#89: Search Engine Optimization - SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is seen as highly desirable for driving traffic to your website.

In this episode I address the myth of SEO being "free traffic" and provide my thoughts on avoiding the bad and the ugly of SEO advice.

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Published: Wed, 16 Jun 2021 16:07:03 GMT


StatsCounter.com - Search Engine Market Share Worldwide


Hello and welcome back to The Better ROI from Software Development podcast.

In this episode, I want to talk about Search Engine Optimisation - SEO.

Off the bat, I want to make sure I'm clear, I don't position myself as an SEO expert. I have a certain level of knowledge and I've worked with SEO experts and companies in the past. However, what I wanted to get across in this episode was the basics of SEO and possibly more important, some of the problems and myths found within it.

So what is SEO?

Basically, it's a means of getting traffic to your website.

And it's often considered exceptionally desirable, because its incorrectly seen as being as free traffic - and that free part is something I should come back to in a moment.

Wikipedia describes Search Engine Optimisation as

"Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic to a website or a web page from search engines. 

SEO targets unpaid traffic (known as "natural" or "organic" results) rather than direct traffic or paid traffic. 

Unpaid traffic may originate from different kinds of searches, including image search, video search, academic search, news search, and industry-specific vertical search engines.

As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work, the computer-programmed algorithms that dictate search engine behavior, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines, and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. SEO is performed because a website will receive more visitors from a search engine when websites rank higher on the search engine results page (SERP). These visitors can then potentially be converted into customers"

If you look at Google, which according to StatCounter.com amounts for 92 percent of search traffic; when you do a search online, you will see the first section potentially with paid ads, you may see images or you may see videos as well, but the section beneath that is where we're talking about. That SEO section of where Google has found relevant pages based on the content against the search term that has been used to look for it.

Ultimately, the higher up that list you get - and ideally on the first page - the more valuable is to you in terms of driving traffic to your website. The higher it is, the more relevant it is, the more visitors it drives.

And those visitors then have the potential to turn to customers.

As I said a moment ago, I actually think many people incorrectly see this traffic as being free. And while it can be considerably cheaper than other methods such as paid advertising, it definitely is not free.

A considerable amount of work needs to go into making sure SEO is working correctly for your website, not just in the initial set up of getting it right first time and getting it working, but also then to maintain it over the life of your website.

There is a considerable ongoing investment that needs to be made.

But this is still considered exceptionally valuable. There are a lot of companies, websites, individuals out there, marketing SEO skills - and I'll talk about some of the good and the bad and the ugly later. But there's a lot of money in trying to promote SEO for a website to drive that perceived free traffic.

So how much work do you actually need to put in?

Well, it really depends on what SEO search terms you want to target.

What search terms do you want to appear at the top of the Google rankings for?

If your customer is going to be searching for something that's quite unique, such as maybe a company name, say if you're going to search for my company, Red Folder Consultancy Ltd, if you type that into Google, you probably don't need to do a lot of work to get it up the rankings.

And in fact, if you look and do that search now, I would expect it to be the first entry on the first page.

Why? Because nobody else is going to be talking about that company. Nobody else is going to be representing that company, and Google knows that.

If, however you're targeting something more generic, say, for example, I want to feature very highly at the top of teapots, that's going to be very, very difficult to achieve.

And that involves a lot of work and effort to make sure that teapots will return your website very high and ideally the first page.

Those are situations you have to put a lot of work and a lot of investment in to make sure that you are coming up top of the list.

And that can be exceptionally difficult. It can be exceptionally complex to make that work right.

What you generally find is you need to work in very much a hypothesis, experimental way of working.

First, you come up with your list of SEO terms; maybe it's teapot, maybe it's red teapot, maybe it's green tea, but the most important thing is understanding what you are going to experiment with and try.

You can then work with your website and amend it and monitor it over time as to how well it performs against alternative websites for those terms.

And as I say, the more generic the term is, the more work you will have to keep going in, in terms of being able to do that hypothesis and those experimentations, making change to your website, monitoring the effects and seeing whether or not you're actually making your way up that page ranking.

One of the key things you need to do during that process is monitor. Google actually provide something called the Google Search Console. This used to be called the Webmaster Tools. And this provides a means of being able to tell what sort of search queries your customers are using to get to your website - which is invaluable for giving you some sort of idea of what is working, as well as what the customer is using to find you in the first place.

There are a variety of other pay tools available for producing the similar effect and being able to monitor that activity, but either way, you still need to do that test, review, repeat - which is why I talk about the more generic the terms you're looking for, the more work you have to do. And more importantly, that that is ongoing investment.

If you think that you're putting investment and time into getting to the top rankings for the search term "red teapot", your competitor is probably doing exactly the same thing.

And if it's a very, very valuable search term, multiple competitors will be doing it.

So, again, you've got to think about how you will be able to compete against those other people that are trying to do exactly the same thing.

Now this is where I want to get into the good, the bad and the ugly really - and to be honest, we're talking about an ugly.

With there being so much money available within the Search Engine Optimisation industry, because there is so much perceived value in being able to get to the top of those lists, there are a lot of companies out there offering easy ways to do it.

In short, there really isn't an easy way to do it.

You'll find a lot of poor advice out there. You'll find a lot of snake oil salesmen, and that's actually one of the reasons why I don't pretend that I'm an expert, because I actually think if I start to present myself as an expert, I'm not helping that cause.

Maybe in future episodes, I might talk about how to look out for what makes a good SEO expert, but for now you've got to be aware that there's probably a fair amount of fake information out there - and snake oil salesman.

Whenever I see something that seems too good to be true with SEO, I kind of like to try and apply a thought process to it.

We need to remember that at its heart, Google is an ad company. It makes money by selling ads. It needs people to come to its search engine to be able to do that.

Now, you can have your own various views as to what sort of company Google is, but ultimately it needs people to find its services useful.

Otherwise they would not keep coming back to use it for search. And if they're not going back to use it for search, they're not going to be able to promote ads. They need to be able to provide value to the customer who is using their search engine.

Otherwise they simply will not have a business model.

Which means that for me, a lot of what Google will do will be working towards trying to get the best result for the customer.

As such, any practise or advice you're being given by your expert, you need to think about it in those terms, does what is being suggested actually help that customer doing the search?

If the customer has done a search, and put your own self in those shoes, if you've done that search and you've landed on the page that's on your website, does it make sense to you? Have you got to the right place? Is there value in you hitting that page?

And this is sometimes where you need to put aside the business objectives.

The business objectives is, "yes, I want that customer on my site".

But that isn't what Google is measuring.

Google is measuring "Is this a viable and correct place to be for that customer based on that search term?"

Let's look at some possible bad practises that may come your way - hopefully the industry has removed these from the lexicon of options - but just in case, let's talk about them.

Purchasing links. One of the characteristics of Google used to use as part of its ranking in terms of deciding how authoritative your answer was, was how many other websites linked back to your pages. There was ways of basically just going out and buying hundreds of thousands of links. These were basically just made up websites that had no real purpose other than to basically try and trick Google into thinking you had a level of authority.

Now, interestingly, Google spotted this, they realised what was happening and they then actually penalised companies that used that approach - so much so that companies have had to spend considerable amounts of money, probably more than they spent in purchasing the links in the first place, actually removing those links to actually clean up their brand with Google.

The other bad practise is using hidden text. Think about this as having white text on a white background.

As a user, you won't be able to see it, you won't be able to read it - yet Google sees the text and will think that it's useful content. This can lead to an ability to fool Google into thinking that you've actually got more relevant information on that page than you really do have. Again, I believe this is another method that Google of plug the hole. Again, I would suspect if you're caught by it, you're actually get negatively penalised for using it.

And this is just two examples of bad practise.

You can understand when there's so much value attributed to that page ranking, to the ability to drive traffic to your website, that people will try things that aren't necessarily in the spirit of trying to provide the best for the customer.

But ultimately, these will always be like fad diets. OK, you might be able to live on half a grapefruit and free raisins for a week. But it's not going to do any good in the long term.

And the same is true here. You might find that somebody is suggesting the next hack, the next workaround, the next way of fooling the Google algorithm as a means of trying to get your way up that ranking. But Google will change that over time if they spot that people are trying to be clever and trying to game the system, they will work around and they will put penalties in place for its use.

And this is why I'd certainly recommend thinking heavily about any advice you're given by an expert.

Don't get me wrong, there are some good experts out there, but there are also, given the value in the market, some poor advice. And to be honest, some snake oil salesmen.

There will always be the good, the bad and the ugly; and you need to think about the advice you're given. Does it make sense for the long term? Does this help the customer?

If it helps a customer, there's a good chance that Google will actually provide you credit for it.

In this episode, I've given an introduction to Search Engine Optimisation - SEO.

I wanted to dispel the myth that it's free traffic.

It simply isn't. There is a lot of work in making sure that you're getting that SEO right, in getting the right terms and testing it, running hypothesis, making the changes to your website, your content, everything that goes into actively moving the needle and getting obviously a ranking. And it's not a one off exercise. It's an ongoing investment. You have to consider that you're not the only person trying to do this. It's an arms race against your competitors. So you have to think long and hard about the investment that you want to put into it and maintain in trying to keep that ranking high. So it's definitely not free.

And the other thing was a warning of "here be dragons".

There's definitely an element of poor advice and snake oil salesmen out there in the market trying to get hold of that valuable money that goes into the industry. Again, I shall try to come back to it in a future episode, in how to look for a good SEO expert.

And I put my hands up, I'm not that person. I can point out problems and I can help identify issues where I see them. But it's a specialist field that really does need someone who knows what they're doing and can work with your organisation to produce the best outcomes.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to this episode and look forward to speaking to you again next week.