Ok, Wow, this is kind of a controversial and hotly discussed topic but I will pluck up the courage to take it head on and explain what SEO was and what SEO is today, and in the process expose SEO companies on what they’re not telling you (I won’t mention specific SEO companies because I’m not that brave, but this article will help you figure it out for yourself).
First things first, at Click Engine we do SEO, so that is one of the motivations for this article because of the frustration we feel when competing against other SEO companies with questionable practices. The reason a client goes to an SEO service in the first place is because they don’t have the knowledge, experience or time to get their website ranking well on Google. This makes them quite vulnerable and unfortunately if you chose the wrong company without understanding what it is exactly they are doing, then you are rolling the dice! You'll also notice that we focus a lot about Google in this post, that's because most of the world uses Google fas their search engine. Below is a diagram from Statcounter that demonstrates in the US and Australia is similar.
Backlinks Are Not Created Equal
Search Engine Optimisation used to be simply about getting as many websites as possible to link to your website in order for it to appear to be popular. Google would then increase your search rankings because it wants the most popular websites easily found by their search customers. Makes sense right? Well Google has come a long way and has super advanced algorithms to know if your website is truly popular, and it’s no longer fooled by quantity of backlinks. Google now instead values the quality of the backlink. Quality is judged by the relevance of the website that is linking to yours, in other words if it makes sense that a nursery would have a link to a landscaper instead of a link to a travel agent. The amount of users clicking that link and how they interact with the linked website also indicates to Google that it is useful and relevevent. The third indicator of a quality link is the quality of the website the link has come from, if it’s an already trusted website by Google then this link will be seen as higher quality. Not only can the wrong back-linking strategy simply not work, it can even get you penalized by Google and your rankings can dramatically drop.
Beyond The Backlink
If your SEO company only looks at backlinks for you then you may have a problem. Remember how I said Google’s Algorithm is now super smart? Well I meant it! Google looks at 100’s of different factors to decide if you will be ranked highly for a search word or phrase, and your SEO company better be onto it. What makes it even more challenging is that no one except for Google knows the algorithm so we have to apply a common sense approach. The goal for Google is to display the most relevant, popular and user friendly content on there search results so people keep using Google and have no reason to change. So you guessed it, your website needs to be relevant, popular and user friendly! Easy right? Well let’s break it down and figure out how to do that and what results we can expect. But first, have a quick look at the diagram below that attempts to decode Google's algorithm. This is from Moz SEO and was an attempt in 2013 to get the opinion from 128 SEO professionals of what are Google's ranking factors. (Big changes in Google's algorithm can change in just months so this is just an example).
Google doesn’t want to be showing search results for electricians if a user is searching for a plumber, so we need to indicate to Google what our website is about and what keywords we want to be found for. The most obvious thing here is to have page titles, headings, and the word content of the site to have specific words such as electrician, and related words such as fuse box and power point. The amount of content on the site also will influence the relevancy of it because just have a few words about electricians may not convince Google you are all that relevant. Having any pictures to do with electrical work is valuable because the ‘meta tag’ on the picture can describe what it’s about and Google will see this. Most websites get these basics right, but to step the relevancy up a level, having quality backlinks from complimentary services such as a builders website will really help an electrician’s website show relevancy. Fresh content on the website will also show that it has the latest information and is therefore more relevant. Ways of doing this can be a simple news update section on the site but the most powerful way is to have a regularly updated blog related to your industry. One last quick word about relevancy is the proper use of Google AdWords. We can learn a lot about what keywords, headings and content in search results are going to attract your most valuable customers, so having this as part of your SEO strategy needs to be considered. Google Adwords can also benefit the user friendliness of a website, which we will look at shortly.
The obvious assumption here is that quantity of backlinks will indicate popularity but as mentioned above, this is no longer the only factor to consider. The fastest growing trend influencing the popularity rating of a website is social media. It is believed that Google can know tell if you have lots of followers on your Facebook, Google + or Twitter account if it is linked to your website. How they know this is unclear but what we do know is that they can see if anyone clicks a links from your social media page to your website. It’s at this point that some SEO companies fall silent and you’re on your own! A simple routine of making regular posts of relevant content and then having a link to your website blog posted on a weekly basis can drive high quality traffic to your website. So why is this overlooked by some SEO companies? Because there can be more work involved if the client does not want to do this themselves and if the SEO company can get away with doing less work, they will. The other overlooked way to show popularity, through leveraging your blog, is to have a newsletter list with a link to your blog on the email-out. So yes, we are now going from pure backlink territory to blogging, social media and newsletter marketing, but this is important to show the popularity of your site.
Website User Friendliness
Google doesn’t mince there words when it comes to user friendliness website design. In fact, only recently did they give mobile friendly websites priority on searches made on mobile phones. Google is obsessed with creating the best experience for their users, so if your website doesn’t provided a good experience then Google get’s upset. Mobile responsive web design is the most influencing thing at the moment in user friendliest and is basically a technique that allows your website to be viewed properly on mobile, tablet and desktop devices. You can find out more about it in our recent article, 2015 Guide To Mobile Responsive Web Design. The speed of the download of your site will also influence the user experience and the latest in design techniques needed to be used to ensure a fast viewing experience. Strong call to actions at the top of a website and easy to access links will encourage users to click through the site. Google can tell if this is happening and values a website being user friendly if people are interacting with. It also values a site if users are staying and scrolling on the page for a long time because this indicates that the information on the site is very useful. Google identifies the site as either not relevant or not user-friendly if the user leaves the site within a few seconds of landing on it. As mentioned before, Google Adwords can assist in SEO. When it comes to user-friendliness, we can quickly test what pages, links, content and functionality of a site is being used and what’s not. This allows us to make fast changes to the site and ensure that organic search results of the website will provide a great user experience. It’s well accepted that on average a visitor to a website will make a decision within 8 seconds as to whether they will stay or leave the website, so it better be user-friendly!
[Screen Shot from Google's Webmaster Site:]
"April 21st’s mobile-friendly update boosts mobile search rankings for pages that are legible and usable on mobile devices."
Other SEO Considerations
We’ve really only touched on the basics of SEO as it can be a very complex and timely process where the goal posts are continually shifting. There is a difference in SEO for a local business, SEO for selling products and SEO for overseas however all the fundamentals are the same. It still amazes me that even the basics of relevancy, popularity and user-friendliness are overlooked by some SEO companies. At least now if you think you have fallen victim to a lazy SEO company not doing all they can do to help increase your search rankings, you’ve got some good questions to ask them!