• Why you need to know about SEO
  • What is SEO today?
  • Some of the factors that Google takes into account
  • Content is king – the importance of good quality content
  • A few words on backlinks
  • In summary
  • A final note

Why you need to know about SEO

You want your website to appear on page one[1] of Google for the products or services you offer, right? And preferably as many of them as possible. But – and here’s the big but – so do all of your competitors, and we’re guessing you have more than nine competitors that have websites (there are normally 10 search results on the first page of Google – and appearing on page one is what you really need).

The importance of being found easily on Google is even more important today than it was even just 12 months ago. COVID has forced people to Google what they’re looking for before either buying online or checking where they need to go if they do want to buy something from a bricks and mortar store.

The stats are hard to ignore – in Australia online shopping hit an all time high in 2020 with a 57% increase compared to 2019. An additional 1 million households went online to buy things in 2020 compared to 2019. The online ‘share of retail spend’ (which excludes food and drink purchased from cafes, restaurant and takeaways) went up to 16.3% from the pre-COVID level of 12-13%[2]. And this is set to increase.

So it’s vital that people can find you online when they’re searching for what you sell.

What is SEO today?

‘SEO’ stands for ‘Search Engine Optimisation’, but it should really be called ‘GGWIW’ – ‘Give Google What It Wants’. And what it wants is for people to continue using Google to find things online, otherwise it will lose its main stream of income – advertising. And the best way to do this is to give searchers exactly what they’re looking for.

Before Google came along, all search engines were ‘manual’, that is humans checked everything and decided who to put top and who bottom. Google broke this model by developing a program – their ‘search engine algorithm’ which automatically decided where web pages should rank in its results pages. In fact their invention was called ‘PageRank’ where the ‘Page’ actually referred to Larry Page of Google, not to web pages.

In the early days PageRank was the only mechanism and what it did was check to see how many other web pages linked to a certain page. These counted as ‘votes’ and the more the better – the page with the most inbound links (sometimes referred to as ‘backlinks’) was put in the top spot.

Since then Google has amassed a (largely secret) list of all the factors it takes into account in determining where a particular page appears in the search results. One big change that came in several years ago was to counter the prevailing SEO approach, which (surprise, surprise) was to maximise the number of backlinks to a client’s website by setting up lots of essentially fake sites and create a large number of these links.

Once Google realised this was not producing the best results for searchers, they then ‘ranked’ the links and discounted any that came from what appeared to be irrelevant sites. Links are still important for determining Google’s rankings, but they’re not the only factor any more.

Some of the factors that Google takes into account

Google reputedly has over 200 factors it takes into account when deciding where to rank pages. Some of these are well known and other can only be guessed at by people outside of Google (the guys at Backlinko have put together a list of 208 factors they believe – with varying degrees of certainty – are the ones). Plus Google are constantly tinkering with them to make sure they’re not ‘gamed’ by website owners or SEO consultants (according to one source they make changes 500-600 times every year).

On page SEO

Some of these factors are described as ‘on page’ and others as ‘off page’. ‘On page’ are all those things you can control on your website, things like whether it’s set out in a visitor friendly way, for example…

  • Is it quick to load?
  • Can you read it and navigate it on a mobile device as well as on a desktop?
  • Is it easy to navigate (and can you find all pages via the menu/s, or are there some ‘orphan pages’)?
  • Does it have some pages Google regards as important, such as a Privacy Policy page and a Terms of Use page?
  • If you have a popup on your site, does it block the entire screen so it can’t be closed (this is bad by the way)
  • Is your content regularly refreshed or added to on your site to keep it up-to-date? (see section on content below)

Off page SEO

‘Off page’ factors are to do with how your site is perceived generally out there on the internet. Remember Google will have access to info that shows them how long people stay on your site. If they stay for a while that is a good indicator, if not (they ‘bounce’ away), that might indicate that people aren’t finding what they’re looking for.

Google also checks your ‘reputation’ in other ways and the sort of factors they consider here are…

  • How long have you reserved your domain name for (and how long has it been in existence)? (the longer the better)
  • Have you (or the owner/administrator) been blacklisted on either this site or any others for ‘dodgy’ online behaviour?
  • Do you have active social media pages and are they kept up-to-date?

White Hat vs Black Hat SEO

If you want to make sure your website is ‘optimised for search engines’ (mainly Google, but Bing is out there too and works on a very similar basis), it’s also important to know about the difference between so-called ‘White Hat’ and ‘Black Hat’ SEO tactics.

As described above, in the early days of Google’s popularity there were a number of ways of ‘gaming’ Google to get to the top. These included for example…

  • Stealing everybody else’s content and putting it on your page (and pretending it was your own)
  • Putting white text on a white background (or black on black or any other identical combination) and repeating your keywords ad nauseam all over all your web pages
  • Buying links from ‘link farms’ – thousands of small sites built solely to provide backlinks to client websites
  • Doing ‘link exchanges’ with other sites

You can’t pull the wool over the eyes of a cohort of computer whizzkids for that long and sooner or later these things were fixed – any sites using these techniques went down in the rankings or were simply removed (we remember seeing a lot of one of our clients’ competitors simply disappearing from Google when one update went through). The first item above is now prevented by Google’s ‘duplicate content’ provision, which gives credit to the website where the content first appeared and none to any subsequent site using the same content.

All of these tactics were/are regarded as ‘Black Hat’. Anything else that actually helps Google searchers and visitors to your site find what they’re looking for is regarded as ‘White Hat’. It’s not absolutely clear cut and – as mentioned above – Google are always tweaking their algorithm to iron out any ‘difficulties’.

Content is king – the importance of good quality content

This is what online guru Neil Patel has to say about the importance of content in the SEO game…

“Google always tries to give you the best experience possible by directing you to the greatest content it can find. This means that your number one job to do well with SEO is to produce great content.”

There are any number of pie charts on the web showing the relative importance of all of the factors taken into account in the Google algorithm. They can of course only be estimates, but in all cases, content scores highly. In this pie chart for example, ‘consistent publishing of engaging content’ is the most important factor (26% of the total), with ‘keywords in meta title tags’ in second place (22%) and ‘backlinks’ in third place (16%).

So if you’re going to target anything, it’s the content side of things. The reason we suspect content is the main factor is down to basics – Google is asking ‘is this a site (or individual web page) that will answer the questions that the searcher is looking for?’ In very general terms, page content should be up-to-date and ‘as long as it needs to be’. In most cases this will be quite long! There are no hard and fast rules about how long an article or web page content should be, however, the more detailed and longer descriptions/pages tend to win out in the end. This is referred to in SEO and content circles as ‘hero content’.

A few words on backlinks

Backlinks are generally good, unless they come from a link farm, in which case they’re bad (and you’ll need to ‘disavow’ them, Mission Impossible style, with Google). Good backlinks are ones that come from ‘authoritative’ sites – the best examples are media and government sites. How you go about getting these is the challenge, as straight link exchanges don’t work and reputable media sites and governments sites would be unlikely to do this. The only reliable way to get these backlinks is the ‘organic’ way – your organisation has to publish newsworthy and relevant content. So it all comes back to content again in the end. And good PR – public relations – is important here too.

In summary

In the end, apart from a few technical things you need to make sure your web designer is across, it really is all about the content. There has to be a decent chunk of it. It has to be written so it is helpful to (and readable by) humans, not just the Google bots that come around and check your site every now and again. And you need to be putting new content out regularly – at least monthly and ideally weekly, which in turn ensures the Google bots come back to check your site more often.

This can create a punishing schedule – it’s really like running your own private media outlet, but this is what all the highly ranked sites do. Check for yourself what your competitors are doing. Unless you are in a very specialised niche, your competitors – if they are ranking highly for your important search terms – will likely have some sort of blog or news section filled with at least 30-50 articles and updated at least monthly.

This approach is (unfortunately) not one that tends to get immediate results. But TINA (There Is No Alternative). If you want instant exposure on the front page of Google you’ll need to advertise. The Google search engine can take a while (several months) to realise that your site is ticking a lot of boxes, and will then start to bump you up the ratings for your targeted search phrases. The good news is that once you’re up there, unless you engage in any ‘Black Hat’ strategies, you will likely stay there, especially if you keep the content coming.

At NewsBusiness we have seen client sites climb the rankings for, in many cases, multiple keywords and phrases. One site we created the content for many years ago hit number one on Google globally and in Australia for the main keyphrases and stayed there for years. The site did have an unassailable amount of content on the topic though – over 1,500 articles. It was a lot of work, but it worked, even though we weren’t just doing it for the Google rankings.

A final note

Here in Queensland the State Government recently announced a grant for smaller businesses[3] to help them improve their online presence. It specifically mentioned improving SEO and creating content as key elements the grant would fund. Coincidence? I think not.

NewsBusiness specialises in providing content for websites. So perhaps we should call ourselves SEO consultants…

NOTES
[1] Hardly anybody looks at page 2 – do you? The first five results on Google get 67% of all clicks (https://www.zerolimitweb.com/organic-vs-ppc-2021-ctr-results-best-practices/)
[2] These stats sourced from https://auspost.com.au/business/marketing-and-communications/access-data-and-insights/ecommerce-trends
[3] Which was fully allocated within three hours of opening

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