Search Engine Optimisation is a broad term. It’s often misused. Anything you do to your website that improves its importance as viewed by search engines can be called SEO.
That encompasses a lot. From simple things like copying and rewriting blogs from other sites, responsive design, improving site load speed, to the number of words and their meaning.
The aim of search engines has always been to serve up the most relevant content in response to a query. In the past it wasn’t too hard to put in only a little effort and convince search engines of the relevance (and ranking) of your site. SEO companies have made a good living out of it.
In the past the age of your domain name (url) counted for a lot. The number of links to your website, largely regardless of where they came from, significantly improved your rankings.
The presence of enough keywords and phrases in your content, regardless of whether humans found it interesting or relevant, improved your rankings.
Where your site was hosted didn’t really matter. How you used images, if your code conformed to standards, if users only stayed for a few seconds and only visited one page – didn’t really matter.
But in the last few years search engines, particularly Google, have got much better at analysing your website. “SEO” is a changed beast. Search engines are now adept at analysing the relevance of a website from the perspective of a human looking for information. So how do they do that?
A major shift is determining the intent of a search. For example a search may be looking for information, a brand, or looking to purchase. It’s no longer as simple as words in isolation. The context (intent) of searches now matters.
Not only is Google getting better at matching these queries, internet users are getting better at searching. They are using more complex queries to narrow down the results. Your website (content) needs to cater for this to feature in search results.
For example, search engines know that users do not like websites that don’t display correctly on mobile devices. Your website will be demoted in the search results if it is not mobile friendly. Regardless of whether you value mobile customers or not.
Sites that are purely a brochure site, or web presence, with little content used to feature relatively well. But search engines now know these give visitors little information, They know that visitors do not stay long. So they will continue to be demoted in search results.
It’s getting harder and harder to rank well with poor content that humans don’t find interesting.
Focussing on a set of relevant keywords and phrases, as pushed by many SEO companies, is no longer going to get results. Search engines now take a look at the whole of your content. They decide what it is about, and while keywords still have relevance, it’s now important that a web page needs has several blocks of relevant and good quality content.
SEO companies make a living out of building up links into your site to raise it’s perceived importance. But inbound links are not only becoming less important, the source and quantity of them now matters more than ever. Building a large volume of links into a site not only does not work any more, it can actually harm your site to the point it does not appear in search results at all.
In short, all of the factors listed above, plus those mentioned as being effective in the past, are now factored in by the search engines. Some of those techniques still work to a degree, and you can still find examples.
The point is, the search engines are quickly catching up. One day those sites will suddenly disappear from the rankings.
You may have heard of Google updates Penguin and Panda. These represent major changes to the way search engines decide the importance of your website. Penguin and Panda are two recent updates that brought in some of the changes above.
But it doesn’t stop there. This will continue, for the simple reason that the more effective and relevant search engines can make search results, the more people will rely on them – and the more revenue Google can get from advertising.
The fact that these updates will continue unabated is a warning sign if your website uses any outdated techniques. If you use an SEO company, it’s time to take a look at exactly what they are doing with your websites. Google does not give you any notice if your site falls short of it’s latest algorithm.
Perhaps the most important lesson from the above is that search engines are getting very good at deciding if a site is relevant and useful to humans. What that ultimately means is if your site content is poorly written, thin, repetitive, not informative, is difficult to navigate or buy from – in other words not of much use to humans – then search engines will decide it is far less relevant than they did in the past.
It should be obvious that to be relevant to humans, the most important consideration is content that is marketing your product or service. Content that understands the intent of the visitor, works with their reasons not to buy. Content and design that convinces them of the benefits of your offering.
This has always been the case. Many website owners have paid a lot of money to get listed high in search results, and to get traffic from that. But many have been disappointed that it hasn’t resulted in more sales. That’s for the precise reasons outlined above – while the site may have looked relevant to search engines, it turned out it wasn’t that relevant to humans.
What has changed in 2015 is search engines are much wiser to this, and are serving up the sites that humans browse for longer, that have good content and that have a good technical foundation – all the elements of good web design that we promote.
So take a careful look at your website. Makes sure it applies the principles of good web design. Think carefully before engaging an SEO company. And above all, remember that a good business takes time to establish its reputation – the world of the internet is getting more and more like the “real world”. So nowadays you should expect it to take time to rank well in the face of recent search engine changes.