Modern SEO is crucial.
SEO has been around for a long time now. Even before anyone thought of using the term search engine optimization (which probably first happened in the late 1990s) a small group of online pioneers were experimenting with ways of making their presence felt in the brave new world wide web. The first search engines were fairly straightforward affairs – after all, there weren’t that many pages to search, so it was just a matter of listing the ones that seemed to be the closest match to the user’s search query. Early website owners realized that, if they could work out what words their customers were likely to include in a search, then by cramming as many of these ‘key’ words onto their sites as they could, they should gain a higher rank in the search results. Web designers even added extra stacks of ‘hidden’ keywords, using small text the same color as the background, so that the words would add to the tally reviewed by the search engine but wouldn’t be visible to the user (who might otherwise wonder why the web page contained ten lines of tiny text that did nothing but repeat the same words over and over). The search engines countered this by finding ways of telling the difference between relevant use of words and excessive keyword stuffing…and so the cat and mouse game between the online marketers on one side and the search engines on the other got well and truly underway.
Skipping to the present day, things have moved on a lot. Over the years, the number of pages that make up the internet has increased exponentially and search engine technology has had to evolve to cope with the task of checking them all. As the search engines have devised new methodologies and created new search algorithms, so best practice in SEO has changed to keep up. Over time, many SEO techniques that were once hugely useful have either become irrelevant or will actually earn your website a demotion in the search rankings, if not a downright ban. Keyword stuffing is a good example – nobody should be trying to do that with a modern website.
So, modern websites require modern SEO. Rather hearteningly, the best and most successful practices for getting websites in front of the right people now tend to involve a more ethical SEO concept. Indeed, the very language of modern SEO now suggests a less aggressive, more socially responsible approach.
Take the idea of link building, for example. One of the early innovations in search engine technology involved the realization that, if a website was providing a useful service of some kind, then other sites would probably want to link to it. Web site owners themselves were already choosing to link with sites that might share a similar user base. For example, it would make perfect sense for a veterinary surgery to include a link on their web site to a local pet supplies shop, or a trustworthy dog walker. This mutual recommendation by use of web links was nothing more than an extension of traditional business practices – naturally, you would ask your vet if they knew of a good dog walker if you needed one, and vice versa. So, when the search engines started to consider links as an indication of how well-connected a site was within its relevant subject area and, by extension, how useful that site was as a resource, it made perfect sense to include them in new algorithms for determining search rankings. Then things got completely out of hand…
Once the word got out that getting people to link to your site was the new way to top the search results, a whole new industry sprang up in the buying and selling of backlinks. If you couldn’t afford to buy them you could beg for them, promising to reciprocate with a link from your own page. Almost every website suddenly had a ‘links page’, filled with nothing but a long list of (mostly) irrelevant links to other websites that could be of no possible interest to anyone apart from the other website owners themselves, suspiciously checking though page after page of garbage to make sure that everybody was keeping up their end of the bargain. It wasn’t long before the search engines figured out how to recognize irrelevant links. Using these practices now will probably get you downgraded or even banned by the search engines, so it’s really not worth trying.
That doesn’t mean that links don’t matter – they do, very definitely. The difference now is that it’s the quality of the link that counts. If you’re a dog walker, then you should still ask the local vet for a mention and a link on their web site – a link such as this is entirely relevant to both of your businesses. You don’t want the link to just appear as one in a long list of others, however. Instead, you might offer to write a short piece on the best local parks for dogs, what experiences you might have had using their facilities – anything that’s actually going to be of interest to people visiting the vet’s website. It’s easy to include a reference and link to your own business website in the text of the article, so it will serve its purpose from your point of view and, by offering the vet a piece of fresh content for their website, you’re giving them something of value in return.
This process of generating links by building genuinely useful business relationships is part of a change in attitude towards link building. In fact, the practice is sometimes referred to now as ‘relationship building’. Don’t worry if you don’t have the confidence to contribute content to someone else’s website. There are other ways to establish online relationships. You could start by making good use of your social media presence to demonstrate your experience and the level of trust you have generated amongst your online community. You will need to find ways to generate fresh content for your own website though – the key to many aspects of modern SEO is keeping your online presence relevant by frequently adding useful and engaging content. Make your website a resource that other sites will be proud to link to. For many people, this is the most daunting aspect of modern SEO. Constantly dreaming up new things to write does not come easily to everyone and so there are content marketing services which can help you to keep your website updated. Your site should include as much content as possible – if users know that they can visit your site to keep abreast of developments in your field, then you will establish yourself as an expert and a trusted source.
In order to be a useful resource, your website needs to be designed with the needs of its users in mind – this is another shift in focus from certain, older, SEO practices. For a long time, web designers built websites for search engines, not for users – a fact enshrined in the very term, ‘search engine optimization’! Modern SEO recognizes that, if the visitor does not enjoy the experience of using the site, they will leave quickly and not come back and the website will have failed in its primary purpose. In fact, before you even begin to consider other aspects of SEO, you need to make sure that your website is ready for the visitors that you ultimately want to attract.
Start by taking a step back and looking, honestly, at your website. Try to imagine you are seeing it for the first time. Are you happy with the image of your business that it presents? Does it clearly explain to potential customers what your business is all about and why they would benefit from your products or services? Does the website partner well with your social media presence, or are there jarring differences between them? Once a visitor arrives at your site, is it easy for them to navigate and find answers to any questions that they might have? Most importantly, will this site convince visitors to become customers?
Looking at the technical side of things, Does the website load quickly enough and do all plugins and other elements function correctly? Now that a large proportion of your potential visitors will be browsing on mobile devices, you will need to view your website on a range of different screens and make sure that it functions and displays properly on all of them. It’s often not enough for a website to be simply mobile ‘responsive’. Of course, it’s important that your user interface changes to adapt to the resolution of the device the visitor is using. For all but very simple websites, however, it’s probably necessary to change the actual content that’s displayed. For example, it might be wise to make buttons and other clickable elements proportionally larger on a mobile screen, so that they are easier to use. On the other hand, large decorative elements that are fine on a desktop may simply be annoying on a mobile screen and should probably be excluded from the mobile interface. Mobile users are no longer content to scroll gradually around content designed for a desktop device.
To help you answer some of these questions and provide lots of useful data for the future development of your website, you should be making full use of the wide range of analytical tools that are available, many developed by the search engines themselves. If you don’t have these in place, then you will not be able to check the progress and growth of your website, and any assessment of the success of future SEO campaigns will be largely guesswork, so you need to get all of these elements right before you do anything else.
If all of that sounds like a lot of work, that you don’t have the technical expertise for, then you should consider hiring outside experts to handle your SEO. A word of caution though – even today, not all SEO consultants are well-versed in modern, ethical practices. As with everything else in life, there are good guys and bad guys. In the SEO field, the good guys are known as white hats and the bad guys are known as black hats. A black hat SEO specialist might offer slightly updated variations on the keyword stuffing and link buying techniques mentioned above but they have many other tricks up their sleeves, all of which should be avoided, from plagiarizing content (possibly changing just enough words to avoid detection by duplicate checker tools) all the way though to actual site hacking. Don’t be fooled. All of these strategies can lead to your site being penalized. Don’t take the risk.
A white hat SEO expert will help you get the website basics in place and then devise a long-term SEO marketing plan, making use of relationship building and the creation of unique and engaging new content. They will advise you on matters such as local SEO – a vitally important element in online marketing now, given the proportion of mobile users. If your website is making good use of local SEO techniques, then local users will be able to find your premises on a map, meaning that they can make spur-of-the-moment shopping, dining and other decisions and you can benefit from the increased business. For specialist SEO services in Charlotte, talk to Leap Inbound, the web design and online marketing service with the local touch.
Whoever you choose as your SEO advisor, you should be prepared for a long-term effort, requiring a long-term investment. With literally billions of web pages making up the internet, your own website won’t be topping the search charts right away. It can take six months to get measurable results and, unless your sector is extremely niche, it will probably take years to work your way to the higher reaches of the search results. But businesses make many long-term investments and, just as you wouldn’t expect new equipment or a store redesign to pay for itself straight away, the return on your investment in an optimized online presence will be well worth it in the long run. Indeed, in the brave new online world, your future growth will depend on it.
SEO Is a big industry and the landscape is constantly changing. We are in the businesses of designing website and getting them tons of traffic. Here are a couple of sites that focus solely on search engines and keeping their visitors up to date on everything search. Check them out.
SEJ – Seach Engine Journal