What is SEO?
After frequently receiving messages via the contact form that all say something along the lines of “I want my site to be at the top of Google” I have come to the conclusion that many people misunderstand what SEO actually is. Of course every business owner would like their sites to rank at the top of the search engines for their target keywords but SEO isn’t a magic trick to make this happen and in fact it is this desire to be at the top that has been the hook of many SEO companies marketing strategies.
There are countless SEO companies that will make promises that they can get your site to the number one spot, some even guarantee it or offer your money back, but the fact is that only Google and the other search engines have any say over who is going to rank. These money back guarantees are just a marketing ploy to make you feel safe about parting with your cash. It is very likely that you’ll appear at the top of Google for your own brand name and very easy to optimise a site to do this. Once that’s been achieved your guarantee has been met! However ranking for the keywords that bring you new custom is not so simple.
SEO stands for search engine optimisation, this means optimising your site so that it is understood by the search engines so that the image they have of your business and services matches up with what your business actually offers. Search engines want to be able to offer the most relevant and highest quality results to their users. A well optimised site will be constructed in a way that not only makes it easy for the search engines to understand but also easily provides the users with the information they are looking for. This means having content that satisfies the intention of their search and having a site that is easy to navigate, essentially everything has to be within easy reach so they can find all the information they are looking for.
So when we talk about search engine optimisation we are really talking about creating a good user experience for your sites visitors.
You can think of it like this. If you had 2 supermarkets and they both offered the same products at the same prices but one stocked its shelves with no logical structure, the aisles weren’t labeled, the prices weren’t clear and the layout was like a maze. The other was well organised, the layout made it easy to find what you are looking for and the prices and offers are made clear then which supermarket would you choose to shop at? Would you recommend the first supermarket to anyone? Probably not! We like to find what we are looking for quickly and then get on with our day, we have more important things to do than get lost in supermarkets and the same is true for websites!
However unlike our supermarkets example it may not be quite so obvious where your site is going wrong and that is where SEO can help your business.
What About Link Building?
Many people think SEO is all about building links, here they are talking more about search engine manipulation than optimisation! A link to your site can be seen as a vote and help boost the overall authority of your site. The logic is that if a lot of people are linking to you then that is a signal that your site is popular. The anchor text used to link to you (the text of the actual link) is also used to help build up a better picture of what your site is about. We would expect a car dealership to have links from other sites leading to it with anchor text related to the services and products they offer such as “Used cars” or “Buy new car” etc. The keywords found in this anchor text can help you rank for those keywords but this has become widely abused by people creating links containing their keywords purely to manipulate their ranking for those keywords.
Recent updates by Google have come down hard on sites that are suspected of engaging in this practice so beware of any SEO company that uses this as their main strategy or offer a large number of links as part of a package.
The truth is that link building may not even be necessary for your site if the site content and structure has been properly optimised, in fact most of the small business websites sites I build from scratch rank well with no link building at all! I wouldn’t dream of embarking upon a link building campaign before seeing how the site performs after the on-site SEO has been carried out and neither should you! Else you will find yourself paying out month after month for link building where you would have had quicker results by just optimising the site. In fact a poorly designed or low quality site will never rank well no matter how many links you build.
Link building should be carried out to boost those keywords that the on-site SEO didn’t quite work for, you might find that the on-site SEO got your to page 2 or 3 and a spot of link building can give them the boost you need to get on to the first page. However not all links are created equally and you should be looking to get quality over quantity.
What is a Quality Link?
The web has changed since its beginnings, you may have heard the term Web 2.0 which essentially means sites that are mostly user generated. This changed the value of links as it has become easy to create your own links on any site that allows you to create content. When you couple this with software that can automatically create accounts at these sites and post your content on autopilot then it suddenly becomes easy to create as many links as you like with very little time or money spent.
Before the web 2.0 revolution it used to be that a link would be granted by a webmaster or author and so it was usually the case that these links had undergone some sort of editorial process and could be trusted. But since so much of the web is now user generated it has opened up the possibility to create your own links en mass and many have tried to use this to manipulate the search engine rankings by spamming links containing their keywords anywhere they can post them. This includes blog comments, forums, social networking sites, blogging platforms, wikis and anywhere else that will allow them to post.
It is easily possible to buy thousands of these types of links for less than a fiver but you will be wasting your money! Search engines now look at the quality of the links before deciding whether they should carry any weight and how much weight they should carry. When analysing the link for quality they will be looking at the following:
- Does the link come from a site that is relevant to your site?
- Has the link undergone any sort of editorial process or can anyone post links here?
- Is the link on a quality site?
- Is this link of any benefit or interest to the sites users?
- Does this link look suspicious? (I.e. Is it too perfect in terms of the anchor text used and number of other links using the same anchor text)
- How many other links are on the page and are these also quality links?
This list is not exhaustive but it gives you an idea of how the search engines view links before deciding whether they count. So a good link will come from quality sites that are relevant to your own site in some way and crucially will have undergone some sort of editorial process. Links from a quality site should gain value over time as the site that links to you increases in quality, they should also last a long time too. Spammy links will get deleted by the site owners or de-indexed by the search engines pretty quickly, a quality link should stand the test of time as quality sites don’t tend to delete content very often.
So a few high quality links are far more beneficial than thousands of spammy links. When an SEO company offers you link building then make sure you know how they are planning to go about building them. Ask for some examples so you can judge the quality and relevance of the sites they are linking from. Look for the following:
- Is the site relevant to the site they are linking to?
- How many other outbound links are on the same page and are they relevant?
- Is the content of the site useful and informative?
- Would the users of this site actually be interested in following the link to your site?
Beware of cheap deals with high numbers of links, it doesn’t take long to post a link but it does take time to find quality linking opportunities for your SEO clients.Ask yourself how much time per link they can be putting in for your money?
So I hope this has shed some light on what SEO is and more importantly what it isn’t!
I hope to hear from you in the comments below