How SEO WorksIt’s hard to get noticed online. Your website can look stunning, and offer useful, engaging information about a sought-after topic, but still not attract many visitors. The most reliable way to increase your traffic is to ensure your site ranks highly for your search terms. Which is precisely what Search Engine Optimisation is about.
Good Old Fashioned SEOThese 6 core principles have always worked, and always will:
- Find the keywords people use to search for your products
- Write about your products using those keywords, but without repeating them so often that you sound insane.
- Ensure Google can find each page on your website, and understand what keywords it should rank for.
- Fix anything on your website that’s broken, duplicated or slow.
- Create fresh, relevant, interesting content that will engage readers and encourage sharing.
- Build links to your website from related, authoritative websites that share your audience, or better yet: forge long term relationships with them that will produce more and more links over time.
- Give your website visitors a good experience – give them the content they were looking for. That’s what Google wants, and it’s what turns prospects into sales.
SEO TermsLet’s clarify some terms before we dive in. SEO is both what we do (Search Engine Optimisation), and who we are (Search Engine Optimisers). When you search for something, you type your search terms (or keywords) into a search engine such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, and get back a search engine results page, or SERP. The closer to the top of that results page that your website (or site) shows up, the higher your rank for that keyword. For example, if your website shows up as the 4th entry on the page when you search for the keyword “dog training” (yes, it really should be called a key phrase, not a keyword) then your website ranks #4 on the “dog training” SERP.
Keyword ResearchThis is the pivotal first step in any SEO work, as it informs every other part of the process. Even if you’re changing from one SEO to another, the new SEO should review your keywords and suggest alternatives. That’s because the best keywords for your business last year may not be the best keywords this year. Say you’re a dog trainer. What if every other dog trainer targets the “dog training” keyword, and it becomes impossibly competitive? Perhaps you’d get more traffic by targeting “dog trainer sydney” and “train my dog” instead. Only quality keyword research can uncover the competitiveness and likelihood of getting on page one for a range of keywords. At Corporate SEO, we identify the most effective keywords to target, from which you choose your shortlist. Our Research department will extract the keywords from your website, your META tags, and your suggestions. We’ll draw on our extensive search marketing experience to augment this list with a variety of creative alternatives that people might use to find you. We then feed these through several systems, including Google’s own LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) algorithm, to harvest all related keywords. We’ll add common misspellings, add your target localities, and generate every conceivable word order to produce an extensive list of possible search terms. We then research the competition for each search term to determine the likelihood of getting your site on Page 1 of Google. Finally, we assess the commercial viability of each keyword, and produce a short list of high-traffic search terms for you to choose from.
On-Page SEOIn the early days, all you needed to do was make sure you had your keyword “dog training” in the title of your page, and your main headings, and you would rank well. (There’s a lot more to it these days, but that’s what we call On-Page SEO.) Soon enough everyone caught onto this, and begun stuffing their pages full of the same keywords over and over again, often in hidden text because all that noise made the page very hard to read. This was known as keyword stuffing, and signalled the birth of Black Hat SEO – the dangerous art of fooling the search engines into giving you a high ranking. Since then, Google and it’s peers have become a whole lot smarter, with whole departments of genius PhD’s working to identify and obliterate (deindex) black hat techniques. White Hat SEO optimizes your underlying page structure at the HTML level, without destroying the quality of your content and the appeal of your site design, or risking permanent loss of business through deindexing. In recent years, Google has added time on site as a consideration of site quality & relevance. If someone searches for “dog training” and if the first search result turns out to be completely irrelevant, most visitors will quickly click the “back” button and click on something further down the SERP. Google tracks how long this took, and if too many people bounce off your site, it will quickly fall off the first page. All this boils down to the core truth that Content is King. If you provide relevant, engaging content, then your job is nearly done. All you need then is to ensure that your page is labelled with the appropriate keywords, and the HTML code underneath is properly structured, and your site is ready to be promoted off-page.
Off-Page SEOWhen they realised that they needed to do more than just analyse individual webpages, search engines started looking at how many other pages linked to your site, and the nature of those links. The popular websites will naturally be linked to more often. So Off-Page SEO began, working to increase the number of these “backlinks” (or inbound links) to your site. White Hats did this by contributing pertinent, helpful content to related websites, who gratefully linked back to the source. Black Hats begun exploiting the comments sections at the bottom of blogs, provided by hundreds of thousands of well-meaning bloggers to encourage interaction. Just like the junk mail spam you get in your email, but on websites. Hence, the term “webspam” was coined, and Google started up a whole department to fight it. Off-Page SEO has changed considerably over time. One such area is anchor text distribution. Consider these alternatives:
- Click here to meet the head of Google’s webspam team, Matt Cutts.
- Click here to meet the head of Google’s webspam team, Matt Cutts.
- Click here to meet the head of Google’s webspam team, Matt Cutts: https://plus.google.com/s/matt%20cutts
These underlined words that you click on are called anchor text, and the search engines consider these as descriptions of the site being linked to. The first type of anchor text “click here” happens fairly often on the net, but it doesn’t explain the linked page very well. Conversely, “the head off Google’s webspam team” is a much better description of Matt’s page. But just as often, you’ll get a plain old http:// link pasted into a webpage.
We used to get the best results by including the most relevant keywords in the anchor text, but since then, Google’s webspam analysts have discovered that most webspam has a high percentage of inbound links with keyword-laden anchor text. So now we strive to create an even distribution of all three kinds of anchor text.
Another consideration in Off-Page SEO is the authority of the site that’s linking to you. A link from a major news site like www.CNN.com is much more valuable than a link from a random personal blog. Google measures the authority of a website by how many backlinks that site has, and the relevance of their content to yours, which is measured using a very nifty algorithm called Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI).
Google used to measure site authority by PageRank, but that has become less indicative now that LSI relevance has come into play. The black hats further devalued PageRank (PR) by selling backlinks on “High PR” pages. So Google started devaluing pages with more than 100 links, and we began talking about link juice. Back in the day, a webpage with a PageRank of 4 (out of 10) that had 2 outbound links on it would pass half of it’s “link juice” to each linked page, so they’d each get a PageRank of 2. You can imagine how 100+ links on even the highest ranking page would dilute the link juice to virtually nothing. Of course it’s become considerably more involved now, but when looking for backlink opportunities, we look for pages with a moderate number of outbound links.
How long does SEO take?
The faster you rise to the top, the faster you’ll plummet to the bottom. Some SEOs talk about the Google Sandbox – a time-out bench for websites that grow unnaturally fast in apparent popularity. In fact, there’s no such thing as a sandbox you need to get out of, but more of an “authority box” you’re trying to get into. The search engines want to see a steady (organic) rise in popularity. An unnatural growth chart, with bursts of activity interspersed with dry periods, suggests that you’ve been buying cheap links in bulk. So a natural growth curve, like most good things, takes time.
Beware SEOs that say they’ll get your site on top of Google in a matter of days. Yes, it’s possible, but the only way to do it that fast is with black hat techniques. Google are constantly improving their ability to detect and deindex black-hat techniques, and once you’re deindexed, that’s pretty much the end of your website, without an insane amount of cleanup work. You might as well start again from scratch.
Pure white-hat (zero risk) SEO can take up to 6 months of work to get you on top of Google, depending on the competition for that keyword. If you’re happy to accept a little risk, carefully managed, you can get on the first page in a month or two. Of course, Google makes no promises, and neither can we. Except that we don’t charge you until we deliver.
How much does SEO cost?
SEO services range from $200 to $10,000+ per month, but all serious businesses devote at least $1000/mth to SEO. If you’re not aiming for particularly competitive keywords, you should be able to do your own SEO if you can spare 2 hours a day, because all the information is freely available online. If your time is worth $100/hr, that’s about $4000/mth after the learning curve.
The cost of SEO is usually market-driven. Niche fields are easier, but if you are a company that can make thousands of dollars a day, then you should expect to be paying thousands of dollars a month.
Larger companies usually hire people in-house to do their SEO. If you choose to do your own SEO, remember to factor your time into the price comparison. In the same way that you are more efficient when focussing on your specialty, SEO’s can save you time and money by employing them to focus on their specialty.
The techniques mentioned above are just some ways that SEO experts practice. There are other factors in a website’s design that could be played around and improved to boost up its ranking in search engine results pages. The bottom line is, whatever technique is used, an SEO’s main concern is to improve volume of web traffic and site rankings by making it ‘search engine friendly’.