We were recently at a conference where people were discussing what it was they “did” to help companies.
Chris mentioned we “did SEO” and there was an audible groan from the rest of the people there.
It could be that they simply didn't like Chris.
It's a fair point. He's tall, unnaturally so, and he has a very big chin. He looks a bit like Anton Du Becke, but he can't dance at all.
It can put people off.
But maybe it's because people still don't understand what it means.
Some still think it's a proper “dark art” that involves manipulating very technical aspects of a website in order to fool Google.
It's not. It's actually very simple.
It takes a long time, but I guarantee it's easier than doing your accounts.
What does “SEO” mean?
The term “SEO” simply means “Search Engine Optimisation,” and as a description of the work involved these days is actually quite wrong.
In the early 2000s when search engines were first becoming popular, the term appeared more and more, and it was used to describe the work involved in getting a website to appear in the search results for a particular keyword.
Back then, getting ranked was a lot easier. You merely had to have your chosen keywords on the page more than your competitor.
The problem was, this often made the content unnatural.
You also needed to have your keyword and description meta tags populated with the same keywords, and within days your site would appear at the top.
Essentially, if you had one more keyword mention on your page than the other guy, yours was above his.
These tactics haven’t worked since around 2003.
However, the “meta tag” term is still banded around as if it’s relevant to search results. It’s not.
There are also other tactics that simply don't work.
Here are some more:
So, what works now?
The old method of SEO, simply putting more mentions of keywords on a page, was open to abuse.
You could find out what the most popular search was at any particular time and simply put these keywords on your page and before you know it, you were number one.
It was quite possible for a website selling cars to appear in the top ten of searches for the term “Britney Spears” – this is obviously inaccurate.
Google changed all this, and they patented a system which, even though it’s been tweaked heavily since then, still forms the fundamental basis of how websites are ranked today.
Put simply, Google wants to give results that include websites which are popular.
How does it decide whether a website is popular?
There are apparently over 200 ranking factors, that is, measurements that Google makes to decide where to rank your website for a search term.
You only have control over a handful of them. There is literally no point in trying to reverse engineer or understand the others, they change constantly. It’s estimated there were over 500 changes last year alone.
However, there are two which stand out as being the most powerful methods:
The number of visitors to your site and the number of links pointing to it.
These two methods are closely related because by building links, you should get more visitors. By getting more visitors, your website becomes more popular, and when it becomes more popular, it will appear higher in the search results.
So it would appear that the best way to solve this problem is with links.
A few years back, this was certainly the case, and any old links would work. In fact, companies were created simply to build links for websites, and they would get you thousands.
What’s a link, though?
The Internet is built on links.
When you visit a web page, you’ll see a menu, or images or text that takes you somewhere else. This concept hasn’t changed since it was created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989.
The idea was that if you were reading a document, if there was a term you needed more information on, you could click on it and you would be presented with another document that explained it more.
These days it could be a document that describes the most common problems with a computer, with links to more detailed explanations of each problem, or a “this day in history” page with links to individual information on each subject.
When Google worked simply by counting links, you can see how this could easily be abused.
It was easy to rank a website within weeks by asking a company to build you these links, often from websites they themselves had created, and frequently using automated software and sometimes using computer generated nonsense text on a page.
Of course, this meant that the system was being “gamed” and Google stopped it.
Google has probably the largest database of websites on the planet, and they can work out which ones are good, and which are bad, and they could easily detect where people had used paid for links to manipulate their search ranking.
Websites that had got involved in this practice found themselves suddenly disappearing from the search results.
Search Engine Optimisation suddenly became very difficult.
How could you build links now without invoking the ire of Google?
The answer was simple – journalism.
The term “content marketing” has been around for years, well before the Internet, but it now more accurately describes what SEO companies do when they’re looking to increase the visibility of your website.
To make a website popular, it must have those valuable links, but the links need to be from articles and content that people find interesting and useful.
The content also needs to be relevant. If it’s entertaining, too, then even better.
This serves two purposes:
If you can publish your content on a popular website that has a lot of visitors, then those visitors are more likely to visit your website – increasing its popularity.
And, the link from that website will itself serve as a signal to Google, and it will help your ranking improve.
The big change is in quantity vs quality.
You no longer need to have hundreds or thousands of links to outrank your competitors, just a couple of links could do it, if they’re good ones.
What type of links though?
The great thing is, you don’t have to just create articles, there are other ways to get links that are popular and will bring you visitors.
You could create videos, or PDF documents like e-books, or even presentations.
The fact is, users of the Internet are hungry for information, so they are willing to search for and consume anything they can find.
And what subjects?
The key is to stick to your own subject and know what it is you want to achieve.
If you’re a car sales company, then you can help people with all things car related. You need to become the one person that people will come to when they want to find out about cars.
When you become that person, you will become popular. Your website ranking will improve, and you’ll get more customers.
How do we do it here?
One of the most common methods of getting links is by forming close bonds with popular websites, and their owners.
We use a process known as “blogger outreach” to get in touch with bloggers and ask them if they’d be willing to host our articles.
We also stick to some very strict rules:
- The website needs to be relevant. There’s no point having an article about car maintenance or plumbing on a sewing website.
- The links need to be natural. The link off to our target website needs to be helpful, and not just ‘shoehorned’ in.
- We won’t pay for links. We’re quite willing to pay for a quality article, but we don’t pay for the link itself.
We also create videos, slideshows and other content that can be shared on popular sites in order to build on the popularity of the websites we’re working on.
It’s an incredibly time-consuming job, however it works.
This manual process ensures that we’re getting the best links that suit Google but, importantly, will have a positive effect on the ranking of the websites we’re working on.