Search Engine Optimisation
What does SEO mean?
Search engine optimisation is the practice of improving a website’s ranking in search results, and in doing so increasing its visibility and generating more traffic to the site.
How do search engines work?
In the UK the chances are you’ll be using Google, Yahoo or Bing as combined they account for approximately 98% of internet searches.
They all send out automated robots, also known as ‘Google bots’, ‘spiders’ and ‘crawlers’. And in case you’re wondering, the terms ‘spiders’ and ‘crawlers’ comes from the robots crawling the world wide web.
When they reach a website they follow its links from page to page, collating all the relevant infornation, assessing it and then indexing it in databases for retrieval when relevant to a search query.
Search results are produced by complex mathematical algorithms that take into account in excess of 200 different factors when producing results pages. These are known as ranking factors.
The actual details of ranking factors and their relative significance and impact are a closely guarded secret and differ from one search engine to another.
What is known about Google’s algorithms is that web page’s are assessed on their relevance and usefulness combined with popularity and importance.
How relevant and useful a page is can be influenced by many things, but what is consistent in both Google and Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines is the need for quality content that is informative and optimised for the keywords searchers use.
Popularity is determined by the number of visitors to a webpage, known as click through rate (CTR), their dwell time i.e. how long do they spend on the page? Do they bounce straight off again which indicates that it did not meet their needs, or do they spend time reading it and do they follow internal links within the site to more pages. This suggests to a search engine that the searcher found it useful and informative.
Other indicators of popularity include inbound links and social shares on G+, facebook, twitter and other social media.
Keywords are the actual words people type into a search engine when conducting a search.
Long gone are the days when just packing a page full of keywords was enough to rank well. Algorithms are far more sophisticated, and if they detect ‘keyword stuffing’ as it’s known, it is likely to result in a penalty.
This means a big drop in ranking and it can be a long road back to recover from it, although it can be done.
However, keywords are still fundamental to any search query and proper keyword research is an essential part of SEO marketing.
A business needs to know the various search terms customers use, identify targets and optimise for them.
How to choose target keywords
If you are in a very competitive niche and competing against established brands and household names it will be very difficult, if not impossible to outrank them.
A good indicator to the popularity and competitiveness of keywords are the amount of paid ads surrounding the organic results. And do these paid ads continue onto pages 2 and 3?
If so those keywords are clearly very sought after. This is where keyword research can identify alternative, less competitive keywords and longtail variations.
Although these phrases don’t have the same sort of search volume they can be much easier to rank for and reap great benefits.
Longtail keywords are more specific and often used when a searcher is close to the actual purchase of a particular product or service rather than merely browsing.
Positive reviews left on the most authoritative websites are becoming increasingly more important for local search rankings.
Reviews on Google My Business are by far the most important followed by sites like Yell and Yelp. Google’s local search algorithm doesn’t take account of reviews on social media and less authoritative directories.
For maximum SEO benefit reviews should be accompanied with “positive sentiment” to reinforce a 5 star rating. Search engines are able to understand and interpret comments made by reviewers and place more value on these reviews.
Aside from the value, relevancy and usefulness of a page’s content, links are judged to be the most important and influential ranking factor.
This is because search engines view them as votes of popularity and the more links pointing to a particular page or site the more popular it must be.
But beware, not all links are created equal.
The most valuable links are those that come from trusted, authoritative websites with good domain and page authority based on MozTrust ratings. They should also be relevant and related in some way to the site their linking to for maximum SEO benefit.
The value of links has led to the creation of ‘link farms’ which are websites in cyberspace from whom links can be purchased, but they are in fact from non existent and irrelevant ‘companies’ and should be avoided at all costs.
Business directory listings are an important source of citations and backlinks. But again caution is advised because of the number of poor quality directories selling premium listings with a backlink to your website included.
Do not pay for backlinks.
If Google identifies a significant number of paid links pointing to your site it will consider you as another spammy site.
Since the late 1990’s there has been a huge growth in business directories. Many of these are never used by the public and only exist for the purposes of selling citations and backlinks. They are just another form of web spam and should be avoided.
Search engines categorise directories as Tier 1, 2, 3 and 4. Only Tiers 1 and 2 carry any real weight although small, local and niche directories can be very beneficial for local SEO.
Generally speaking, a nationwide multi purpose diectory with a domain authority below 30 is probably best to steer clear of.
Examples of Tier 1 directories in the UK include Google My Business, Bing, Yell, Thompson Local, Scoot, Yelp, Freeindex and Cylex.
These are all trusted sites with excellent reputations and authority. They are also review platforms and have checks in place to identify fake reviews and take steps to protect the integrity of their review feature.