The world of search engine optimisation (SEO) has changed. Websites that tried to trick Google are now reaping what they have sown, with disastrous results. Instead of getting lots of traffic and making lots of sales, their SEO tactics have led to the exact opposite result. No traffic and no sales.
The sad thing is that the owners of these websites often had no idea what their SEO agency was up to. The owners were offered “No.1 ranking” in return for cash, and simply handed the money over.
Typically that cash was used to pay ‘link farms’, based abroad. These are the bad boys of the SEO world. Many of them use automated systems to ‘scrape’ content from respectable sites such as the Marketing Donut and upload it onto a series of new sites. They then sell links from these new sites, to boost the ranking of whichever web pages those links go to.
But Google algorithms are always getting smarter. And Google also has a small army of humans who search out and penalise such ‘black hat’ SEO practices. Well known websites such as Interflora and Halifax — and more recently the law firm Irwin Mitchell — have found themselves removed from the Google rankings. In 2013 Interflora only reappeared in the rankings once the company had already missed out on millions of pounds worth of flower sales over the crucial Mother’s Day period.
Noisy Little Monkey has been brought in to sort out several such messes and in one case we found no fewer than three million spammy links in place — none of which the website owners knew about, as they had simply trusted the SEO agency to get on with improving the rankings.
Google eventually has to reinstate big brands such as Interflora, as so many people search specifically for the brand name and Google has to serve its users. But the same is not true of a small business. In some cases you cannot even re-use your old content on a completely new website, as Google treats it as the same website that was given the penalty previously. At this point businesses are better off jettisoning their website and starting afresh with a new URL and new content.
All of which is irrelevant if you have always followed the guidelines that Google publishes. These guidelines can be summarised in two words: Don’t cheat. If you do anything that is not ‘natural’, it is probably cheating. Paid-for advertorial that has a link back to your website is cheating, as that link would not be there unless you had paid for it. So if you want to do advertorials, make sure that any links in the content are ‘no-follow’ links.
And we can all recognise a spammy link when we see one. For example, those annoying website comments: Great post! Paul Paul’s Office Furniture [with an optimised link to a page on Paul’s furniture website]. Unless the comment and the link are contributing to the discussion, the purpose of such comments is as obvious to Google as it is to the rest of us. ‘Low value’ links like this will not help your website’s rankings at all.
Proper SEO in has always been about optimising each page. The easy wins are the same as they have always been. Choose one or two key phrases that you want a page to rank for. Mark up the HTML carefully. Optimise the page title of each page. Make full use of high quality online directories such as Google+ Local, Yell and maybe your local chamber of commerce (ie those directories that people use to find things) and make sure that your contact details are identical, including even the spaces in your phone number — which ideally should have a local code and not an 0845 code.
Above all, you need to have high quality content, because that is what Google and the other search engines are all about. Put yourself in Google’s shoes. If someone searches for ‘Solicitor in Bristol’, there may be 50 firms to choose from. Which one would you rank at the top? It would be the site that has traffic, that visitors spend time on, and that people link to and mention in blogs and in social media — all of which adds up to a winning digital footprint. It would not be a site that people arrive at and then quickly leave.
Finally, if you are using an SEO agency, make sure you know what they are doing. Google Webmaster Tools is free and is easy to use. If nothing else, just look in the messages section. Any really bad news from Google about your website will be in there.
Listen to this cry of anguish. It came from someone commenting at the end of a blog post about Penguin 2.0, which (as I will explain) was an update that Google made to its search ranking algorithm.
To paraphrase: "For eight years I have been trying to follow the twists and turns of what Google wants websites to do. Every time I finish making changes, Google changes the rules again. I am trying to make my ecommerce site successful, but I cannot. I have lost my life savings on this business. I am not going to bother changing after this. If Google moves the goalposts again after Penguin 2.0 they can go **** themselves."
That was in May. Later in the summer Google released the Hummingbird update, a change to the algorithm that was an absolute whopper.
While I completely sympathise with the person whose savings had run out, there is a positive aspect to the changes that Google endlessly makes.
Consider these changes over the last ten years, each one given a name rather like the way hurricanes are named:
2003: Florida update penalised websites that were stuffed with spammy key words.
2004: Brandy update penalised too many synonyms (eg wealthy is a synonym of rich).
2005: Bourbon update hit duplicate content; Big Daddy update hit low quality reciprocal links.
2009: Vince update rewarded news authorities and recognised brands.
2010: Mayday update rewarded specialised niche websites.
2011: Panda update tackled “content farm” websites full of SEO-based content. And as well as algorithms, Google used human testers to identify low quality content.
2012: Penguin update further penalised spammy links.
2013: Penguin 2.0 hit spammy links and other SEO deception activities even harder.
Yes, put simply, Google is trying to penalise the tricksters and reward those of us that provide good, honest, high quality content.
Now Hummingbird moves beyond looking at the mere words in a search; it attempts to understand the full meaning of the query, so it can then deliver search results to match. So you can expect websites that answer lots of questions to do well.
The poor guy who spent eight years losing his life savings on an ecommerce website will have known all along that Google would gradually improve its search techniques, but meanwhile he had to compete using the techniques that were delivering the best results that month. Alas there was no easy option for him, even with the benefit of hindsight.
We are now getting to a point where all of us can focus on content that meets the needs of the website user. The Donut websites have done this all along — because our revenue is not advertising-based and so we do not rely on high traffic figures. So ironically we have ended up with better traffic than sites that may have invested huge sums in SEO.
Rory MccGwire is the chief executive of Atom Content Publishing, publishers of the Donut websites.
Confused by social media? Check out this brilliant infographic based on the iconic tube map:
Click on the infographic to enlarge.
Supplied by Laura Hampton, the digital marketing manager at Hallam Internet.
In the current climate, not all businesses can afford to pay hundreds if not thousands of pounds to marketing or SEO agencies to improve the ranking of their websites.
However there are some simple steps businesses can take which will help drive your website up the search engines.
1. Make sure all your products and services are described in depth
Google’s search engine works on a very simple question and answer model. You type in what you want and Google returns the websites that best match your search. Therefore your website needs to include all the names and various terms (keywords) that describe your products and services. Google also likes to see your products and services described and worded naturally, with lots of support information that relates to that content.
2. Add new content regularly
If you read the newspaper every day and it reported the same news stories week after week, you would never buy it. View your website in the same way. Generally speaking, Google ranks websites that update their content regularly higher than those that do not. Why? Because Google wants to present current content to its searchers.
New content may include such things as better product or service descriptions, company news, market news, new clients, new projects, case studies, testimonials, guides, video, photo gallery, hints & tips, articles — you get the picture!
3. Generate some inbound links to your website
Why create inbound links? Because Google interprets this as somebody else endorsing the quality of your website, which is a big thumbs up.
Getting a link from another website to yours can be easy, but unfortunately these tend to be the ones that don’t carry any value. Links can be generated from lots of websites, including suppliers, customers, industry associations, industry magazines, industry news and articles, trade and general directories and portals.
There are also many different ways to achieve the link. With a directory it might simply be a case of adding your company details, which is why they don’t often carry any value.
With suppliers you might want to write a press release on a recent project endorsing their products. With a customer you could write a press release celebrating your longstanding relationship. With industry sites you may wish to offer your services to blog and comment on certain topics.
When you create a link within an article, where possible try to link from a keyword to the relevant page on your website. You may have to pay for some of your links, particularly in things like industry news websites or general news websites. If the website has a reasonably high page rank, then this is certainly worth considering.
4. Create a blog
As I mentioned, Google gives credit to websites that update their content regularly. Create a blog on your website that enables you to add comments and news information on what’s going on in your business on a regular basis.
5. Create links within your website
Google likes to see websites that are well structured and which help visitors navigate through the site effectively. Within the wording of your website, create links to other pages where people might wish to go for more information.
If you are in an extremely competitive marketplace, deploying these tactics alone is unlikely to get your website to the top of page one for your target keywords. Whilst the ranking of your website will certainly improve, to achieve the top positions on Google you will require the support of a specialist SEO agency.
Jonathan Scott is sales director at Northern Light Media.
This year, Google has made significant changes to its search engine algorithm, most notably their “Panda” update which devalues sites with poor quality content.
Poor quality content can be anything from plagiarised or duplicate content to text littered with SEO keywords clearly designed to manipulate the search rankings.
Small businesses which have website content that is not up to scratch will find themselves plummeting down the rankings, losing both vital traffic and potential business. So how do you create content for your website that’s inspiring, compelling and, most importantly, genuinely useful to your customers?
The best place to start is by identifying and researching the behaviours of all of the different types of people that use your services. We’re an airport parking specialist, so we understood that families going on holiday regularly book with us. That’s a good starting point but the trick is to delve deeper.
We looked at what issues families may face when travelling to the airport. For example, they tend to be carrying a lot of luggage plus buggies and their children and, as a result, can take longer to get to the airport than most people. Therefore the start of their holiday is often a stressful time. How could we help them further when they book with us?
Providing a solution
If you’ve identified all of the different types of people that may use your services then the next step is to delve into online forums and social communities relevant to your customers to find the kind of questions that they are asking. These questions can be used to generate ideas for content.
Continuing the families’ example, we looked into various parent forums online and saw that they were asking questions such as “what are the regulations with taking food and drink through security?” So we created in-depth content to answer these questions including a guide to Heathrow security and a family travel guide looking at packing, researching and booking a holiday, getting to the airport and what to do at the airport.
Extending your reach
So you understand your customers and have created content to answer their questions — now you need to consider how you’re going to spread the word far and wide to let more people know that your content actually exists.
Create a detailed seeding plan looking at relevant sites to approach with your content and consider writing and distributing a press release to send out via online newswires to help spread the word.
Time well spent
All of this may seem time consuming, and it is! However, if done properly, your efforts will be well worth it. Off the back of our new and improved content we’ve seen big increases in traffic to our website, better conversion results and increased overall revenue. Content is most certainly king.
Oliver Inwards is e-commerce manager at Purple Parking.
We have lots of great blogs and articles about creating website content to help and inspire you:
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the way of improving visibility by trying to ensure one has as high a web ranking as possible when relevant searches are undertaken. This is visibility in unpaid or organic search results as opposed to those opportunities which companies pay for in order to be found.
As many people’s first port of call, when looking for a new product or service, is a search engine, the importance of coming up in the first few entries, on a relevant search, is widely understood.
Many people, however, still think of SEO as separate from any social media activity they undertake. However, this is simply no longer the case. Social media is fast becoming the major way that people are sharing and, therefore, discovering new information online. This means that search engines have long had to take into account social media activity and incorporate it into their search results. This is because so much web activity is undertaken on social platforms and so failure to do this would start to render search results irrelevant.
The trend, however, has been fast tracked by the creation of the Google + platform. Google is now incorporating brand pages from the platform into search results. They are also providing users with the option to see relevant search information, gathered from their connections, in the Google + network.
This means that if businesses want to ensure they show up in the searches that people undertake, they have to address their social media activity as part of their SEO strategy, not as a separate entity. In other words, the lines are blurring between what is traditional SEO and what is social media activity. Over time, they are very likely to become almost one and the same thing.
Social Media Optimisation (SMO) is not as familiar a phrase as SEO. However, it is now becoming increasingly important in the effectiveness of SEO.
Businesses must increasingly ask themselves what they are trying to convey in a piece of social media activity. By understanding the message they are trying to put across, they will be able to ensure they use the relevant keywords in order that the content is found.
Furthermore, companies must ask where the value in their activity is for a customer. It is only by ensuring that they are adding value, from a customer perspective, that businesses can protect themselves from falling into the trap of simply using social media platforms to broadcast their message. Simply broadcasting is not engaging and is likely to damage a company’s reputation over time.
Finally, businesses must ask themselves why and how they would expect someone to share any content they create. Without making it easy for people to share content and without giving them a reason to do this, companies miss out on the biggest opportunity social media provides. That is, not all marketing and communications have to be undertaken by your business.
Today, those people engaged with your organisation have the means to market and communicate your business for you. These communications are more likely to be well received because they are not sent by a company but by one’s friends and colleagues. Moreover, these are people you could probably never hope to reach any other way.
One of the trends for 2012 is the increasing socialisation of information. The web is becoming social. The lines between activity on social platforms and other web activity are becoming blurred. Failure to incorporate social media as part of your overall SEO strategy will render it less likely that your organisation appears in the search results of your potential customers.