SEO -what is it & how to win it

You may have heard the term but don’t know what it means, or you do but would like to know a bit more about it. The below is a summary of SEO in 2017 and includes tips on how to improve yours. It is hopefully both easy to follow and helpful to both novices and marketers alike.
I’m afraid this subject matter can’t be detailed without using the relevant jargon. However I’ve created a ‘Jargon Buster‘ page which should help cut through the guff.

Search Engine Optimisation

Search engines rank websites for their relevance and importance to users. The results of which can be seen Google spider crawling on monitorwhen you enter a search term in any search engine. The higher up a website is listed, the more important it is deemed by the search engine.
SEO is the practice of ensuring a website matches as much search engine criteria as possible to increase its importance in the search engine results page (SERP).
Please note, that it refers to ‘organic’ results rather than sponsored links (also known as PPC – Pay Per Click) which appear at the top of a search and to the left and are identifiable by the little orange ‘Ad’ box.

What is SEO?

Search engines have always striven to prioritise the most popular websites to meet the relevant keywords (after all, they need to do their job), and the most popular websites are usually the most useful to the people who have made the search in the first place.
However, if we go back to the earlier days of the internet yet still not so long ago, a wily website designer could use certain ‘grey hat’ tactics to ‘optimise’ their website in a technological way, without earning the reward through the blood, sweat and tears of their competitors.
‘Grey Hat’ tactics used included creating what’s known as ‘link farms’ which are sites created purely to offer ‘back links’ to websites. Also, hiding text on website pages, so that it was not visible to the human eye, but was to the search engines, methods used included adding white text on a white background and hiding text behind images.
However, these days, the search engines are far more clever than the SEO cheaters, they are also used to such tricks and will proactively rank a website lower, if they suspect foul play.

How is page ranking monitored by Search Engines?

Search Engines have millions of little programs, also known as spiders, spiderbots, bots or web crawlers that search the world wide web seeking to accurately index websites. These little electronic librarians evaluate all aspects of a website, from the relevancy of keywords (words on website pages), to the accuracy of categorisation and meta-tagging, to the relevance of page URLs and the volume of quality backlinks (other websites linking to your website). The ratio of importance of all these aspects is a closely guarded secret by search engines and indeed fluctuate all the time.

So if you can’t ‘cheat’ with SEO, what can you do to get your website up the rankings?

There are lots of things you can do. (but don’t cheat, the SEs will probably know and downgrade your website).

1. Crawlability

Crawlers measure the number of pages blocked by robots.txt file or no index meta standards; 404 Page Not Found errors; number of pages with redirects or redirect errors etc and downgrade accordingly.

How to improve yours?

Ensure your website is as clean as it possibly can be, the best way to test it is with Webmaster Tools which can run all sorts of tests and report back on what the crawlers are finding.
Create a Sitemap and submit it to google via Webmaster Tools

2. Sociability

Increasingly search engines are measuring the interaction visitors have with websites. Measured by social media engagement with a website. Afterall, if everyone’s talking about it, it’s something the spiderbots are going to want to report back on. This can be measured by the number of social media referrals (you can view these via google analytics) to your website, the number of views your blog receives, or the amount of comments on your website. However, please note with the latter, spam comments are identified and your site will be downgraded.

How to improve yours?

The answer to this is a whole new blog post in itself (at least). However, popular social media engagement is key here. That means blogging, twitter, facebook, youtube, instagram, linkedin and of course google plus.

3. Authenticity

Your website may be jam packed with your desired keywords, but if they are not considered relevant to your visitors, your site will be downgraded. Have you added image alternate text? If so, is it designed to inform the visitor or trick the crawler? Suspicious activity here is measured.
Do any links to your website include relevant keywords within them? If so, you get brownie points!

How to improve yours?

Improve your bounce rate (percentage of visitors who leave after a single page view).
Do other websites link to yours? If so, are they themselves considered highly in the SERPs? Linking is usually considered as a referral of a useful website and will get you lots of brownie points.
A relatively new factor, introduced by google is the authorship mark up, this is linking a personal google plus account to the content on your website.
Produce quality content that will make other websites WANT to refer their visitors to you. The content could be images, graphics or editorial that is useful, unusual, authorative, informative, funny or quirky.
Build relationships with other website managers/contributors, if you see a synergy between yours and another site, get in touch and either pitch them as to why they should link to your site or offer reciprocal linking.

4. Regularity

Search engines prioritise websites that are updated with fresh new content regularly. Even administration activity on static webpages (pages such as Contact Us or About Us) is monitored.

How to improve yours?

Keep an up to date blog or news page. And of course, refer to updates via social media channels. This is highly beneficial in raising your brand profile and encouraging audience engagement.
I will keep this post updated, as there are so many metrics involved in SEO that I may well have missed some here.
I hope you’ve found it useful, keeping up in this fast paced world isn’t easy. But remember, when it comes to SEO, straightforward works.

5. Speed

Search Engines take the speed of your site in to consideration when evaluating your website. This is because the slower the website, the more likely a visitor is to leave the site before accessing a page, when a visitor leaves straight away this is know as a ‘bounce’.

How to improve yours?

There are many ways to improve the speed of your website but one of the simplest to remember is to ensure the images you upload aren’t too large. No image needs to be over 1080px wide for a full screen and images that show smaller should have a reduced size from this. There are all sorts of other ways to speed up your website, this may be one for your web designer, however this is a useful guide to help you on your way if you created the website yourself.

6. Security

To further their remit of making the web a safer place, Google announced recently that they are going to offer an SEO boost to websites that have what’s called an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Certificate. This is a digital certificate that authenticates the identity of a website and encrypts all information sent to the server. This includes any personal data a website visitor has added on a website, basically the information is scrambled and can only with a proper decryption key can it be deciphered. This of course, reduce the risk of customer data being stolen by third party hackers.

How to improve yours?

There are various options out there for which type of SSL certificate to choose, however for the purposes of SEO, google will offer a ranking boost to any type of authentic SSL certificate. At the lower end you can purchase an annual SSL Certificate for under £10. If you use a web designer it’s best to discuss this with them.

NB: We at Mad Cat Marketing are in the process of changing to a new server provider and will be offering SSL Certificates to all our clients in the coming weeks.

This article has been updated to reflect best practice as of April 2017

 

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Cathy Rowson

Cathy Rowson

Marketing Consultant & Digital Designer

I’m a Marketing Professional with a decade of experience under my belt. In that time I have worked across the private, public & third sectors and marketed a multitude of stock, assets, venues & services. I’m highly creative, skilled across the marketing mix and utilise a wide variety of marketing tools & software.

I am the Owner Operator of Mad Cat Marketing.

. . .  And I’m really not as frowny & stern as my picture suggests. I smile often! But when writing/advising about marketing, I maintain focus. Drop me a line, if you have any questions. . . happy to help!