SEO (or “Search Engine Optimisation” if you unravel it) can be roughly translated as:
doing what we can to improve how our website ranks in search engines such as Google
(This article is part of my ongoing ‘Business Guide to Websites‘ series.)
Google & Search Engines
But before we delve deeper we ought to have a quick, simplified tour on how search engines (such as Google or Microsoft’s Bing) work.
- Google stumbles on your website and robotically scans all the pages on it. This is called indexing or spidering and this is performed by a special program called a robot or a spider (see note *2 at bottom of the page).
- The robot analyses all of the information it finds
- It also considers off-site factors (eg other websites which link to you)
Google then takes all of this mish mash of information and works out how relevant your website is to certain phrases which people search on.
Keywords and search phrases
We all use Google and, if we go to a search engine and type, for example, “South Wales Twitter Training” then what we have entered is generally called the “search phrase“.
The flip side of search phrases are the keywords which search engines find in the text and code of our website pages. Please note that keywords is a bit of a red herring here; really you should consider them as keyphrases (consisting of more than one word).
So if we think big picture for the moment, a key goal is to try and make our website appear for relevant Google searches; do this and we tune our website into what people are looking for. But how do we do this?
Let’s look a little deeper at that previous example:
As of today (29th of July), my website is on top (*3)
Why is this?
Well, Google must have indexed my site and, based on their secret ranking mechanisms, decided that this page is the most relevant to that search phrase.
But what did Google see on that page which they liked so much?
Let’s take a look at couple of factors (in no particular order):
- The page name is “/seminars-training-and-workshops/“; search engines like to see keywords in page names(*1).
- There is a hidden bit of text called the “title“; on this page this is set to “South Wales Seminars, Training and Workshops“. Google like the title.
- The page copy itself contains lots of references to training, workshops & wales. Pretty obvious but you’d be amazed how many people’s websites are not focussed with their copy.
- The page is quite established & has possibly been linked to from a wide variety of sources.
There are other factors at play here but hopefully you can see that we have a sensible web page with relevant copy which is useful to website visitors(*4). In short, the page is highly “relevant“.
The Dark Side: Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt
Chances are that you’ve had someone ring your business and say “we’ve looked at your website and we have spotted mistakes which are holding you back online. We work with Google & can guarantee you top listings in Google“.
Ok, let’s take this apart with a scalpel…
“we’ve looked at your website:”
They probably have not looked at your website at all; or, no further than getting your phone number. They almost certainly have not taken time to analyse your website (and I doubt that they have any skill to do so anyway). They are playing on a pretty low marketing tactic; fear.
“We’ve spotted some mistakes…”
Sorry, what exactly does this company know about your online or offline marketing strategy? How, without any knowledge of that, how do they feel qualified to propose a solution? If a doctor did that he’d be struck off.
“We work with Google.”
Sorry, no, they don’t. Jog on. They may have a qualification from one of Google’s training schools but this is not that same as working with/for Google. Don’t lie. Didn’t their parents teach them anything?
“We can guarantee you top listings in Google“
This is the worst lie of all. Because it is built on a half truth. However, let’s start with the basics – the normal, free, organic, website listings in Google cannot be bought – so you cannot guarantee top listing. Perhaps you can do research, and spot that your competitors are weak for a web search term, and perhaps you can work hard to improve your website’s performance for that term, and perhaps you are damn pretty sure that the website changes will make a big difference – but guaranteeing top spot? No, that smells fishy.
Why is there a half-truth at the heart of this? Well, because of that fact that you can buy adverts on the Google search result pages; these are called Adwords and they work by people bidding on keywords. However Adwords are nothing to do with SEO(*5) and nothing to do with any supposed flaws on your website. You are typically charged per click. So, these so called SEO expert companies ringing up and making promises? They are typically doing this via Adwords.
You may say: but I don’t care, they are getting me higher up Google! Well yeah, sort of true BUT they are probably using the worst type of tactics to bid for keywords, biding on the wrong keywords, not looking to see if your website is able to convert any extra traffic. The worst part about these solutions is that they kid the client into thinking that they are taking action when really they are just wasting hundreds or thousands of pounds each month. This is not a web strategy.
It’s not all bad news…
I’m not saying that all such companies who ring up like this are that bad but, in my experience it’s a lot! Quality web strategy and internet consultancy companies don’t tend to cold call using fear tactics.
And I’m not saying that SEO is meaningless. Many ethical companies, like mine, will bake the core of SEO into their client’s websites and will explain to the client when additional expert services such as SEO keyword research, pay-per-click advertising etc etc are right for them.
*1 – keywords in page names or domain names are not essential for high ranking but if you can do so, why not?
*2 - when I say Google I typically mean any search engine.
*3 – I didn’t really scramble around for this example to be honest – it’s not contrived & I’d have used it if my site were 2nd or 3rd. Twitter workshops are not bread & butter for my business; pushed and I’d probably say “south wales web design” is more BUT I honestly don’t panic about SEO position (I’m 4th for that search by the way).
*4 – ok, it would be more useful if I scheduled some more workshops but you get the idea
*5 – well, the only exception is when we use PPC/Adwords to attract a searches because we want to study that traffic (and the key phrases which led to the visit) to help as part of an actual SEO campaign; learning from paid ads.