If you have a pulse, and a website, then you are fair game for every SEO “expert” on the planet. Like me, you probably get inundated every day with emails, even phone calls, telling you that your website is not ranking on the first page of Google, but they can fix it. We get these messages even though our websites are ranking well.
SEO is a big subject, so in part 1 we tackle Onsite SEO. In Part 2 we look at local SEO strategies. The aim with these articles is to give you an overview of what SEO is all about, so that you can make informed decisions about hiring the right SEO company.
Do you really need SEO?
Well yes, you do if you want your site to be found when people search for specific products, services or topics.
“Google’s first responsibility is to provide Search users with the most relevant possible results.”
The magic word in this statement is “relevant”.
So how does Google decide which sites are most relevant for every single search term?
Google uses a large and complicated algorithm of criteria to determine where your site will show up in search engine results for every keyword search that people perform online. Only the most relevant web pages show up on page 1.
Whilst no-one (except Google) knows for sure what each of the 200 criteria of the algorithm actually are, and which have the most importance, they have given us enough hints over the years through algorithm updates.
What are algorithm updates?
Here’s a brief synopsis of Google’s major algorithm updates, and what the focus of each one has been. This should help you understand what Google wants, and what they will penalise you for (in terms of your ranking for keywords in search engine results)
- Panda Update: Feb 2011 - Duplicate, plagiarized or thin content; user-generated spam; keyword stuffing. Content should be original, relevant, well written and not too short.
- Penguin Update: April 2012 - Spammy or irrelevant links; links with over-optimized anchor text. This relates to offsite links to your website, and was introduced to counteract the black hat practice of link farms. Quality backlinks are important.
- Hummingbird Update: August 2013 - Keyword stuffing; low quality content. It’s possible to rank for related terms by using synonyms, and Google’s auto suggest terms. Google suggests expanding your keyword research and focus on concepts, not keywords.
- Pigeon Update: December 2014 - Poor on- and off-page SEO. This update was when the user’s location became important, and Google started to give priority to local websites in search results.
- Mobile Update: April 2015 - Lack of a mobile version of the page; poor mobile usability. This is when Google started ranking mobile-friendly pages at the top of mobile search, and filtering out non mobile responsive sites from search results, and seriously down-ranking them.
- Possum Update: September 2016 - Tense competition in your target location. Local businesses now need to be targeting more keywords than they used to, due to the volatility Possum brought into the local SERP
- Fred Update: March 2017 - Thin, affiliate-heavy or ad-centered content. This update penalises websites with low-quality content that appear to have been created mostly for earning revenue through ads and affiliate links.
The fundamentals of onsite SEO
The first step of SEO is ensuring that search engines know what your site is about. This involves adding keywords, tags, descriptions and codes to every page, post and image on your website.
When we submit your site to the search engines, they send out bot crawlers to see what keywords they should index your website for. They don’t look at every word on every page or post, they look in specific areas. If they can’t find the right tags and codes, they’ll take a guess. You may not end up being found for the keywords you want to rank for.
Google’s goal is to help searchers find relevant, quality websites around the keyword entered. Not low quality irrelevant gobbledegook.
Common onsite SEO issues
The first problem of course is no onsite SEO. Launching a website that has not been SEOd is a complete waste of time, unless you don’t really want anyone to find it.
The second problem is poorly executed onsite SEO. Many SEO companies sub-contract SEO out to lowly paid outsource people who don’t have English as their first language, and lack the skills and experience to do it properly.
There’s a real science behind choosing the right keywords for the content on each page, crafting the right title tags, descriptions and codes, and ensuring they’re put in the right places.
Here’s just four of the many problems we see with websites without SEO, or with poorly executed SEO.
- Mismatch. The content on your website page doesn’t accurately reflect the keyword you’ve assigned to that page, causing Google to “penalise” you, by not allowing your page to be found in search engine results pages (SERPS). For example: Assigning a keyword like “self-managed super funds” to a page which is dedicated to introducing the team members of your accounting practice, even though SMSF is one of the services you provide.
- Keyword Stuffing. Conversely, the content on your website page has been “keyword stuffed” – meaning the keyword has been added repeatedly to the point where it just doesn’t make English sense. Google will penalise you for this also. This is a common error made by SEO people who don’t know what they’re doing and have poor writing skills.
- Competitive Keyword. With over a billion websites on the internet, there’s a lot of competition in Google Search. Trying to rank in search results for a short, common keyword phrase like “accountant” or “plumber” is ludicrous. A better strategy is to do your keyword research, see what your competitors are ranking for, see what people are searching for and provide content on the page or post that is optimised for “long-tail” keywords. Eg: “trade business accountant”, or “gas fittings plumber”
- Poor SERP presentation. Without onsite SEO, Google has to guess what it’s about and will randomly select info from your site to display in the search results. This means that your click through rate could suffer, because the info presented may not be very captivating. To illustrate this, I conducted a search in Google on the term “Electrician Werribee”.
The first example is of a site which has not been optimised with an appealing description, so Google seems to have randomly grabbed information from the site, including a misspelling of the company name and information about buying a franchise.
The second is an example from one of our clients, which shows a more enticing description that spells out the services and benefits, and includes a call to action.
Essential onsite SEO strategies
When choosing an SEO company, ask them to specify exactly what they’re going to do. If they don’t provide a scope of works that includes these things, move on.
- Page titles and metadata – well written and correctly coded
- Keywords and synonyms that are relevant to content
- Page URL structure – seo friendly URLs
- Image optimisation for speed and SEO
Internal link usage to facilitate indexing and navigation
- Use of quality, relevant outbound links
- Page load speed – minify css, html and js
- Leverage browser caching to improve speed
- Identification of error pages and broken links, and fixing
- Mobile friendliness of site tested
- Setup of Google Analytics and Search Console to facilitate tracking and reporting of website traffic sources, keywords, time on site, Google indexing, broken links etc
This is a minimum. There are also some cool advanced strategies that will give your site even higher online visibility. More on that later.
Your next step
Having onsite SEO done properly is the first important step in the website digital marketing process. It is an investment which will pay you back for many years to come. Without it, you will need to constantly invest your marketing dollars on other forms of digital marketing to get traffic to your site. The trick is to choose an SEO company that's a) going to do it properly, and b) not charge a small mortgage to do so.
I hope this article has given you an insight into what kind of questions you need to be asking SEO providers.
A final word - Onsite SEO is no guarantee that you will show up high in the search results for your chosen keywords. It takes time for Google to index your site, and there are 200 factors they consider before deciding where to rank your site. It is the first step on the journey to showing up in the organic results. The only thing that is certain is that if your site has not been optimised properly, it will probably never show up on the first page for your important keywords.
If you would like us to review your website to see how well it has been SEO’d, simply request an Onsite SEO review here.
We’ll undertake an audit and if we can see that it has not been done properly, we’ll provide you with recommendations and a fixed price quote for undertaking the required work.
Once your site has been correctly optimised, it’s time to look at the next stage of the process – offsite SEO.