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09 September 2013

SEO is people

SEO - Search Engine Optimisation - is the technical art of adjusting a website to make it appear higher in search results.  For the majority of businesses, getting their website onto the first page of Google's search results is marketing priority number one.

Rightly so. For many users, if a website isn't on the first page of Google's search results, it does not exist.

The implementation methods for improving your website's position in the SERPs (Search Engine Rank Page) not only vary in terms of success, but also change practise constantly when Google alters its search algorithm, to help users find the most appropriate page for the words they are searching for. Your website could be on page one for months, and then suddenly (catastrophically) page ten, after an algorithm update.


Why?

The Death of the Keyword tag

Google changes its search algorithm constantly, and SEO specialists must adjust their practises to suit.

As an example, years ago we used an HTML tag, the meta keyword tag as a standard search engine optimisation method, amongst other methods. Meta tags are placed in the header area of a website's code, and the user never sees them. The meta keyword tag allowed a business owner to list the most appropriate keywords for their web page, to help search engines find it when users searched for those keywords.

It was a technique that worked for about as long as people were being honest. However, this is business, and competition for page one of Google caused all sorts of meta keyword manipulations to fall into practise.

Meta keywords fell to the spammers, who started doing what we call Keyword stuffing - putting hundreds - even thousands - of keywords into a meta keyword tag, to manipulate search results and force their client's website to appear higher in the search results for those keywords, regardless of whether they were the most appropriate result for users or not.

 

I once came across a website that had over eight hundred keywords in its meta keyword tag (there were so many I felt compelled to paste them into Word and run a word count on them). The site was extremely slow to load, because despite the meta keywords not being visible to the user, a browser still had to load all that data before it could finish loading the rest of the page to the user.

The website was sacrificing user experience, simply to position itself higher in search results.

After a variety of unsuccessful attempts to dissuade meta keyword stuffing, by penalising for using more than a certain number for example, Google stopped using the meta keyword tag altogether in their search algorithm calculations. You can read more about the decision in this article:  Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking.

Google Changes; SEO Evolves

The death of the meta keyword tag is just one example of a once-standard SEO practise falling into complete irrelevancy and disuse, due to a change in the Google search algorithm. It is an example of how, if you try to trick someone into visiting your website, you will be penalised.

Many methods of search-engine optimisation have fallen into similar disuse, for similar reasons, and many legitimate methods we use right now will be obsolete in years to come as spammers find ways to manipulate SERPs using those techniques.


How do you SEO, then?

You don't.

I believe that the meta keywords tag would have eventually been thrown out of the algorithm regardless of spammers misusing it, purely because the content in it was not visible to the user. Anything that the user can't see or interact with may be manipulated, be it now or in the future, to climb higher in Google and essentially "trick" users.

So a good rule may be to never optimise your content for a search engine or specific release of the algorithm, but to optimise it for people.

Don't search engine optimise; people optimise. Google's alterations to the search algorithm over the years are consistent in a sense, and reach toward a common goal - make the results as relevant as possible to the user.

They crawl websites constantly, looking for the most relevant pages based on the visible, text copy of the site, the headings and images used, links between sites to each other, comments and interactions with users who have visited, and who knows exactly what else?

Google doesn't want anyone to know exactly how the algorithm works, because as soon as they do, spammers will take advantage of it, and make the results irrelevant, just as they did with the meta keywords tag, and are doing right now through link spamming (…more on that later).

How do you optimise a website for humans? It's very simple, but it takes time, effort and planning.


1. Search for your service

Think about what you would search for, as a customer, to land on your homepage. How do you want people to find you? Use the Google Keyword Planner tool (you will need to be logged into your Google account to use it) during this research to assess exactly how many global and local searches are being done with the search terms you would use as a customer trying to find your services. The search terms you initially enter may not be as highly searched for as you believe, but luckily the utility offers suggestions for alternative, but related keywords.  

Figuring out which search term or terms your customers will be using will help you write searchable, relevant content; relevant specifically to what your customers out there are trying to find.

Search engine optimisation then isn't about manipulating a search engine to believe you are the authority on a subject, but about making your website's content as genuinely relevant as possible to the people who want or need to find it.


2. Write responsibly

Write relevant, well-edited, concise copy for your website that legitimately refers to these search terms you've decided to aim for. Make sure they're in your headings and your title tags - always keep their placement legitimate. Keyword stuffing still exists; unfortunately, in copy, and Google already penalises the practise.

 

The saving grace of people who insist upon keyword-stuffing their copy is that the majority of users who land on their page will leave, very quickly, when they start reading content that was obviously intended for a search engine. While they may appear higher in the SERPs, they are not going to convert those clicks into sales, and they have lost their human customer's trust.

So, put keywords in helpful places, in sentences that are constructed and read well. Add relevant images that are named appropriately (a user may well find your site after searching for something on Google image?). Take time to structure your copy and page layouts and make it informative and logical. The more time you take tweaking your content, the more users will find it useful, so consequentially, the higher you will climb in Google.

For more information straight from the source, have a read through Google's Quality guidelines.


3. Tell us where you're sending us: links matter

Linking is an important, useful resource for users after more information on any topic, offering further reading from authoritative sources, related downloads, video tutorials, etc.

How you structure a link is important to the user, and hence the search engine. A user will be more likely to click on a link that has the information they are looking for in the title, than to a link that says 'click here'. There is a fair amount of distrust surrounding the words 'click here' when it comes to links within copy, again because of spammers. Spammers have done to links what they did years ago to meta keywords; overused and manipulated them, to the point Google are going to alter their support of and penalise soon, too).

Ensure your link titles are descriptive, so the user knows exactly where they'll be sent when they click it. Link only to the most relevant content that genuinely supports your own site's content.

Never let someone pay you for a link, particularly a text-based link. This violates Google's webmaster guidelines, as defined in Google's Link Schemes documentation.

A good example of how to properly structure links can be found in any Wikipedia article. I don't think I've ever seen the words "click here" on their website. And as we all know, Wikipedia is one of the most useful, highly ranked websites on the Internet today.


SEO…is…PEOPLE!

If you go into optimising your website with search engines in mind, your website may experience a fleeting moment of glory on page one of Google. But Google's algorithm will evolve, and page one may suddenly turn into page ten, or worse; violate too many of Google's webmaster guidelines and your site may actually be removed entirely from Google. Don't try to trick people into landing on your site. People know when they are being tricked. Thus the algorithm will know when you are trying to trick it, eventually, too.

Optimise your website for people, and make it as easy as possible for your customers to get the best, most relevant information and services they need from you. Do this and no matter how Google alters their algorithm in the future, your website will rise in the search results.

Optimise your website with real people in mind, and the SERPs will reward you. But Google's algorithm  will evolve...and where will that leave your website? Page ten? Or worse?


Haydon
AUTHOR

Haydon

UI Development Manager
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