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Creative Wednesday 22nd April 2015

The mysterious art of SEO

The mysterious art of SEO

SEO in 2015 is unrecognisable from the search techniques that we may have used even two or three years ago. There used to be a time when if you had more backlinks (links from a third party website that come into your website) than your competitors, then that in itself might well have been enough to see your company topping the Google charts.

But not anymore.

Google’s objective is simple. When you enter a keyword into its search engine, it wants the 10 most relevant websites to be listed at the top of the results page.

If I did a search for ‘dentist London’, but Google showed me a list of dentists in Manchester – then as a search engine it has let me down, and therefore as a consumer I might think twice about using it again.

However if for the same search it showed me a list of dentists in London, I clicked on the first result it showed me and that website or phone number no longer works – then in a similar way, it has let me down again, as the information it has shown me is just as irrelevant.

In the ‘old days’, Google based the popularity of a website on how many other sites linked to it because it didn’t have much else to go on. The problem was however, that this became very easy for companies and agencies alike to fake.

So for example, someone could simply purchase some backlinks to their site, or even set up a number of fake sites that linked back to their own.

Google eventually wised-up and took massive steps to retain their authority as the leading search engine – it wanted to show the searcher the best natural, or ‘organic’ results on page one – not results that had been manipulated by businesses simply for their own advantage.

So almost overnight, it implemented changes that were affectionately nicknamed ‘Panda’ and ‘Penguin’ – and these updates pretty-much focussed on the quality of website content, and the links that come into the website.

In a nutshell, SEO can be split into two categories – ‘on-page’ and ‘off-page’.

‘On-page’ is all about the content and performance of your site – how valuable the information on your site is (it’s what the user ultimately came to see, after all), how often the search keywords are implemented and where, how easy it is to navigate, how quickly it loads, how good it looks on a smartphone or tablet.

‘Off-page’ tends to concern the links coming into your site and how authentic they are, as well as links from Social Media sites (‘Social Proof’ is becoming increasingly more relevant as a ranking factor) and other factors including site security and more.

However the ‘on-page’ factors are not only the most important, but are also often in your direct control to implement.

This April has seen Google introducing further measures to refine the search process as it responds to the increasing number of users who access the internet using handheld devices.

Against this backdrop, search engine optimisation remains a moving target and every business should ensure that its site is configured appropriately.

Almost overnight, Googleimplemented changes that were affectionately nicknamed‘Panda’ and ‘Penguin’

Here are five factors that you can influence to improve your site’s SEO performance:

Page titles and key words. It’s your job to tell Google what your business does and to include unique keywords on each page of your site that you would want your site to be found for. It’s also important to think about the terms a searcher might be using as opposed to industry-specific terms. For example, Estate Agents will have a ‘Lettings’ department, but a Google user is far more likely to search for ‘Property For Rent’. So having the keywords ‘Property For Rent’ (and ideally the location in this instance) in the page title, the page URL, and the first couple of lines of content on the page would be a great start.

Responsive Layout. How does your website look when it’s viewed on a smartphone or tablet? Over 65% of searches now begin on the move and over 80% of social media use takes place on these devices – how your site performs when viewed in this way can therefore make a huge difference to the user. Do they have to pinch the screen to view the main text for example? If they do, Google knows this and will penalise your website in the rankings accordingly. Making your site mobile-friendly can be easier than you might imagine – but if you’re planning a new website in the future this needs to come as standard from the off.

Navigation and content. You’ve done the hard work – you’ve attracted a potential customer to your website – now you want to keep them there! Simple navigation that makes the user experience as pain-free as possible is a must. The longer someone spends on your site, the more Google sees that visit as relevant in relation to the keyword they searched for to find you, so give them plenty of valuable and relevant info to digest. Videos are great for this and can be keyword optimised on YouTube as a bonus. Google loves a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page so try and include one on your site. This is particularly powerful as we now often tend to search with questions rather than phrases.

Site load speed. Images on your site should be optimised for web performance – it’s possible to make high-resolution images look great on a website but to ‘weigh’ the same as a low-resolution image. The process is called re-sampling (this is different to just re-sizing) and can be implemented on basic image-editing programmes. This is especially important for when sites are being viewed on a mobile internet connection (for example 3G or 4G). It’s also worth paying for a premium hosting solution. Cheaper options can be appealing to the wallet but can dramatically slow down how quickly your site loads. Google wants your home page to display in roughly half a second and your users want this too. It’s frustrating when you’re waiting for a site to load – don’t give your visitors an excuse to look elsewhere.

How does your website look when it’s viewed on a smartphone or tablet?

Google my business. Every business in the world has the right to take ownership of a FREE business page, provided by Google and now linked to Google’s own Social Network, Google+. Just head over to google.com/business to claim yours. Here you can assign business categories, post images, descriptions, videos and updates, plus your customers can leave reviews (Google loves these, particularly for local businesses). Most importantly – it’s an easy and obvious way to tell Google who you are, what you do and where you do it, and a link from your website to your Google+ Business page will give your website a sure-fire SEO boost.