The importance of SEO for your Website
If you have a website then you would most likely have been contacted at some point about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and how it is important for your site.
SEO is important for your site but it is important to remember two vital things:
Be very careful about who you choose to carry out your SEO
Do not put all your resource (funds) into just SEO
Let's expand on these two points to help understand why they are so vital...
First of all, let us get on the same page and align our understanding of what SEO is.
If you have a website then in order for it to appear on search engine results when someone types in a search phrase or keyword the search engine would have to obtain information about your site in order to determine its relevance to the search phrase or keyword used for a search. The search engine achieves this by 'crawling' the website which entails attempts to visit every link (page) and store the information (content) into a cache (this is a local storage area the search engine uses so it can quickly search it each time it receives a search request). It also stores each link that it has suucessfully crawled and just like a book, it creates an 'index' of your website. This is one function of many for the search engine, once it has all the data of a website, it must be able to determine the 'relevance' of this data to any search phrase or keyword it receives. It would not be a good search engine if you typed in 'vetinary clinic london' and received results for car mechanics in Bristol! Search engines therefore use very complex computer programs called algorithms to determine how relevant content is that they have stored and the more relevant the content then the higher the ranking that content will receive from the search engine. So hopefully it can be seen that it is important that your website contains relevant content according to its purpose and that the content is written to reflect the expertise in the subject matter. Your website must also be accessible to the search engines and this can be taken care of by your web developer or your SEO engineer.
Other important information that is collected by the search engines is 'meta data'. Meta data is a short synopsis of what the content is about and you usually add your meta data when adding your content. You would have seen meta data each time you review search results as it will be the accompanying text to the result links. Meta data is another important metric for search engine algorithms in determining the relevance of the content to a search phrase or keyword.
We have mentioned 'search phrase' and 'keyword' several times through the SEO introduction as this is key to unlocking the content on your website and giving it a ranking. When writing your content you must bear in mind what type of phrases and keywords someone would use in order to find your page. You must also make the same consideration for the meta data, the title of the page of content and even the url link to the page. For example, if you are an expert on catching fresh water fish and you want to share this knowledge with the world, then ideally it would be good to have a domain (website name) that has relevance to what the site is about (this is a bonus as far as search engines are concerend but not essential). So let us assume that our website domain is catchfreshwaterfish.com and a page of content has been written for fishing for chub (www.catchfreshwaterfish.com/fishing-for-chub.html) and the meta data has a short description that the page is about fishing for chub and finally the title of the page is 'Fishing for Chub'. What we have achieved here is that this particular page of content is 'optimised' for the search term 'fishing for chub', therefore once this page is crawled and indexed by the search engine, its algorithms will give a good rank to this page because we have an indexed link 'www.catchfreshwaterfish.com/fishing-for-chub.html' and we will assume that the content is written well and is a good length and contains the right balance of keywords. We also assume that the meta data is written correctly to contain the search phrase and we know we have the search phrase as a title. Finally, as long as the other pages on the site bear relevance to the subject matter of this particular page (catching fish) then we are in good shape that the content will be found and served up by the search engines.
What we have just described is known as 'Page Authority' and this is the essence of SEO in terms of focussing on how to 'optimise' your website and content for the search engines, if only life were that easy however! There are many factors within search engine algorithms that attribute rank to a website page in conjunction with page authority and one of these is how many other websites (domains) link to your website and what the linking text is that describes the link to your site (known as 'Anchor Text'). Once again, the search engines are looking for relevance here so for our website on catching fresh water fish, we would be looking for links from sites relating to fresh water fish and how to fish for them, this would give the page that the link is going to more ranking according to how highly ranked the site is that the link is from. If the link was coming from a site that was about baby food then this would receive no value to your page as it would be considered irrelevant. Backlinks were the main source of building rank for a site and a common SEO strategy was to use automated techniques which would post links on 'directory' websites and sites that were setup as blog sites in order to create backlinks. It was how SEO companies sold the promise of guaranteed top rankings and using these automated techniques could deliver literally thousands of links back to a site which would increase its rank but all of this came to a halt in April 2012 when Google announced its 'Penguin' algorithm.
So far we have used a general term 'search engines' to explain the basis of SEO but we are all aware that Google is by far the most common of the search engines, to the point that google is now a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary! Google laid down the gauntlet in 2012 with Penguin which is focussed on penalising websites that violate its guidelines and it had a dramatic effect on the internet community. Suddenly there were websites who's ranking plunged for seemingly no reason but further investigation revealed that they were now falling foul of bad SEO practice. One of the primary bad (or 'black hat') practices we have already mentioned was particular types of backlink. Those backlinks coming from certain directory sites or psuedo blog sites were now considered 'spammy' and once Google found the spammy site then any site linking from it could be penalised. Google continues to update Penguin in its mission to seek out the spam sites and penalise those who do not offer quality content and in turn a useful user experience. It is therefore useful to know that your website is following the guidelines and you are not likely to fall foul of the Penguin!
Getting SEO advice is a good thing especially in light of what we have discussed here and knowing that there are many factors contributing to good SEO today and if you are in business then it is difficult find time to maintain all the facets of staying 'SEO Compliant'. Be careful however, when choosing an SEO expert and totally avoid any 'guarantee' of top ranking results or 'fast' results as this is not how SEO works anymore. It is also a good idea to not obsess about SEO, get an understanding of how well your site performs in terms of SEO but do not expend too much resource and use augmenting strategies to bring people to your site. Consider looking into running some Google AdWord campaigns for example as when setup correctly CAN be an instant boost to your site visits and something we will talk about another time...