Search Engine Optimisations, commonly known as SEO has been made into some magical science. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending half an hour reading a Neil Patel blog post on SEO as much as the next geek. But when I speak to my customers, or perspective customers, I feel like I’ve got to talk them out of this mindset and get them to forget everything they think they know, and just start being a bit more sensible about life.
I guess it’s easier when needing good sources has been nailed into your brain
In my previous life before I quit my job and became a self employed mega geek, my occupation was working on business cases for a large broadband / phone / entertainment company in the UK. The business cases usually needed some pretty solid numbers and facts behind them about things that their customers were doing, and what they would do with a new product or product feature.
You’d then get continually grilled about where these facts came from, so you soon found the best course of action was to get someone else to provide the info. An expert. And then write their name next to the fact in question.
My new job isn’t much different in some ways, although many seem to be getting away with spouting a load of rubbish with no source reference what so ever. I personally choose to listen to the experts, in this case, Google is a good place to start.
So, without further adieu, here’s 10 things Google have said will help your search engine rankings over the past few years.
Be careful when choosing someone to work on SEO for you
It can be easy to spot people you don’t want helping you with SEO. I’ll give you a clue, they’ll say something like “I’ll get you to #1 on page 1 of Google search results“, or “I’ll get you 500 genuine, high quality back links to your site”. You can find plenty of these on sites like freelancer.com or fiverr.com, or by opening your email junk folder.
Also known as “black hat SEO”, these are not good things. Getting lots of organic search traffic requires effort and patience.
“…some unethical SEOs have given the industry a black eye through their overly aggressive marketing efforts and their attempts to manipulate search engine results in unfair ways. Practices that violate our guidelines may result in a negative adjustment of your site’s presence in Google, or even the removal of your site from our index.” – Google Search Console Help
This article pretty much gives you the run down on everything you should consider when hiring someone to help you with SEO.
Forget about “putting keywords in you headers”
<sarcasm>This is my very favourite</sarcasm>
People are so adamant about this one. The thing is, it used to be true in the early days, but those people looking to trick Google knew this and filled their meta tags with irrelevant keywords just to get them to their site. Also, less bad people used this to get people to their sites, but the keywords weren’t always relevant.
“Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking” – Matt Cutts, Google Software Engineer
Not sure why this one is still going since this was said pretty categorically back in 2009. It’s a given. Lets all accept it and move one please.
Understand search from Google’s point of view
As a general life rule, I think it’s a good idea to question how things work, and think about what others might be trying to achieve. Especially in business, always have a think about why people provide services and products, especially for free.
Google is an advertising platform. End. Advertising relies on one key ingredient – an audience to advertise to. That’s you and me when we go there to search. How do they keep us coming back? By making sure we get what we’re looking for when we go there with a question.
“I will make my product find the best answers to your question, or the best information related to the topic you are looking for.” – OK, that one was me…
Google did actually say…
“You want the answer, not trillions of web pages. Algorithms are computer programmes that look for clues to give you back exactly what you want.” – GoogleIndie Search – Algorithms
Here’s a nice little page that explains a bit about what the Google Search Algorithm is and how it’s been developed to focus on getting people the best content.
Clue: the key part here is – the best content…
Make your site easy to crawl
OK, this one might get a little bit technical, but actually a lot of the time your host might take care of it for you. Or, if you’re using WordPress, use of a good SEO plugin like Yoast’s WordPress SEO, adding a robots.txt and sitemap.xml file is easy. Then it’s just letting Google know about them in the Webmaster Tools Search Console.
These files may seem complicated, but they’re not, especially the sitemap – it’s as it sounds, a map of your site. Literally a list of pages, posts, images and other content on your site.
“With the robots.txt file, site owners can choose not to be crawled by Googlebot or they can provide more specific instructions about how to process pages on their sites.” – GoogleIndie Search – Crawling & Indexing
Nothing will make it easier for Google to index your content how you want them to than you telling them how you want them to do it.
Make sure your site is mobile friendly
Anyone with a smartphone knows how easy it is to use a non-mobile friendly website on their phone. Not easy. Trying to zoom in, scroll around the pages. It just doesn’t work nicely.
“Last year, we started using mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal on mobile searches. Today we’re announcing that beginning in May, we’ll start rolling out an update to mobile search results that increases the effect of the ranking signal to help our users find even more pages that are relevant and mobile-friendly.” – Webmaster Central Blog
This was a great update for people who already had mobile friendly websites as they got an instant search boost.
Also worth a note that tools like Google Page speed report do give more favourable results to truly responsive websites. For developers, that means using @media queries in your CSS to style pages appropriately on different size screens.
For everyone else, if you have mysite.com that redirects you to m.mysite.com, this is a separate mobile website, not a mobile friendly website. These tend to provide a worse experience because companies that make them have to actually build a second website.
Most modern websites, or WordPress themes are responsive. If you have a service selling websites where responsiveness is a feature you can gain by upgrading, stay clear.
This one still seems to come up for debate a lot, I can’t get my head around why. For those not in the know, SSL is a technology that essentially scrambles information as is sent between a user’s browser and the server a website is stored on so it can’t be intercepted by hackers.
You can tell if a website has SSL as it’s address will start with “https” instead of “http“, and you get the little green padlock in the address bar.
Many still argue that SSL isn’t necessary and doesn’t affect search engine rankings. Well, according to our friends over at Google…
“over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We’ve seen positive results, so we’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal” – Google Webmaster Central Blog
So while this article was saying they were testing and starting to roll it out, that was a while ago, and the internet is hardly moving away from SSL. In fact, one of the latest server protocols, http2, only works when SSL is enabled.
Also, since when is being more secure a bad thing?
If you haven’t heard of Letsencrypt, you should check it out. While not available to everyone at the moment, depending on access, control panel, skill level, this is backed by some big players, including Google, and promises to remove the financial decision from whether or not to secure connections to your site.
Be careful not to breach copyright
Phew, lucky I saw this one, I was just about to start a campaign of plagiarising.
No seriously, content owners all over the world are upping their game in terms of finding where their content has been used illegally. Google are also on-board and can blacklist sites if they receive complaints from content owners.
It goes without saying that stealing content and copyright material isn’t good, but the point here is don’t let it happen by accident. Double check your licences and if you are actually allowed to use the images, video and sounds that you are using!
“we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results.” – Google Inside Search
Be a good guy
Another that kind of goes without saying, but I think that some people are missing the point.
Giving users the best experience possible, be it in terms of great content, a fast website and a site that’s easy to navigate, Google are quite specifically looking to reward websites that are taking this approach and pushing them up the search results.
On the other side, they are quite specifically looking to demote those who are doing the opposite.
“In the pursuit of higher rankings or traffic, a few sites use techniques that don’t benefit users, where the intent is to look for shortcuts or loopholes that would rank pages higher than they deserve to be ranked.” – Google Inside Search
Ask yourself if you’re focused on providing an great experience as priority #1. If the answer is no, might be something to think about.
Include good content “above the fold”
This, actually, was a new one to me while I was researching for this article. And, I was a little disappointed as I’m a fan of full screen images with limited text as a website loads. I think it looks nice. But, here we are, apparently, it’s a better experience to provide the information someone is after straight away on screen.
I think my takeaway here will be to start taking this on board for posts and informational pages and save the fancy designs for the home page.
“we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change.” – Google Inside Search
Add new content regularly, and don’t forget to update the old
This is one of the most important in my opinion. Older information is more likely to be wrong. That’s just common sense. So adding new relevant information to your website says to Google “I’m more likely to be correct than someone else“, you might not be, but potentially more likely.
“Given the incredibly fast pace at which information moves in today’s world, the most recent information can be from the last week, day or even minute, and depending on the search terms, the algorithm needs to be able to figure out if a result from a week ago about a TV show is recent, or if a result from a week ago about breaking news is too old.” – Google Official Blog
An often overlooked strategy is updating old posts. Something to consider as you’ve already done a lot of the ground work. I already plan to try and update this very post over time in fact, keeping it fresh and adding the latest announcements from Google as I go.
So there you go!
So there’s my top 10 Search Engine Optimisations according to Google. It’s time to let go of all the incorrect ideas about SEO and just start paying attention to the simple things we can do to get more visitors to our websites. The good news is that most of it is really common sense, focus on your audience and what they are trying to find out. Then, give them the best experience you can.
Have I missed any biggies?
Let me know in the comments if I’ve missed any big ones, or, what are your favourite falsities when it comes to SEO?