‘Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results...’ – Wikipedia. That’s one of the most simple definitions of SEO and you can find many and varied others on the internet, but they generally say much the same, if not in as fewer words. SEO has become something almost associated with the black arts in the way it is often portrayed and promoted as being complex, mysterious and supposedly impossible for the common person to understand. And while there are many references and guides on how to manage SEO for your website, much of it is written or described in less than easy to digest form. Though once again, the quality and ease of understanding varies from site to site.
On certain forums, an eternal question that arises is ‘How can I find a good or reliable SEO company?’ This question arises because many who run a business and have a website have heard that SEO is essential and that they need as much of it as they can get. However, they don’t really understand SEO and have either been burned by shonky operators or heard of others being burned, so they are gun shy in the extreme. It’s no small matter of concern when SEO companies can easily charge $1500-$3000/month and often way more, with the client having no clear idea of what they are getting in return, often just empty promises and seeing no value for money at all. For many, engaging an SEO company is like putting your trust in a Ye Old Snake-Oil Salesman.
So given what I’ve gone through with this blog and following on from some discussions on the internet, I thought I’d put down what I think anyone that has a website and wants to increase the number of visitors, and business if applicable, should be doing. SEO isn’t rocket science nor is it brain surgery, so when SEO companies try to imply that it’s highly complex, this might give you some understanding of what to ask, should you feel inclined to seek out an SEO company or you get cold called by one, the latter not being at all uncommon nowadays. Even I get these often enough, with offers to put my blog on page one of Google and Bing, where it’s now been for several years, without the help on an SEO company.
Recently I was asked to have a look at a site and provide some thoughts as to what the owner could do to make his site visible to search engines, in lieu of seeking out an SEO company. So I provided what I thought should be first priorities for the site, or any site for that matter. I’ll more or less repeat what I posted, using an imaginary business to explain how to improve things and hopefully explain what a business owner, or anyone, can do for themselves to get better ranking in search engines. Where competition is fierce for the same sort of business, this is just a starting point and it covers the basics; however, if these basics aren’t in place, nothing else will help. It’s not an an overnight solution and will require some work, but part of it you couldn’t avoid even if you handed the work over to someone else, especially if you wanted your website to correctly reflect not just your business, but you as well.
Let’s say I have a friend in Bendigo who runs a gardening business, but his site is nowhere to be seen on Google. He calls me and asks for help, so I agree to see what I can do and when I look at the site, it’s just two pages. The landing page is an image describing, in a very brief manner, what the business is about and the second page is just a contact form. I tell him that no search engine will likely ever find his site because there is nothing on the site for search engines to note and list. So what is he to do? The first thing I suggest is that he starts thinking about revamping his site to include more content. This will require some work, but the basic site template will accommodate the required changes. But what content and how to apply it?
So I suggest that he creates a list of words that apply to his business and what he does. These words can include: garden service, lawn mowing, weed removal, tree pruning and any other words that are common to what he does and what people actually use. Then I suggest that he uses these words, adding Bendigo to the search term and see what Google brings up. Invariably there will be the regular paid ads at the top of the page, the usual Jim’s Mowing and similar, and there will also be yellow pages etc, which can be all be ignored. Then find the links for independent businesses and see what they are doing. That sets a starting point and gives an idea of what other sites that appear reasonably high on Google search look like and what my friend needs to emulate (not copy).
But how to go about this? I suggest that he pretend that he has a cousin visiting from the UK who asks him what he does for work and he replies that he’s in the garden maintenance business. The cousin asks what that’s about and he describes all the things that he does and how far and wide he works. His cousin then asks what sort of issues he has and are these any different to what goes on in the UK and he explains how different Australia is to the UK and how garden maintenance can vary. He talks about the issues involved in good garden maintenance and how he’s solved problems that he’s encountered. He also shows the cousin photographs and even video of jobs that he’s done, with before and afters for some of the more challenging jobs. All of this imaginary discussion can now be translated directly into website content, using similar language and photographs/video to populate appropriate pages. Google loves stuff that actually explains things and which reads like it’s been written by a human being.
Search engines will now have relevant text, images (with proper alt text and descriptions) and even videos (with tags and text) to hook onto and list on search pages. The more relevant, informative and applicable this is to the business, the more likely that the site will begin to feature near or on the first page (after a while). There are also other things that can be done to expand search engine awareness. If my friend has a bit of horticultural knowledge, which he should, he could include pages that will assist people searching for information related to his work and thus find his site. Information can include how to manage weeding, planting, pruning, fertilising, pesticides etc applicable to Australia; things that are commonly searched for on the internet. It doesn’t matter if these people come from the Northern Territory or overseas, they have found the site because it contains information relevant to their search and brings them to his website. Search engines will pick up on this and note that his site contains informative and relevant information that is worth listing.
Finally, he can include links to relevant associations etc and even try to think about contributing to sites or forums about horticulture and such, where links can go back and forth. In the pages where he describes what he does or where he provides information, he should consider including links to authoritative sites to back up and reinforce what he is suggesting/describing. And even though Facebook is changing how business sites appear on user pages, it’s still pertinent to have Facebook active for a business and also to link to personal Facebook pages. All this aids search engine relevance and site ranking by bringing in visitors. Also, don’t forget about traditional advertising, always including the website address in that advertising. People like to visit a website to find out a little more about who they might be dealing with and the website is their first introduction to you and your business.
All these important things can be achieved without getting any outside assistance. Then if you register with Google and Bing, list your site and monitor your statistics, you will learn how your site is performing and what is generating views. Google will even send you a monthly report telling you how the site is performing, how visitors are finding your site, the numbers and if there are any errors. All this helps to build and improve the site and it should be kept up to date and relevant by including new information on a regular basis. But if you don’t feel that you can do this yourself, then you can engage someone who can, but knowing what I’ve stated will inform you of what needs to be done, what questions to ask, provides an understanding of what to expect and will help you to better engage with a developer. And, most importantly, you will be able to separate truth and facts from snake oil.
Update 1. I would highly recommend anyone who is considering engaging an SEO practitioner to use this Google analytics tool and test the SEO practitioner’s own mobile site to see how it fares. If it more or less fails the test, then reconsider that company, for if they can’t get their own house in order, how are they going to get yours in order? Other tests that you can conduct are through these website speed test services, GTMetrix, Pingdom and Google PageSpeed Insights.
Update 2. I recently put forward some views regarding SEO on a technical forum (in response to a query) and was hammered by so-called experts asserting that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that I should listen to the ‘veterans’ of the industry. These veterans kind of reinforced my views that they aren’t always what they seem, notably when I checked on the most vocal of my critics. I always expect that anyone who professes to be highly skilled in any endeavour will be able to demonstrate those skills with high quality examples of their work. In this case, I was expecting to see quite a skilful demonstration of all the principles espoused in that discussion about SEO; however, that was far from the case. In the following screenshots I’ve erased the details of the site in question, but comparing the performance of the expert’s site with that of mine, it does raise some questions about skill level of the expert (the site collects personal information yet isn’t even secure). If you’re going to talk the talk, then also make an effort to walk the walk: