0 reasons not to care about SEO

Text originally posted on http://blog.omnicom.rs
No pictures were retrieved after the blog was taken down.

Of course there are 0 reasons. If you are using the internet to write just for yourself, then you might as well just save a file on your computer. Believe me: if you don’t optimise your site for search engines, it will be seen by few more people than if it was locally stored on your machine. I know it, I’ve tried. So whether you’re an artist trying to reach out, small or big business looking for customers, or freelancer presenting your portfolio, don’t waste your time and money for a web presentation if you don’t intend to do it right.

What is SEO?

I guess all of you know the answer to this question. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and represents all the efforts you put into making your site rank higher in search engine results. Since Google’s market share is 90% worldwide (source), it’s natural to think “Google” whenever a search engine is mentioned. Search engines keep their algorithms secret, but they do give away tips from time to time. That’s how SEO became both science and profession.

In the beginning…

…there was a web page. Then, suddenly, there were many, and people started looking for the one containing the info they needed. Trying to classify the content in the most democratic way, where the people themselves decide which pages were more useful to them, Google’s founders wrote the algorithm that takes two parameters in account: page title and link popularity (source). This meant that for the same page title, the page which had more other sites linking to it (and more popular sites, for that matter) would win the search result ranking game.

The SEO hats

I mentioned that search engines do their best to keep their algorithms secret, and for a good reason. The moment a certain aspect of the algorithm leaks into public, new ways of exploiting it start being made. What do you think happened with the simple link popularity method? It seemed like a very good method that would take human interests into account, and therefore return the best results for a certain topic. However, some people realised that if they exchanged links even without a good reason, their ranks got higher. A whole network of blog groups, forums and link building sites was created and started taking over the first pages of every search. These are called link schemes. It was then that Google began selecting and filtering good and bad practices: use and misuse of search engine optimisation. The terms previously used for hackers now started describing SEO techniques: white hat SEO, black hat SEO and grey hat SEO. As long as you’re doing everything to rules, you’re under a white hat. If you’re using black hat techniques (that Google specifically told you not to), you’re likely to get penalised and blacklisted from Google ranking for unethical SEO. But many people just prefer to live on the edge, and to use questionable methods that were never mentioned to be bad, as such, by search engine giants. Many of these people call themselves experts, and offer to get your site “to the first page of Google” in no time at all, but their grey hat methods might do your ranking more damage in the long term. This is especially true since Google (and other search engines too) is constantly improving it’s algorithms to fight exactly this behaviour, and will penalise you with no warning when the time comes.

Penguin and Panda

Two important updates to Google algorithms were applied since 2011.

The first one was Panda, which aimed to improve the ranking of high quality websites. It actually took into account the loading speed, design, trustworthiness and user satisfaction (measured by whether or not they are likely to return to the site): i.e. the overall quality of the website. The AI was in charge of comparing the sites for which data was available to other sites on the web, and presenting the search results accordingly. Many mistakes were spotted at first (e.g. scrapers getting better rankings than originals), but Google improved the algorithm several times since then, and it is doing its job very well now.

The second important recent update of Google’s algorithm was Penguin. It was designed to penalise the use of black hat SEO techniques, like keyword stuffing, duplicate content and many others. Google keeps the updates to Penguin publicly available, to make it clear what kind of behaviour is not acceptable.

Enough talk, let’s do business

Ok, I am done with the history and introduction. You’re probably here because you’re interested in how to improve your site’s search engine ranking. I will give you a few pieces of advice, and I am sure you will be able to find many more on the web. Even though I am working in an IT company, I prefer a more human approach to SEO. That means that you are optimising your site’s content for the visitor, and just tweaking it up with technical knowledge and programming, to allow search engines to “understand” your site like a user would. If your article is about dogs, you can’t trick search engines that it talks about cats, but you can easily make the mistake of omitting the word “dogs” in the key places in your HTML structure, and get a very low ranking in a search for “dogs”.

There are two very important things to bear in mind when planning your SEO work and budget:

1. SEO is a continuous process, not a one time job

You will see later, when I start listing specific points and techniques, that many of them require constant work. You can plan to do them on your own, and thus save money, or to pay someone to do it, and save time. Your choice. Be aware that saving both money and time is very unlikely.

2. SEO requires patience

If you are doing everything right, you will see the results. The results will often come incredibly slowly, and you will be disappointed and ready to give up. But they will come. A solid SEO strategy is based on technical optimisation and optimisation of the content, with a high influence of the social factor. How does one become popular in the neighbourhood? If it is not for bad deeds or crazy behaviour – very slowly. And that’s just the neighbourhood we’re talking about. The web is much bigger than that.

And now, to the point: SEO strategy

1. Page title: very important. Wisely choose the words that will represent your article. The same title comes up in search results, so you clearly want it to be catchy for the visitor, while highly relevant to the topic on the page. Keep in mind that it’s a big world out there. Most probably, there are many websites that write about the same things as you. Do a little research about search terms and detect the relevant “longtail” keywords that are often searched, but have fewer results. That way, you will have less competition for the specific term, will get better ranking for it and get to a smaller fraction of the audience (but that will more likely turn into leads, fans, customers, whatever you’re aiming for).

2. Meta description: if you don’t type it in, Google will take the text it wants from your page, and you might not want that. Apart from being an important factor in ranking, it also often decides whether a search engine user will become your site’s visitor or not. Be careful of the grammar and typos: would you read an article written by someone who can’t even get the description right?

3. Meta keywords: not so important. Many search engine companies announced a long time ago that they are not taking into account meta keywords any more. However, some still do, and since you’re defining your page’s keywords anyway while creating quality content, relevant title and description, you might as well just type them in the appropriate meta field.

4. Design: very important. It is not only the visual identity and colours of the site that appeal to the user, it is also the usability, readability, menu hierarchy, text formatting, and much more than that. By making a responsive site, rather then a mobile and web version (the percentage of smart-phone users is not negligible any more), you will have one, rather then two URLs for the same content – which is highly advisable by search engines, and in many cases good for visitors too.

5. Content: crucial! If you want long term success, then creating great content, often, is the way to go. Get familiar with advice about keyword density and positioning, about the formatting and correct use of headers, about alternate texts and titles for pictures… There is some good advice in this article, but I would say that it is impossible to write for search engines and make it “sound natural”. My preferred way is to write for people, and then tweak for search engines in the end. Regular website updating, regular blog posting and responding to comments is a good way to keep visitors coming, and keep search engine bots crawling more often.

6. Google Webmaster Tools: they are your friends. Register your site, research the options, submit a sitemap and follow instructions. You can’t go wrong with that.

7. Link building: highly important but very delicate. Create profiles on social media – that’s a minor addition to your ranking, but it still is an addition. Share your content to get to wider public. If your content is good, people will re-share it. If it gets to the right people, it will be linked from other sites and blogs. Be careful when guest-blogging and exchanging links: you might get penalised for artificial link building or for blogging on irrelevant websites (source).

That’s it. But why ask me? Ask all the people writing articles that are much better ranked than mine.

Predicting SEO industry trends for 2014

Not me, I would not dare. I recently read this article and it all made sense. If you’re not in the mood for reading it after this lengthy post of mine, let me just outline the most interesting points.

“Author authority matters”

Google has already started with “Google Authorship” tool. All the posts on a personal and corporate blog, and all the guest blog-posts will be linked to the author’s name, if the author registers his account in Google Authorship. That means that it will be easy to check what the main subjects are and what the author is qualified to talk about.

“Mobile performance and compatibility matter”

Mobile versions or responsive design are becoming the new minimum threshold. Besides, site speed will also have a bigger impact on site ranking algorithms.

“Diversifying link text is ongoing”

Google has found a way to identify active link building, by assessing their optimisation. If anchor text was optimal and identical in more than 30% of the cases… you have surely been active.

I would gladly write more about the topic, but I suppose that very few of you who came to this point think that something might have been left unsaid. If you have something to add, feel free! Comments are welcome.