What is SEO Anyway?
Very basically, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the practice of getting search engines like Google to find, index and rank your website, ideally higher than your competitors’ websites, so that customers can find you. Search engines regularly use programmes known as “spiders” or “bots” to “crawl” the internet looking for content to index and rank. When the spiders find this content they gather data and send it back to the search engine to be filed and added to a wider database. As advanced as spiders have become, they aren’t yet sophisticated enough to fully interpret written content and understand the content and context of images in your web pages.
The various SEO methods you will read about are all ways making your web pages easy for the spiders to access and try to help them to understand what your website is about. By utilising HTML tags correctly, adding alternative text to describe your images and appropriate linking you can correctly “mark up” how the search engines see your website. In order to make the most of these spiders, you should regularly be producing new content for them to catalogue.
Search engines are primarily interested in providing good quality, relevant content to their users, so you need to help them by creating the content and making it easy for them to find and categorise. The results that search engines display are what they believe to be the most appropriate content, so in theory the top results are the best websites for those specific searches and a good basis for what will get onto the front page of Google.
Common SEO Myths Debunked
SEO can sometimes seem like witchcraft to anyone outside the industry, especially if you’ve never come across it before. There are so many factors involved in creating a strong SEO strategy that it’s easy to misunderstand how all of those elements work together, which has spawned some myths about how SEO works. While we could list hundreds, we’ve cut it down to our top 5 SEO myths, and why they just aren’t true.
Keyword Targeting is Irrelevant
After the Google Hummingbird update was rolled out in 2013, search became more sophisticated. Google was attempting to understand and fulfil users’ intent, not just match pages to the keywords entered. The introduction of Hummingbird, an algorithm change which revamped Google’s entire engine, meant that businesses were now forced to focus on creating content that was unique and useful to the end user, with “adding value” as the ultimate goal. Research was quick to point out that with Google Hummingbird in play, keyword targeting only accounted for 15% of the ranking equation for websites. But make no mistake – that 15% still matters, and keyword targeting can be the difference between an OK ranking website and one that makes the top three search results.
Having an XML Sitemap Boosts Rankings
A while back a lot of “experts” were suggesting that having an XML sitemap on your website would improve your search rankings. But if you look through the ranking factors used by search engines, you won’t find XML sitemaps on there anywhere. It’s useful if you want to build a crawlable site (since they give signposts to search engines about what to find on your site), and can help speed up your SEO efforts, but it isn’t a ranking factor in itself, so it won’t boost your page position at all.
Having a Secure Site Isn’t Important
Have you noticed that some sites start with http://, while others start with https://? Or maybe Google has started showing you a warning if you try to go to a website that ‘isn’t secure’? That means the website owner hasn’t secured their website with an SSL certificate (which gives the site that little ‘s’), and the search engine can’t guarantee the safety of your data. In the past SSL certificates didn’t really matter for SEO, but since Google announced that they would be a ranking signal, they have become an essential, easy win. If your site doesn’t have an SSL certificate, your ranking can be affected.
Keywords Don’t Need To Be Included In Anchor Text
Anchor text is the term SEO gurus use for the clickable text in a hyperlink (like this, for example). When a user clicks on the anchor text, they will be taken to the link page. A lot of people now believe that, since Google will penalise you for overusing keyword-rich anchor text (keyword stuffing), you shouldn’t use it at all. But in reality, anchor text provides your site with something called a ‘contextual link’, and as long as the link is relevant to the text, you can get 5-10x more ranking power out of them. In other words, keep your anchor text natural (as well as your keywords), and it will help boost your SEO.
I Need to Submit My Website To Google
Twenty years ago website designers and developers used to have to submit their site URLs to the search engines in order to be indexed. In fact there were far more search engines and web directives back then and the belief was that the more places you submitted your website to the better chances you had of getting more traffic.
Those were the days when, if you didn’t have a link to your website, how would a search engine know it was there?
But when Google became a domain name registrar back in 2005 it had access to all the domain name registry system. In its own words Google wanted to “get a better understanding of the domain name system [and so] increase the quality of our search results”.
So these days you do not have to submit your URL to the search engines. You can if you want to and telling the search engines by submitting XML sitemaps through their webmaster tools is good practice. But this is more to keep them informed of which pages you want them to index in your website and when they change – thus informing the search engines when to recrawl your content after changes.
[Ed – Having to submit your website to Google might be an “SEO myth” but I advise that if you want to get a blog posts indexed ASAP, use the URL inspection tool in Google Search Console. I used to publish news stories between 2007 and 2014 and know that being able to get a story published and crawled quickly has excellent advantages for your traffic.]
The Challenges of Ever-Changing Rules
All of this is great, but surely once you learn it all that’s it? Sadly, no. The job of an SEO professional is never done, because search engines like Google and Bing are constantly changing the goalposts. Google alone makes changes to their algorithm almost every day. Most of these are small changes, but some of them (like the Penguin, Panda and Pirate updates) are bigger, and updates like Hummingbird can completely change the way rankings work.
This means that SEO professionals can see their website rankings fluctuate regularly as the algorithm changes, and will need to make regular changes to make sure they are still meeting the right criteria. This is why it’s so challenging for business owners to manage their own SEO efforts – it’s too big and too fast-paced for them to focus on anything else! This is partly why SEO as a profession has seen such a surge – a dedicated SEO professional can focus on staying up to date with all the changes and applying them to clients’ websites, without anything else to worry about.
Size Doesn’t Matter, But Speed Does
One of the big elements we want to address is site speed. A lot of business owners don’t really think about the speed of their site playing a factor in their search engine rankings – but they couldn’t be more wrong! The speed your pages load at has always played a part in your rankings, but now, Google has made it more important than ever. In January 2018, Google rolled out their “Google Speed Update” as a way to affect the rankings of the very slowest mobile pages in search results. This kick-started a wave of businesses looking to speed up their websites to get their rankings back and beat the competition online. Now we’re just over a year on, and the results are in. Google has revealed that since the speed update, the average speed of sites on the internet is 15-20% faster, and rankings getting more competitive as a result. So yes, speed really does matter.
At Clever Marketing, we make it our business to stay on top of all the changes search engines make, and help you stay ahead of the competition online.
Our experts are on hand to take the voodoo out of SEO and walk you through everything in plain English, so you know what we’re doing, and why.
If you would like to find out more about SEO, or have a question about our SEO services, we’d love to help. Just get in touch with the team today.