SEO - Strategy and Techniques
Local SEO guru, Rob Chant, walked us through an exploration covering everything you need to know about search optimisation - what it is, why you should be doing it, and why Google wants you to. Here's a brief summary of his key points:
- SEO is not an exact science, but if you can think like Google thinks then you can do SEO. Google wants to rank good quality sites, i.e. what an actual human would recommend if you asked them. But - it's still a machine, and therefore does a lot of approximations.
- Google does three things:
- Discover content ("crawl") - sites are pretty much crawled immediately these days (since the Caffeine update).
- Gets rid of 90% of crap and spam, and decides what to keep of the rest ("indexation"), therefore you want to get as much of your side indexed as possible. Google Webmaster Tools will tell you that your whole site is indexed but it actually isn't.
- Ranking, which is what 95% of Google's software is actually concerned with. Back when PageRank came along it was innovative and made Google a success; it's still there, but now it is alongside other factors that affect your ranking. SEO used to be all about link building, but since 2007-8 it has changed. Social media came along and changed user behaviour and Google figured out how to properly understand content and judge the quality of the author. (Google are now close to having search results free of spam.)
- The three pillars of SEO are links, social media and content.
- Content: More frequent updates is better (on your own site/blog), at least one a week, good quality and deep content (500-700 words). It has to offer something substantive.
- Social Media: Google ties you as an author to your social profile - number of links, retweets, etc. "Anything that seem like it would be scalable is probably a bad idea."
- Link building: Google's policy guidelines pretty much say don't do it. It's basically online PR, building relationships with relevant people in your business so they will talk about you.
- So how does it all fit together? All these things are things that you would be doing anyway. It's an ongoing process (aside from a few technical things) and can even take place offline.
- Google traffic is sustaintable and keeps growing. When you get someone through search they are already expressing interest in what you are offering. Plus you don't pay for every single visit like you are with Adwords, etc.
- Set yourself targets - traffic increases, rank. Set aside a decent amount of time per month to work on SEO. If you start it and don't continue with it, it's just a waste of time.
- If you only do one thing, start a blog. It's almost impossible to drive traffic through Google without fresh content.
- Keywords: Something someone has typed into Google (which could be a phrase). Google used to tell you what the keywords were that brought you the traffic, but not any more (unless you are an Adwords customer).
- The main mistake people make is to get exited about one specific keyword. Do your research. Look at a range of keywords (5-10) in your niche. Look at where you are ranking already. If you're already highly ranked, don't worry about those keywords. And if you're currently nowhere, don't bother.
- If you're a page or two down it can be worth spending some time on a keyword. Consider plurals and swapping the order of words, as it can affect ranking.
- Look at how competitive the keyword is; who is number one? Are they your natural competitors? Look at what the results page looks like - now you get maps, images, videos, shopping. Even if you were number one your link could be completely lost. (Although you can now think about how can I get in the images/videos/etc.)
- Finally, how much traffic will you get? Best way to check traffic is to run an Adwords campaign with a low budget. You'll often find there are only 5-10 keywords in your niche that actually drive decent traffic.
- Long Tail: Google says 20% of searches every month are completely new to them. A huge number of long tail search queries will drive more traffic than your targeted keywords. Another instance where a blog can be really useful. (When keywords get long enough, Google falls back on just a plain text match rather than intelligently figuring out what it thinks the user meant.)
- Technical: Semantic markup doesn't matter at all. Use meta keywords and description tags. Use 301 redirects if you need to redirect. Rich snippets can be useful.
~If you prefer a more visual summary, check out Francis Rowland's excellent sketchnotes summary of Rob's SEO talk on Flickr.