop.

Semantic SEO and gaming the system

As we’ve seen, it’s the copy and how well the message and meaning of a site is put across to Google and any visitor, that really counts in the end. The former to get a listing in the first place; the latter, in effect, to keep it.

There is, of course, more to convincing Google than the copy, though I think this will take the lion’s share. Inbound and outbound linking, the social media signal and the level of interaction (including sharing) are also major factors.

Although it may be possible to game the system by creating a bigger social signal than the site really deserves, the experts’ view is that this will be more and more difficult, with Google looking at each person who comments or Likes, then deciding if they’re real or not. If they are one of the millions of fake profiles set up in the past, they will count for nothing, and may even damage a site.

Thus under the intense scrutiny of Google, it may be as hard and unproductive to create huge amounts of social signal as the process of creating thousands of worthless links…

This doesn’t mean that a small quantity of such links and signal are useless. Both can ‘prime the pump’ a little so the real power of the site is allowed to shine through. If this is the case, a small level of gaming (or old-fashioned SEO work) still looks as if it will be worthwhile.

However, if the page or site in question doesn’t really deserve a high ranking, it will eventually be denied one when people tell Google that it’s no good via low CTR’s and high bounce rates. Therefore, the whole process depends on having a site that answers visitors’ needs. And that means high quality, useful content delivered via words, pictures and video.

The new Semantic SEO

So what will the new SEO process look like? In my view it will still start with the keyword phrase. After all, this is the start of the process and can’t be ignored. The next stage is to try to work out which words are likely to be used by someone who has the intent to react with your site in the way you’d want. This could be to buy something, or simply to understand that you could help them with their problem or needs.

Once you’ve decided on these words, you can reverse engineer the Google results to see what sorts of words it likes to see.

Combine this data with the questions that are being asked, and the problems that your site solves, and you have the recipe for a perfect page that answers people’s needs and uses the words Google expects to see. Interestingly, the latter neatly covers the area of LSI (Latent Sematic Indexing) – without all the effort.

Once this page is created, and you’ve placed all the standard ‘blind man signposts’ on it, you can proceed to getting it noticed via old-fashioned links and social media.

As you can see, the above includes some old SEO practices, this being for the simple reason that they’re still as relevant and required as they were several years ago.

The biggest change and the greatest challenges are to understand what you should write about and post on a site, and how you can generate the necessary signal on Social Media. I’ll cover this in my next post.

The new SEO and the part that it plays today

There has been a lot of talk about SEO being dead over recent months, but in my view, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “reports of SEO’s death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Why am I so sure about this? Well to use an expression that is said to have been used by the famous Sherlock Holmes (but never was it seems) it’s ‘Elementary my dear Watson’, because quite simply ‘Google Needs Help’ to reach it’s own goal of listing the best sites for any given search term.

Google Needs Help in Deciding What Sites to List

This, some may say is a bit of a bold statement, but when you come to think of it, it’s totally true and always has been. It may actually be even truer today, as Google have stated that they want to list sites with ‘Good Content’. They go on to say that one of the ways they ‘decide’ on what ‘good is’ is by seeing how many times the content has been shared, and of course this ‘sharing’ needs people to take an action and ‘share’ ,  ‘like’ or link to a site’s content.

The Old Old SEO

If you go back in time in SEO, it was all very simple, you just keyword stuffed a page, and then built lots and lots of links to it, this was enough to get any page listed, but that was a long time ago indeed and so  much has changed.

The Old SEO

Moving forwards in time a little, we see that it was Links that were the ‘silver bullet’ some people going so far as to say that they could get a blank page into the listings purely by the power of the links. One example of this was the ‘Google Bomb’ a technique that was used to get Google to come up with sites referring to George W Bush if you searched for ‘miserable failure’. This won’t work now of course, Google making changes back in 2007 to make sure that Links themselves would not work this way anymore. It however did work then and is an example of how Google took note of links.

The Arrival of Social Media

The arrival of Social Media however really changed the whole area of SEO, many of the ‘brownie points’ that Google gives to sites being re-allocated from the areas of On Page SEO and Links to Social Media ‘Chatter’.

This is really the change that you need to take into account, regardless of whether your business is active in Social Media or not, as just because you are not ‘talking about yourself’ does not mean that others are not (this by the way is another topic and is all about Brand Management / Protection, more on this another time).

Social Media Signal

It is this ‘Social Media Signal’ that is the real ‘killer’ today, Google ‘Wanting’ to see comments about a sites content in Twitter, Facebook  on the Social Bookmarking sites etc, as this in their view means that the pages must be interesting.

Content Marketing

However, it is not ‘good enough’ these days to just have good content on your site, you also need (especially in tough market places) to have interesting information on other sites, this process being known as ‘Content Marketing’. But even here it is not enough just to post this data, you have to make sure that this ‘shared content’ is itself ‘shared’ on Social Media sites.

How this Helps Google Decide to List Your Pages

This is of course the crux of the matter, as once you understand what you need to do to ‘help’ Google you will understand why SEO is still so very important…

Google the Blind Man

I believe that Google is much the same as a blind man in a department store, sure he will find the right department given time, but if he is helped, he’ll find it a lot faster (and perhaps before he just leaves) and be ‘happier’ when he does.

Helping Google find the right pages on a site starts with making sure that the site is well built and is structured to be ‘Search Engine Friendly’ (you would be surprised just how often sites are not built the right way even today). This includes, but is not restricted to, using the right Titles and Header tags for the pages. These together with a site map really helps Google know what the pages are about and where to find them.

Then there is the Links to a site. These are not anything like as powerful as they used to be, but they still count. You do however have to be careful as Google has many rules covering the linking arena .

Lastly, but not least we have the Social Signal mentioned above.

But What Part Does ‘Modern’ SEO  Play?

First, SEO means keyword research, as it is this that drives the On Page SEO (the words on the pages). Following the SEO rules then ensures that the site is built with the Search Engines in mind (so that all the pages can be found and SHOUT the right words).

Links are next on the agenda. Now whilst Google only really wants  to see links that are built by independent reviewers / visitors to a site and not by the site owner (or their agents), this is not always possible as people often won’t find a site unless it is listed on and Engine, so it really is a chicken and egg situation.

This means that the pump must be primed a little to start with at least, links being created by ‘artificial’ means. This is of course not liked by Google, but they know that it goes not and will turn a blind eye unless it is done in totally the wrong manner.

The New SEO’s real difference to the Old (and really old) SEO is that of Social Media.

As Google looks for social signal (the sharing / liking / bookmarking of sites) it is not surprising to find that today there is a huge industry whose one aim is to artificially create social signal to a site’s content or to its shared content. At the moment, in my view this is going a bit crazy and Google will no doubt put into place some checks and balances, so any work today has to be done carefully, but there is no doubt of its importance.

All the above helps the blind man

All of the three areas of the NEW SEO help the blind man find your site’s pages and what is more important understand what they are about and to at least ‘believe’ that they are ‘liked’ by others and are worthy of listing.

I hope that by now you will understand that SEO is far from dead as Google still needs help in deciding what pages to list for what.

If you would like to discuss your requirements, or just want to know a bit more, then please do contact us, we’ll be pleased to help.

 

What Makes A Great Facebook Post?

There is a lot of talk on the web today about Social Media and how it is the new SEO, the new way to get traffic to any website. Such talk is perhaps fuelled by the number of businesses that are leaping onto the Social Media bandwagon in huge numbers.

With this in mind I have just created a page on the SOM website to fill in some blanks about Facebook and Edgerank

Here’s an excerpt:-

Facebook is a Complex Beast !

Facebook is however a much more complex beast and requires a much more formulised approach.

One of the first things that you have to contend with is the matter of Edgerank as your score here will directly influence the power of your posts. As Edgerank is itself a measure on how good your posts are, getting this right results in a truly virtuous circle, good posts resulting in a higher Edgerank, that in turn leads to more people seeing them, which in turn results in a higher Edgerank and so on.

It is obvious then that you must use Facebook in a manner that produces the best possible Edgerank, which means that you :

  1. Should post frequently (thus reducing the negative influence of the ‘Time Decay’ factor)
  2. Should create posts that appeal to the reader so that they ‘Like’, ‘Comment’ or ‘Share’ them (this increases the positive effect of the ‘Affinity’ factor)

  3. Should write posts that where possible engage the readers enough to Comment on them as this has a higher ‘Affinity’ weight.

Getting this right will increase the Edgerank of a brand and thus cause more and more people to see any post, which if they do engage those readers in the right way WILL increase brand awareness and thus sales. The extra ‘Social Signal’ created also has the added advantage of improving Google results, the impact of all these people ‘talking about’ a brand/domain name being something that they cannot ignore.

http://www.serendipity-online-marketing.co.uk/Facebook-Edgerank.asp

Why We Should Stop Worrying About Google Updates!

Google Updates, they strike fear into many an SEO professional and worry some website owners to death. The former stress out because if they have been doing things the wrong way they can lose the rankings they have previously gained for their customers..

The latter worry because they rely so much on the traffic (and thus sales) they get via Google.

Both are very understandable, but is all this worry justified…..

We had the opportunity to attend the Search Marketing Expo a few weeks ago. What a slam-dunk, home run, and overall Why We Should Stop Worrying About Google Updates image GoogleUpdateAnimals 300x213awesome conference it was! It was chock-full of industry leaders, including SEO celebrities like Google’s Matt Cutts, Bing’s Duane Forrester and Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan. After sitting though hours of panels and conversations, and sending out many, many tweets, we’ve got a new perspective on the world of SEO.

So what was one of the main takeaways from Search Marketing Expo? We should stop worrying about Google algorithm updates. That’s right, STOP. Let it go, no more stressing, take a chill pill and relax.

Phew. Doesn’t that feel better? We thought it would. Now here’s why you can stop stressing about Google updates:

After years of fearing, sometimes bashing, and even groveling on our knees to Google, we’ve come to terms with the fact that they (Google) are the good guys. Their goal is to serve up the best results for searchers. And, when it comes down to it, they’re not out to hurt you or your website. If you don’t commit black hat SEO, buy links, or spin weak content, then put your mind at ease. If you spend time thinking about how the user will experience your site, you’re on the right and same track as Google. If you have a strong following on different social media channels, it demonstrates that you’re trusted and have more authority. This in turn signals to Google and Bing what their searchers might want to see more of in search results.

Danny Sullivan, from Search Marketing Land, posed this question to a room full of eager SEO pros during one jam-packed session: “Who here worries about Google updates?” Everyone’s hand shot up. Then Sullivan asked, “Who has been hit by a Google penalty?” 99% of the hands in the room dropped.

That got the wheels turning in our heads. If we care about our user’s experience, don’t spam or do other stuff frowned on by Google, then why do we need to worry? It’s like speeding on the freeway. If you don’t do it, you don’t need to worry about the cops pulling you over!

Read more at http://www.business2community.com/seo/why-we-should-stop-worrying-about-google-updates-0453778#HzbJiDvQskHbTHWU.99

My take is very much in line with this article. Do things the right way, make your site interesting and informative and get some good links in too (Plus Social Mentions if you can / its applicable) and your rankings will be safe. Do anything else and you could be in trouble.

The choice is yours…

Running Competitions For Traffic Generation

If you are looking to create traffic to a site then running a competition could be a great way to go. I have heard numerous stories about the effect these have had on increasing traffic and Facebook ‘Likes’ and ‘Shares’ so I am pretty confident in suggesting to my customers that they give it a go. There are however a few rules that need to be followed and it needs to be carefully planned and it all needs to be followed up in the right way.

As with the area of Social Media, this means that it will take a deal of time to do ‘the right way’ but from what I have seen it could certainly be worth it!

Running a Competition for Traffic

If you are looking to generate extra traffic to your website look no further, competitions can do that, but there are few important points when your goal is specifically to bring traffic to your site:

  1. Include competition information back on your website
  2. Ensure entrants must visit your site in order to enter
  3. Link back to your site whenever you promote the competition!

Why?

The first question to ask yourself is why are you running a competition at all? What is your goal? What you are hoping to achieve? Although I am specifically going to write about running a competition to increase traffic to your site, the basics of running a competition are very similar with just minor tweaks to achieve different goals. Other reasons to run competitions:

  • To build links
  • To build brand awareness
  • To increase social followers
  • To get rid of surplus stock
  • To promote a specific product or service
  • To build an email list

What?

What are you going to give away? The prize is a vitally important component to any successful competition and will be heavily influenced by the above reason for running. For the purpose of increasing traffic there are no real limits to what you could offer. That said, there are a few top tips I would give for selecting a great competition prize. I’m not a huge fan of the extremely obvious – money, iPad/Pods etc, etc so try to do something different:

  1. Be creative in your prize selection
  2. Offer something unique
  3. Make sure it’s related to your niche
  4. It doesn’t have to be expensive

After running numerous competitions in various industries, above all I have found that a prize highly relevant to the website you are promoting almost always brings the best results.

See the full story at: http://www.koozai.com/blog/branding/using-competitions-for-increased-traffic-links-and-brand-awareness/

As for SOM, we are going to be suggesting this to our customers, running competitions on both Facebook and via their sites.

Best of luck if you try one and I do hope you are a WINNER!

Pinterest – Useful for SEO, Yes or No?

As this interesting blog/article states, there is a lot of talk about how important Pinterest is in the area of Online Marketing. It also usefully points out that Pinterest may not be for all, and that it some cases it could just be a waste of time.

I can see their point, in that as far as getting traffic goes, the site will only really work  well in a small number of cases, in others the user base of Pinterest will simply not be interested.

However, with Google (and no doubt the other Engines) taking note of the number of times images on a site are ‘pinned’ the site may still well be useful in getting better SERPS rankings, simply because the site get’s some more points because of the higher ‘Social Media Signal’ that these pins result in.

I reckon the jury is out myself, but am taking no chances for my customer base and intend to try to use the medium for them to the best possible effect.

See the full interesting article on Pinterest and SEO

So, I’d like to take a moment to point out some scenarios where using Pinterest might not be the best choice for your brand.

 

  1. Your products and services aren’t visually compelling—Pinterest is all about interesting photos, graphics, and videos. Take a look at the stuff people are pinning. It’s typically pictures of pretty food, pretty clothes, pretty people, and pretty crafts. Do your products and services fit well within this visual wonderland? If they don’t lend themselves to being eye candy, maybe Pinterest isn’t right for your business.
  2. Your target audience isn’t young women—The average Pinterest user is a young adult female with a college education. Is this your ideal customer? Is this the person you want to spend your time and energy targeting? If not, why would you be on Pinterest?
  3. You’re not in the right industry—Companies who are in the fashion, food, beauty, home and garden, and arts and crafts industries tend to be the most successful on Pinterest. Again, this goes back to these companies having products that are visually appealing. If your company isn’t in one of these industries, you might want to think twice before getting on Pinterest.
  4. You don’t have time for building a Pinterest presence—If you want to build your brand with the help of Pinterest, you better be prepared for an ongoing commitment. Just slapping up a Pinterest page isn’t going to cut it. You have to spend time each day pinning interesting content and interacting with your audience. You won’t see results overnight. Heck, you might not see results for a long time, if at all. So don’t jump into this without being truly committed.

As to our Pinterest account, I intend to pin lots of images from my customers sites, all carefully tagged (see my blog on Pinterest tagging) and also intend to add some of my own photo’s to my SEO site, as this may too help in gaining traffic and SEO points.

Pinterest and Ancient SEO Methods

Anyone not living under a rock will have noticed the rise of Pinterest, a site that in reality allows you to find images you like and collect them (re pin them) to your own collection. It also allows you to sub divide your pictures into different groups (boards), which makes things all much easier use.

Of course the Online Marketers have spotted this as a means to get traffic, and the word is out that Google etc take the number of times images from a site are ‘pinned’ when deciding who to rank for what, this being in essence another ‘Social Signal’.

Traffic for sites is generated as if anyone clicks on an image, whether it be in its original location or a repinned one, it takes the user to the site it was originally copied from. This means that if you sell courses on digital photography and use a good photograph to ‘catch’ users then you have a very high chance of getting a click through to your site, this perhaps resulting in a sale.

The Pinterest site of course relies on the ‘tagging’ of images by people, when they are pinned (or re-pinned) to a board. These tags are used in two ways, the first being to inform the viewer what the image is about, where it was taken etc.

There is however another way that these tags could be used, this being all to do with capturing the searches that are made by users on the system, in much the same way as try to do in Google. Thus in the above example of digital photography courses, using such words like ‘basic photo editing tips’ :-

This photo was used in
http://pinterest.com/CatarinaRegina/blogging/
the image itself linking to:-

http://lisaedoff.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/photoshop-tutorial-learn-basic-photo.html

Where the full story is laid out and where sales can be made.

It goes to say then, that using the right descriptions could make all the difference to a image being found and re-pinned or not. This is important, as it is this ‘finding and re-pinning’ that generate the click throughs’ (and those ‘social signal points’) that will result in traffic and sales.

Ancient Methods?

In the distant past of SEO on the web, it was a common trick to use strings of words like ‘sex, sex, sex’ to get traffic (although I cannot see this being very relevant for most sites) so I was wondering, purely for research of course, what would happen if you searched for the term ‘nudes’, this being a image site an all.

It was therefore quite a surprise to me to find a whole host of images come up for this ‘tag’, many of them nothing to do with this term at all, there being pictures of nail varnish and shoes.

Ok most of the images were in skin tones but in my view they should have used the tags like ‘skin toned shoes’ or ‘nude toned nail varnish’ and not just ‘nudes’ as this in my view is just trying to capture the sort of searches that were being sought all those years ago.

I’m sure it won’t last and that the tagging of images will improve as time goes by, at least I hope so for all concerned.