Wouldn’t it be great if you could build a website, submit it to a search engine directory and receive thousands of visitors each day? Unfortunately that’s just wishful thinking, as the process of increasing your site visibility is much trickier.
If you want your website to appear on relevant search engine results pages and receive high levels of traffic, you will need to put time and effort into improving it’s SEO. Here we have provided a comprehensive guide to SEO, looking at both its history and best practices.
If you want to drive targeted traffic through to your website, you will need to optimise it for search engines.
SEO Background Info – What is SEO?
Before we look at the history of SEO, it’s probably best that you gain a basic understanding of what it is and how it can be used. SEO stands for search engine optimisation and is all about improving and promoting website positions on search engine result pages in order to increase the number of visitors a site receives.
There are many factors that contribute towards a website’s SEO including it’s content, inbound links from other websites and the structure of the site itself. Later in this article we will discuss each of these factors individually and explain how you can use them to boost your website’s search rankings.
Why is SEO important?
So SEO is all about improving your website’s position on search results pages, but why is that so important? To answer your question– it’s basically all to do with driving traffic to your website and increasing it’s conversion rate.
Most webmasters find that major search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo drive a large proportion of their site traffic. This is true whether a site sells products or services or delivers content and information to users. The traffic driven by search engines is targeted in the sense that users have been actively looking for the products, services, content or information you offer.
If your site is not search engine friendly i.e. it cannot be found or read by search engine spiders, then you will essentially be missing out on the opportunity to increase your conversion rates and profit your business.
As we mentioned before, unfortunately you cannot just sit their and expect people to find your website. You need to proactively put your site out there and help both search engines and users to find it. One of the best ways to do this is through developing a unique SEO strategy. Tailor made SEO strategies offer a great return on investment, often more so than other marketing and promotional efforts.
History of SEO
Now we have explained what SEO is and why it is important, let’s take a look at its history and how it became so crucial to the success of today’s websites.
The birth of the World Wide Web meant that people everywhere were given the opportunity to look for information and answers to their questions online. But as more and more websites were built, there became a need for search engines – tools designed to organise and catalogue websites, making it easier for users to find the information they needed quickly and efficiently.
Over the years, as more and more search tools were launched, webmasters developed a growing desire to rank highly at the top of their results pages, especially when it became evident that the sites ranking nearest the top were seeing the greatest increases in traffic. In time, people began to study the actions of search engines and webmasters started to construct and promote their websites in order to gain a higher position on SERPs (search engine results pages). This resulted in the birth of SEO and later search engine marketing and internet marketing.
SEO came about as webmasters looked for ways to increase their website rankings on search engine results pages.
From humans to robots
Did you know that search engines used to be edited manually by people? Although people still have a role to play in determining search rankings, the majority of search engines (certainly the big ones like Google, Bing and Yahoo) use robots called spiders to crawl and index websites according to set criteria.
The first crawler to index entire web pages was created in 1994 in Washington by a man named Brian Pinkerton. He used the crawler to produce a site called Webcrawler.
Three years later, the search engine Excite Search was making waves and even went on to purchase Webcrawler. However by 2001 it had stopped producing its own search listings.
Another popular search engine of the nineties was Lycos – one of the earliest crawler based search engines.
Around the time that search engines like Excite Search and Lycos were becoming more widely used, a number of websites were popping up that focused on providing users with information about search engines. One of these sites was Search Engine Watch, set up in 1996 by Danny Sullivan. This website still exists today and is a fantastic source of SEO information.
By 1998, Google had started to become the big deal it is today, launching Page Rank, a tool for evaluating a website’s inbound links, to rank websites more accurately. Google’s Page Rank is what effectively started the relationship between SEO and link building.
Today Google is still the world’s biggest search engine and tends to be the one that webmasters aim to get their site ranking highly on. Speak to any webmaster and you are likely to find that they tailor their SEO strategies to Google’s latest algorithm updates.
For those who don’t know, a search engine algorithm is basically a set of rules and calculations that Google uses to work out which websites should rank highest for specific keyword searches. The search engine tends to make small changes to it’s algorithms every year (500 to 600 times a year according to Moz) but occasionally it will also make bigger changes that affect search engine results significantly.
Google created Google Penguin to penalise websites that violated its terms.
Two of the biggest changes in recent years include Google Panda and Google Penguin. Google Panda was announced in February 2011 and was designed to lower the ranking of lower quality sites in order to ensure that only high quality sites were capable of reaching the top search results positions. It affected almost twelve per cent of all searches.
A year later, in April 2012, Google announced the launch of Google Penguin. This algorithm was designed to decrease the search engine rankings of websites that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, something we will go on to discuss in the next section about white hat and black hat SEO.
White hat vs. black hat SEO
If you have been reading up on SEO, it is likely that you will have come across the terms ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’ SEO. These terms relate to the specific techniques used by webmasters and marketing experts when trying to improve the search engine ranking of a website or webpage.
White hat SEO
White hat SEO is the use of ethical methods to achieve higher search engine rankings. These methods comply with Google and other search engine’s guidelines. There are many white hat SEO techniques you can used to improve your search ranking, some of which you can read about later in this article.
Here at Online Media Direct we only ever practice white hat SEO in order to provide our clients with ethical and beneficial results that profit their websites and businesses in the long term.
Don’t risk destroying your website rankings and reputation by using black hat SEO techniques.
Black hat SEO
Black hat SEO refers to the process of artificially increasing the rankings of a webpage by manipulation. This could be by increasing the number of links pointed to a page via link schemes and link farms, creating hidden content and stuffing keywords into your content and meta descriptions (see our best practices for writing meta descriptions here).
Whilst black hat SEO techniques might have a positive effect on your search rankings, any benefits will only be experienced in the short term. By carrying out black hat SEO practices, you will be putting your website at risk from being penalised by Google and other search engines.
As we mentioned before, Google Penguin is an algorithm that is designed to identify and penalise websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you are issued a Google penalty you may see a decrease in your website’s rankings, which may also lead to a decrease in website traffic and conversion rates.
Google penalties can be detrimental to businesses and often result in a loss of revenue. Some businesses that were affected by Google Penguin have still not fully covered their search ranking positions.
If you want to make sure this does not happen to your business website, then keep on Google’s good side by only performing white hat SEO techniques. There are many things you can do to improve your website’s rankings ethically. See for yourself by reading the sections below.
How to improve SEO and increase rankings
In order to improve your website’s SEO, you will need to make sure that your site follows Google’s criteria for a quality website. Sounds easy enough right? Unfortunately Google’s ranking criteria is something that the search engine keeps top secret.
Google claims that it uses hundreds of different factors to determine a websites position on search results pages. Whilst it is impossible to know exactly what is used, it is generally assumed that the search engine favours high authority websites with quality content and excellent usability. They are basically looking for the websites that meet search engine users’ needs best. This is why it is important that you not only optimise your website for search engines but users too.
Below we have outlined some of the ways you can go about improving your website’s SEO ethically.
Quality of website
First off, let’s start with the quality of a website as a ranking factor. In order for your site to be crawled and indexed by search engine spiders, it needs to be built in a way that allows for this. Creating a website with clean, search engine friendly code is the first step to improving it’s search engine optimisation.
You should also think carefully about the structure of your website. Is it easy to navigate? Do all of your pages work? If there are any broken links, spiders will find it difficult to crawl and index your site properly.
Site speed is also considered to be a factor that Google and other search engines use to rank your website. Though site speed isn’t thought to be one of Google’s heaviest weighing factors, if your site loads quickly it will count in your favour.
Finally, you need to consider your site’s bounce rate and how it is impacting its ability to rank well on relevant search engine results pages. Your site’s bounce rate relates directly to how long users are spending on your pages. If your site has a high bounce rate it may be because your site is loading too slowly, users can’t use your website (poor site structure) or it doesn’t contain information related to the keyword search users performed on the search engine.
A high bounce rate will suggest to Google and other search engines that you are not meeting the needs and requirements of users and are perhaps even trying to rank for keywords that are not related to your website content. This could result in a drop in rankings and site traffic.
The best way to keep your bounce rate low is to make sure:
Your site is easy to navigate –
Improve your website’s user experience by working with a web developer to tweak its navigation. The easier it is for users to browse your website, the lower your bounce rate will be.
Your site loads quickly –
Get rid of any unnecessary content to minimise the time it takes for your pages to load. You may also want to consider upgrading your web host package and investing in a caching plugin.
Your content is relevant –
It is essential that your content is relevant to the keywords you are trying to rank for. The more relevant and interesting your website content is, the more likely users are to convert.
Keywords play an important role in search engine optimisation. In order to stand a good chance of ranking well in relevant keyword searches, you need to make sure that your website features keywords related to your products, services and industry.
Keyword research is something that all webmasters should spend time doing. It will help you to see which keywords your site should be optimising and how competitive they are.
Keep in mind that single keywords are not always the most effective choice. With an increasing number of people performing spoken searches, long tail keywords are becoming more and more widely used in SEO. The great thing about optimising your site with long tail keywords is that the users will be further along the process and therefore more likely to convert.
Keywords can be used in title tags, website content, blog posts, image tags and meta descriptions. Click here to learn more about optimising your site with long tail keywords.
Create interesting, unique and relevant content that people will want to link to and share.
Closely linked to keywords is content creation. The better quality your content is, the more visible your site will be to search engines.
The content creation aspect of SEO is all about presenting yourself as an industry expert with high authority. Creating content featuring useful information and fresh ideas is a great way to encourage people to share it on their websites (building natural inbound links) and social media pages (creating social signals). If you have a high volume of users linking to your content, Google will see your website as a great source of information and is more likely to rank it higher in relevant searches.
When it comes to creating content, it has to be 100% original. Google will penalise any sites it finds creating duplicate or auto generated content. Here at Online Media Direct we recommend that all of our clients set up blogs. Blogging is a great way to engage with users, build a reputation as an expert and achieve higher search engine rankings. Blogs updated on a regular basis with fresh content is something that the Google Hummingbird algorithm looks favourably on.
Link building is seen as a controversial SEO subject to tackle, as it is often associated with black hat SEO. However providing you carry out link building in an ethical manner, there is no reason not to use it as part of a white hat SEO strategy.
Basically the idea is that the more high quality inbound links you have pointing towards your website, the more authoritative search engines will see your site as and the higher they will rank you. There is a reason we have underlined the words ‘high quality’ and that is because it is much better to have a small number of quality links than it is to have a large number of poor quality links.
What makes a good link?
A good link is a link that has been obtained ethically. This means that it has not been paid for. It also refers to links that come from established websites with high quality content and relevance to your own website. The longer a site has been established and the more relevant it is to your website, the more weight the link will have in improving your search rankings.
How to identify a bad link
You should avoid creating bad back links at all costs. Avoid working with websites that do not have a high authority or are considered spam sites. If the site has no relevance to you i.e. you do not work in the same industry or have the same target audience, do not accept a link from them.
Bad back links can cause you to be penalised by Google. If you are unfortunate to have a number of bad backlinks in your profile, you will need to think about having them removed or disavowed by an SEO expert.
Things to keep in mind…
When it comes to improving your website’s SEO it is all too easy to get caught up in optimising your site for search engines and forgetting about the people that actually visit and use it. SEO is not just about making your site better for search engines, but people too. At the end of the day, Google and other search engines always do what is best for their users, so by doing the same, you stand a better chance at increasing your search engine rankings.
Create your websites for web users not search engines.
DIY SEO – is it possible?
SEO is a complex subject and there is certainly a lot to learn, but providing you can commit the time to educating yourself and are willing to continuously build your knowledge of the subject, then it is most definitely something you can do yourself. There are plenty of free educational resources out there, it is just about spending the time reading them and putting in the effort to learn SEO.
Of course, not everyone has the time to spend on educating themselves about SEO and that is absolutely fine. There are plenty of SEO experts out there (including Online Media Direct) whose job it is to help brands develop unique strategies that help them achieve higher rankings and profitable long-term results.
What we will say is that even if you decide to work with an expert SEO company, it is still worth taking the time to get to know the basics. The more you know about search engine optimisation, the less likely you are to get caught out by the not-so-ethical SEO companies out there that still use black hat techniques.
Online Media Direct can help you to build an ethical SEO strategy that generates profitable results for your business.
For more information about SEO and any of the white hat techniques mentioned in this article feel free to contact one of our our experts. We will also be more than happy to discuss bespoke SEO strategies for your business and provide you with a no obligation quote, should you wish to work with Online Media Direct.