If you have anything to do with managing a website or marketing for your business, I bet you’ve heard of SEO.
SEO (search engine optimisation) is one of the most valuable channels available to ensure the success of your website. It’s also a practice that’s notorious for technical jargon, sketchy operators and constant changes in what to do and what not to do.
So, what exactly is SEO and why is it important?
To break it down to its simplest form, SEO is any activity that helps improve your website’s organic (not paid for) search rankings. The higher your website ranks for organic search results; the more likely people are to visit your website!
Why is SEO so complicated?
We’ll use Google for this article, because Google is the world’s largest search engine and is pretty much responsible for the state of modern SEO.
At the end of the day, Google wants to provide the best possible experience to the end user. The end user in most cases is someone looking for a solution to a problem. Google wants to solve that problem with speed, efficiency and simplicity so that person has a positive experience and will likely turn to Google again the next time they have a problem.
So how does Google decide which website has the best quality and most relevant information for that person?
The algorithm (queue heavenly choir…)
Google has a super-secret algorithm that it uses to check and index just about every publicly available website in the world. What does it check for? Thousands and thousands of factors, covering everything from the technical structure and website content to page speed and user friendliness.
The algorithm is a closely guarded secret, but Google will occasionally give hints and tips on what people should be doing. It’s also updated quite regularly to adapt to changes in trends and technology, because Google is all about the end user.
How does Google know which websites to show people?
Have you ever noticed that little message at the top of a search results page that says something like -20,000,000,000 results in 0.50 seconds-?
This doesn’t mean that Google has just raced through 20 billion websites in half a second before deciding which ones best match your search term.
Google uses a little piece of software called a bot to scour a website from top to bottom on a regular basis, checking every aspect of the website and feeding the data into its proprietary algorithm.
It learns what kind of information is on the site, how easy the site is to use, how fast the site loads, whether it has links to other websites and thousands of other signals.
By doing this, it builds an enormous index of websites so that when a person makes a search for specific information, Google can provide a list of webpages that are more likely to contain the most relevant and highest quality information for that person.
Google is constantly updating this index by crawling just about every publicly available website in the world so it always has a fast and easy to read “map” of websites and information and can point someone in the right direction almost instantly.
Like sands through the hourglass, so is the drama of SEO
SEO is a big industry, encompassing everything from freelancers doing piecemeal work to large agencies dedicated entirely to SEO. There’s one thing that’s common to all SEO practitioners – drama.
SEO is an ever-evolving industry, simply for the fact that the way people look for information is ever-evolving. Technology, consumer behaviour, culture and trends all influence the way people look for and consume information, so Google is constantly adapting both its products (Chrome Browser, Android OS etc.) and its search algorithm.
Updates to Google’s search algorithm are infamous in the SEO industry. Whenever Google is gearing up to introduce an update, most of the time they’ll give the industry a bit of warning by announcing the new version, its name and some hints and tips about what’s changing and how best to adapt your strategy.
Some of these updates over the years have been relatively minor and haven’t required SEO professionals to adapt their strategies and practices much, if at all. On the other hand, some updates have caused absolute meltdowns and forced SEO professionals to overhaul everything.
You might have heard about some of these updates by the cute names that Google gives them, like Penguin, Panda, Fred or Bert (their most recent update).
Some are better known by the nicknames bestowed by the industry, like the Earth shattering 2015 Mobilegeddon update, when Google shifted their search algorithm to mobile first website indexing over the traditional desktop first method.
The Dark Side
There’s another reason Google are always changing the way they rank websites: Black Hat SEO. Like any industry, there’s the good guys (white hat) and the bad guys (black hat). White hat SEO professionals play by the rules, use reliable and proven techniques and most importantly, play by Google’s rules. White hat SEO is a slow and methodical process – it’s incredibly time intensive work, but it pays off in the long run.
Blackhat SEO is the practice of improving a website’s search rankings by cheating the system or going against search engine guidelines. Through trial and error, dodgy Black Hat practitioners have figured out specific techniques that can achieve phenomenal short-term results but can earn harsh penalties if they get caught.
Google is focused on the end user’s experience and won’t tolerate websites that jeopardize that experience. Google doesn’t want to expose a user to a dodgy website that doesn’t contain the information they’re after or that might pose a risk to the user.
Some of these dodgy techniques include:
- Keyword Stuffing – the practice of stuffing every part of a webpage with high value keywords. Both the visible content that a user sees and the technical content that a search engine sees are stuffed with specific keywords to try and rank highly for those terms.
- Cloaking – the practice of presenting one lot of content to a search engine and different content to a human user
- Link farming – using a website or a network of websites with the sole purpose of hosting outgoing links instead of content
That’s just a few techniques, but the full list is massive and there have been some quite ingenious practices invented over time to try and game Google’s algorithm.
Google however is constantly investigating new methods of black hat SEO and updating its algorithm accordingly. If you get caught cheating, Google will penalise you and bury your website deep in the SERPs (search engine results pages), which depending on your business, can have a disastrous impact.
If you do get penalised (you’ll know for sure if you get a message in your Google Search Console account), you’ll have to go about fixing whatever issues Google identified with your site. Don’t take this lightly! In Google’s eyes, you’ve broken the law and must atone for your sins. Fix whatever Google has told you you’re doing wrong, triple check that your fix actually addresses the problem and submit a Reconsideration Request in the Manual Actions Report of your Search Console account (you will only see the Reconsider Request option if you have been penalised).
Some people are willing to risk it for the biscuit, some people are happy to toe the line, but for many businesses and SEO professionals, it’s just not worth it.
This is part 1 of our Intro to SEO series – check the Intro to SEO – Part 2 here. If you have any questions about SEO for your website (or SEO in general), please leave us a message from the form below, give us a call on 0409 111 776 or drop in to our office and say hi!
You can also run a FREE website SEO audit on your website to see check what state your SEO is in.