SEO (opens in new tab)is often said to be closer to an art than to a scientific subject, especially as it changes so quickly. Because of the relative opaqueness of Google's search process, the frequency of its algorithm updates and the large number of variables involved, there's also an element of serendipity.
Historically, some techniques have given SEO a bad name, but there are several simple ways to ensure your site benefits from natural search results - and this guide can act as a basic checklist .
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What are organic results?
Search can be classified as either organic (natural) or paid. Organic (natural) results are those that occur naturally in search engine results pages (SERPs) and high results depend on both the technical construction of your site and the content within it.
Paid results, often referred to as Pay Per Click or PPC, can quickly deliver the results site owners pay for, and usually appear above organic listings. Research shows web users prefer organic listings to paid listings, considering them more relevant and trustworthy.
The goal of SEO, then, is to improve your organic listings performance, which in turn should boost traffic to your site.
Search engines index the web using large clusters of computers that use computer programmes, known as bots, to spider the web by following links found on web pages. These URLs are populated into the search engine indexes and it's this index that's queried every time a user performs a search.
Search engines employ complex mathematical equations, known as ranking algorithms, to order search results. Google's algorithm (Pagerank) alone relies on more than 200 individual factors to decide which result, in which order, to return to its web searchers.
Organic SEO can be further split into two categories. On-page: The code and content you use to manage and deliver your web pages. Off-page: External factors effecting SEO.
This is primarily focused around link building – getting other websites to link to your content. Here we'll focus on basic on-page optimization methods, which are all under your control.
In June 2019, Mailonline, one of the world's largest news websites, saw its traffic halved overnight after Google posted one of its core algorithm update core. The drop was so significant that the site's SEO director, Jesus Mendez (opens in new tab), made the setback public on Google's own webmasters forum. This is in stark contrast with the fortunes of many of its competitors which, according to an independent search analyst, saw their Google visibility go up.
9 steps to success
To make sure your website is accessible to search engine spiders, follow these simple steps:
1. The most important thing is to maximize accessibility to ensure search engines can find all your content. You can help Google out by providing a sitemap file (opens in new tab) (called sitemap.xml) that lists all of your content and how often it's updated. Visit the Webmasters webpage (opens in new tab) to provide Google with this information.
The other is to wait for search engines to find it through links to you from other sites; this normally happens during their crawling process and usually takes longer.
2. Ensure you're not preventing the search engines indexing your site with use of a robots.txt file from The Robots Exclusion Protocol, which is used to give instructions to search engine bots. More information on this can be found here (opens in new tab).
3. Duplicate pages are a bad thing, and making pages that specifically detect the Googlebot (Google's web-crawling tool) and serve up something designed for it is an absolute no-no. Eliminate duplicate content. This could be caused by the way your server is set up or how your CMS serves up content, but either way, this needs to be addressed.
4. If you're using a CMS such as WordPress, it's worth having it create static versions of pages where possible. It's not crucial – Google can handle dynamic pages these days – but it doesn't hurt. This text version makes it clear what's being used to figure out your site's content.
5. Where possible, it's also preferable to have permalinks like '/products/fridges/dynatech-coolfreezepro/' for pages, rather than addresses that end with things like '?page=42132'. Every scrap of data you give the crawler will boost your chances in search results.
6. Ensure you have a clear internal linking architecture. Promote important content to the homepage and link to key site sections via dedicated navigation. Group content into clear site sections reflected in your site navigation to aid both users and search engines. For example:
www.mysite.com/ /news /products /category-1 /category-2 /blog /about /contact
7. As far as raw content goes, the most important thing is that your site uses the keywords that people search for. Ensure your content is machine-readable, and avoid using video or imagery to exclusively house your content. Remember, search spiders cannot see images or video: they can only read written text on a web page. Content in frames, videos, pictures, pulled from Twitter or generated on the fly can be left out.
8. Ensure you're targeting the appropriate keywords for your business objectives. Just as successful advertising campaigns contain content that appeals to a target demographic, successful websites need to focus on keywords that have the highest relevance to their target audience.
9. After that, the challenge is to get good links to boost your authority and there's entire industries (Outreach, PR etc) that are dedicated to doing just that. Getting links from high authority domains (websites with high Pagerank) is the ultimate goal.
Time to call an SEO expert?
These are straightforward tips and while SEO may seem pretty simple, it is now far more complex that it has ever been even if you focus on only one search engine. As a business owner, it does make sense to focus on your core competencies and enlist an expert, either a practitioner or an agency, to help you out planning your site's SEO.
Just be careful who you take onboard though. Genuine SEO experts will have use cases and examples to showcase their achievements. They will offer a comprehensive, logical and results-based plan that takes into consideration all the aspects of a website (including social networking and email marketing).
Just beware of so called Black Hat SEO (as opposed to White Hat SEO); they may claim to make you reach Google's first page for a fee. Never be tempted to pay for dodgy tricks and just ask them instead why they don't do it for themselves.
In almost all cases, they don't work, will only send worthless traffic rather than actual readers, and could well come back to bite you later on when Google catches up (as it always does) Much as exercise and a good diet are the only way to lose weight, good content is the only true way to achieve a good Google rank.
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