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A quick guide to SEO

If you’ve spent any time canvassing the web for marketing tricks and tips, you’ll have come across three golden letters: SEO. Welcome to Search Engine Optimization, a practice dedicated to ascending the spiral staircase to that golden ticket: the front page of Google.

99.1% of all our clicks go to websites ranked on the first page (Sistrix) and while SEO works on all search engines, Google is the most widely used and powerful advertising tool we have: a gateway to millions, nay, billions of potential customers. Implement an effective SEO strategy or hire a Search Engine Optimizer and you’re one step closer to that dream of a free exposure on the largest classifieds in the world.

But like anything in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. SEO doesn’t deliver results overnight, and backhanded tactics can do more harm than good. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look.

The Basics

Every time you type a query/command into Google, the search engine giant crawls the web in milliseconds to match your query with the sites you’re most likely to want to see. Once the sites have been found, they’re ordered based on relevance (how closely does it match what you typed?) popularity (how often do people visit this site?) and quality (does it look presentable?). Hey presto, Google delivers thousands of website results neatly ordered into pages.

Much of Google’s dominance is down to the fact it does this better than anyone else. After all, if you’re looking for “places to stay in London”, you don’t want websites that haven’t been updated in years and are saddled with outdated information.

Performing SEO on your site, or hiring someone to do it for you, is all about appearing as relevant as possible, and driving up popularity too.

So what can you do?

If you’ve built your site using WordPress, Wix or a similar website builder, you’ll be easily able to do “on-site” SEO using a plugin. Alternatively, if you’ve built the site from scratch and don’t have the luxury of a plugin, look up one of the many SEO guides on Google.

On-site SEO means getting your site optimized for Google crawlers. You want to include keywords that describe what your business about, and you want to aim for keywords that you think people are most likely to search for. If you’re an events organiser in Bristol, for instance, you’ll want variations of “events Bristol”/“events organiser Bristol” spread across your major pages.

Next, investigate whether your site is loading quickly or not. Google’s handy PageSpeed Insights tool will give you an accurate snapshot:

Websites that load slowly are penalised by the search engine giant, so keep images small.

Other factors to consider:

  • Make sure your website is built to scale to mobile phones and different website browsers

  • The website is easy to navigate (UX). Yes, Google crawlers actually “look” at your layout.

  • You include Meta Descriptions (the two paragraphs of text you see beneath websites on Google). This is a chance to be descriptive and alluring.

Real results take time

Next, concentrate on generating real traffic. We get it: you want to be on that front page overnight because everyone loves a quick fix. But SEO doesn’t work like that.

Here are some great strategies:

Implement a blog

Blogs are great SEO tools. They not only tell Google that you’re regularly updating your site, they’re a tailor-made opportunity to establish yourself as an industry thought leader. Google will take notice of this. In effect, regularly writing about your industry will increase your chances of hitting that first page when customers search relevant topics. (As an aside, format each post for SEO, following the blueprint above: keywords, metadescriptions, a solid layout, small images and so forth).

Concentrate on partnerships

If you can motivate third-party websites to link to you, that’s a godsend. This tells Google that you’re trustworthy and that you’re recognised. Establish partnerships and build these “links” (yes, link to one another) for a major SEO boost. Be wary of “link farms”, however, which are dead zones generally created by bots that spam the search engine and create fake links between websites. Google will pick on this and penalise you accordingly. Partnerships need to be built over time.

Prioritise traffic

There’s no escaping the reality that you need traffic to stake a claim to the front page of any search engine. Unless you’re occupying a niche no one else is competing for, regular, organic traffic is the surest driver of success.

Some things to be aware of:

No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google

Google itself says this: “Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a ‘special relationship’ with Google, or advertise a "priority submit" to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.”

Beware Black Hat SEO

Looking for a quick fix? An ascent to the top of Google? The dirty art of black hat SEO is one surefire way to get yourself blacklisted.

Exponents of black hat SEO overload pages in keywords - something that is frowned upon - and create “doorway pages”, which is essentially spam. The page is riddled with keywords invisible to the naked eye but readable to a Google crawler. Then the page refreshes, taking you to the page you clicked on in the first place. This is a tactic intended to trick the search engine. But Google is generally a step ahead.

Don’t duplicate content

If you’re keeping a blog and you’re stumped for ideas, absolutely don’t take content from another source. Google prioritises originality and quality (so yes, grammar matters) and plagiarism will kill your credibility.

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