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Friday, May 18, 2012

Murky SEO - Find the Core Values To Perform In SEO and Sift Through the Mess

SEO can be a minefield to wade through, even for experienced search engineers who have been in the industry for years. This is because of the constant updates from Google and their ever-changing algorithm which dictates how your site will be ranked based on numerous metrics. These metrics have changed so many times over the years but there are a small number of these metrics that have remained the same for quite a while and it is these that you need to pay the most attention to and to support those core values of which every SEO should adhere to.

In such a busy industry with so much speculation and differences of opinion we need to sift through the dark and find the light. So what are the key elements to work on in SEO and what should we pay less attention to?

Links: Still relevant or overrated?
Since the dawn of Google anyone looking to rank in the search engines has primarily focused on link building. I personally don't like the term "link building" as it promotes exactly what Google were trying to stop when their algorithm changes became more sophisticated. Over time this has been manipulated and turned into something that plagues all decent, hardworking and honest SEOs and is constantly used as a negative for not using SEO.

The fact is Google do still use links as a metric, of course they do but the big change is that now it's not the overriding ranking factor like it once was. This is mainly due to Social Media rising up and becoming a large part of link attributes on the web now but more on that later.

So, when crawling your site Google want to see your link profile containing:
  • Quality industry links, relevant to your industry
  • Resource links useful to the user such as industry associations or reference documents
  • Blog site links based around the product or service you are offering, containing quality written content.
  • Social media links including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest, as well as any others that help to share content across the web.
  • Links to sites with as little on-page ads as possible (this is considered spammy) and with good linking profiles themselves.

There are of course other link opportunities you can look into but these are just some of the obvious suggestions which believe it or not, not everyone applies. They are simple but effective.

On-page SEO - Considering the over optimisation penalty and keyword stuffing
The second biggest misunderstood factor of SEO is the on-page techniques and how this should now be approached, especially since the arrival of the over optimisation penalty. The on-page should be done as naturally as possible and this has always been the case, or certainly should have been for most. Keyword stuffing is definitely a no-no and an obvious negative factor which should never be employed. Google does pay attention to this and correct and proper keyword distribution is key to maintaining a natural looking website but effectively incorporating the SEO requirements.

Keyword density and ratio to text, title tags, XML sitemap submission and code clean-up is all essential when optimising a website. The less relevant factors (but still elements which are good practice to implement) now seem to be:
  • Heading 1 contains the key-phrase. This is not as essential as it used to be as Google now considers the whole page and relevance more than they used to and so they know it's not always "natural" to incorporate the key-phrase into the H1.
  • Meta Keywords. This has actually been completely scrapped by Google and hasn't been paid attention to for a good couple of years now. It's good practice to keep them but really it's a personal choice because on the flip side it can let competitors know what phrases you are competing for. Why do half the work for them?
  • Meta Description. This is still important from a traffic point of view but it is not considered by Google when ranking your website. It's great for helping to drive customers to your website though and should be utilised effectively. This is the first piece of information they see before clicking on your website, after all.

The over optimisation penalty is something which worried a lot of people but you just have to be sensible about it and ensure you are being as natural as possible with your SEO on-page techniques.

For example, when incorporating a link such as SEO Leicester within on-page SEO you would consider varying the inbound linking by using long-tail variations, such as seo services leicester. This is more natural and helps to broaden your coverage with key-phrases, even if you are not necessarily optimising exactly that phrase.

It wasn't just on-page that affected over optimisation and actually a lot of the main factors considered for this penalty were off-page, such as having large volumes of the same inbound anchor text and administrative links between owner sites which showed a "network" between them.

Social Media and Marketing techniques
As I mentioned earlier, Social Media is becoming more important as the world continues to engage with one another and communicate using social sharing sites. Everything is sharing. If you post something on Facebook, if you pin something to Pinterest or if you just shout off about something on Twitter, you are constantly communicating with other people. For SEO, social sharing is just marketing made easier and by utilising these sites we can expose our business (or client's business) to thousands if not millions of people.

Every customer or business wants to get their name or brand out there as quickly as possible and in SEO this can be done fairly easily by ensuring you utilise the likes of Facebook and Twitter. It's not just the big brand-named social sites that are available either as more and more pop up across the world, it's well worth investing time and effort into these functions. Basic strategies for a Facebook page could include:
  • Create a business page on Facebook and populate it with content about your latest company news or perhaps a new product or service that is rolling out.
  • You could also offer deals or offers to the first 100 customers that like your page or something similar. This helps to draw interest and customers and you get your foot in the door, as well as gaining the social likes you need.
  • You can link the blog on your website to your Facebook page or interlink between the two by using share buttons on your website.
  • Use Facebook Ads to target your particular market and help drive that traffic to your website.

If you can do all this with Facebook, with just one social sharing site, imagine what exposure you can get from Pinterest which is focused more on the visual aspect of sharing. Social Media should without doubt, be used as a primary focus for SEO moving forward.

Content - Write original, quality stuff to get attention

The web is a big place and let's face it, it's full of rubbish. That is why Google have their guidelines and rules laid out to try and stop spammy sites and useless, meaningless sites from appearing in their search results. It sounds corny but they want to help make the web a better place and having seen a lot of rubbish online I can see why.

Content Marketing is sometimes frowned at by some as "article spinning" but I like to think of content marketing as something more advanced and higher quality, with actual use and meaning to the user.

As part of an effective SEO strategy you can no longer build directory links randomly in a particular category and hope for the best as Google have all but abandoned paying attention to these poor and "dirty" links and it is harder and harder to encourage other sites to give you a one way link, no matter how good your website is. As I mentioned earlier, Google are looking for quality links of relevance and one effective way to create these is to invest time and effort in writing quality guest posts, blog articles and on-page content.

Quality guest posts have to be informative, useful to the user and relevant to the subject. Write quality content and original content. It's simple. There are pitfalls though and key things to avoid are:
  • Duplicate content. Under no circumstances copy other people's work and then distribute it. Google will see it's on the web twice and mark it as duplicate and so any link you have from it will be considered void.
  • Spammy content and keyword stuffing. We discussed this briefly for the on-page and the same applies here. Don't write a post with multiple instances of keywords strewn about randomly throughout the piece. It won't make sense and will immediately send alarm bells ringing. More importantly it will just annoy the user and serve no purpose. The chances are any Guest Post site will not accept this anyway so you will have wasted your own time.
  • Put multiple links throughout the text. Again the chances are the person accepting the post won't allow lots of links out from the article because it then becomes a self-promotional piece and an obvious way to game the system. Google would still consider the piece but only pay attention to one instance of the link as multiple links to the same domain tend to be ignored.

Summary - Is it getting brighter yet?
The four main points above are not everything to consider for SEO to be successful but they are certainly the main focus points of Google's algorithm and crawler. It's not difficult and with common sense, great content and care and consideration for you or your client's strategy you can have a productive campaign which not only performs well in the search engines but also attracts customers and drives traffic to your website.


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