Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Jargon

The world of SEO is no stranger to a bewildering term or two, with almost as many confusing acronyms and mystifying expressions as can be found in the average end of year tax form.

But thankfully, I’ve put together a glossary of the main words you can expect to come up against when delving into the (not so) mysterious world of search engine marketing.

SEO – Search Engine Optimisation

A very familiar expression, but what does it actually mean? Well, the simplest definition is that SEO is a series of strategies and actions that are designed to drive visitors to a website through having them click relevant results in a search engine.

So if your site is about holidays in France, you would want people who search Google for relevant phrases – eg holidays in France, France holidays – to see your site listed in the search results, in order that they can then click through and visit your site.

Search Engine

A website that you visit in order to find other websites that will be relevant to your particular query. Google is obviously the prime example of a search engine – especially in the UK where it enjoys an 85% + market share in terms of the number of searches performed – with other less popular engines being Bing and Yahoo. (There are also country specific search engines, such as the Chinese Baidu).

Rankings

The position a webpage listing appears in the results pages for a search engine query. The higher up the page, the more likely the listing is to be clicked.

The debate rages furiously within the SEO world as to whether there can actually be such a thing as an actual “ranking”, with Google having introduced many different elements to their results (including personalised search and localisation) that will affect what one person sees in their search results compared to another – based on geographical info, previous searches they’ve carried out etc.

Spider

In essence a piece of software that simply jumps from website to website, following each of the links on any and all webpages that it comes across, cataloguing the information on each page as it goes along. Spiders are also commonly known as crawlers or bots.

Metadata

The literal definition of the word “metadata” is “data about data”. Not too helpful so far, eh? A good analogy for it is the Contents page of a book. What you might see on the Contents page is a Chapter heading and brief description of what is contained within that chapter. This information (the Heading and Description) is the metadata about the chapter in question.

When referring to a website’s metadata, we’re referring to elements that can be inserted into the HTML code of the page. These elements are there to inform the search engines what the page is about – ie they are data about the data on the page, in the same way that a book’s Table of Contents is data about the data in a chapter.

The 2 main elements of metadata for SEO purposes are what are known as the Title tag and the Description tag. As a general rule, the Title tag will be the clickable heading that appears in the search results, with the Description tag forming the sentence or two underneath that heading. For this reason, these 2 elements are considered to be among the most important for SEO purposes. (It is only the Title tag that will actually help boost a page’s ranking, but obviously the descriptive text can help persuade a searcher to click through to the site).

HTML

Hyper Text Markup Language – the code that websites are written in that enables them to be displayed correctly in your internet browser. (Other examples of website code are ASP and PHP, which are essentially different types of code that enable different levels of functionality within the webpage itself).

Browser

The program that allows you to view websites. The main examples are Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome, Firefox, Apple’s Safari.

Domain Name

A website’s main address – eg www.rossjackson.co.uk. Email addresses can be linked to a domain name, eg enquiries@rossjackson.co.uk.

Other example domains are:

www.bbc.co.uk
www.microsoft.com
etc

URL

Uniform Resource Locator – a specific webpage on a particular website. For example – http://www.rossjackson.co.uk/seo is a URL within the www.rossjackson.co.uk domain.

Other example URLs would be:

www.bbc.co.uk/sport
www.microsoft.com/en-us/WorldWide.aspx

Keywords

Primarily the words that people use when they are searching for something using a search engine. So if you were to search on Google for the phrase:

world cup winning teams

– these 4 individual words would be the keywords you are using to perform your search.

For SEO purposes, we would include the whole phrase as being a single keyword. The reason for this is that it can be seen that the individual words themselves would be pretty meaningless in the context of this specific search without the other words around them, as it is unlikely that someone searching on any of the single words eg:

world
cup

would be looking for the same information that was being sought with the original search for the phrase “world cup winning teams”.

So when we talk about keywords from the point of view of SEO, we are generally talking about phrases rather than individual words.

Content

Essentially the words that make up a web page. There are, of course, multiple different types of content – including videos, podcasts, infographics, images, calculators etc – and each of these can be useful from an optimisation perspective, but primarily for search engine purposes, content means text content in the form of words.

Links

Inbound links to a website from other sites. These became essential for SEO once Google became the dominant search engine. Larry Page and Sergey Brin – the developers and founders of Google – decided that they would base their fledgling search engine on one of the principals they were familiar with in their academic life. That is, they wanted to ensure that a webpage was deemed to be relevant to a particular search as a result of the quantity and quality of the “citations” it received from others.

So they built this into the Google algorithm by having their search engine spiders work out how many inbound links a particular webpage received from other websites – thus helping to determine whether a particular webpage was likely to be authoritative enough to be worthy of appearing in their results for a particular search query.

Algorithm

An algorithm is a step by step set of instructions, actions or operations that lead to a particular goal, usually related to mathematical calculations or software processes.

Taking its origin from the name of a mathematician from 1200 years ago, the Google algorithm (and that of other search engines) has attained mythical status in the SEO community, with people spending many thousands of hours attempting to interpret it in order to update their own websites to fulfil the algorithm’s criteria for search engine rankings success. (Though I have myself, on many occasions, discussed the idea with people from Google, and it is pretty clear to me that nobody even within Google itself knows the exact full extent or parameters of the fabled algorithm!).

The fabled algorithm updates are usually given names – either by Google or by the SEO community – such as Panda and Penguin.

Google Penalties

Google will penalise a site either algorithmically – ie its own system spots something it doesn’t like and marks the site down as a result – or manually – where a Google employee actually visits the site and determines it shouldn’t feature highly in the search results.

Google penalties became big news a few years ago after the Panda and Penguin updates, when multiple sites appeared to lose rankings as a result of not conforming to the rules.

Whitehat / Blackhat / Greyhat

Originating from the protagonists in old black and white cowboy movies – where the “good guy” would wear a white hat and the “bad guy” would wear a black hat – these terms refer to whether a particular activity is within the guidelines for the major search engines or not. Whitehat means the activity is above board and within the guidelines, blackhat means the activity would be viewed dubiously as it will be outside the guidelines, with greyhat being a bending of the rules, rather than necessarily breaking them. Essentially, whitehat activity is designed to avoid any Google penalties.

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Posted in SEO

The “SEO is Dead” Myth

I’ve been promoting websites since 1998 – before we even used the term Search Engine Optimisation. Back then it was far from clear which of the multiple search engines would rise to enjoy the kind of dominance that the mighty Google now enjoys, with multiple sites competing for your searching time. (Lycos, Infoseek, AltaVista etc etc).

Once Google started to emerge as the main contender, of course, in the early 2000s, there followed in its wake the first of the doom-mongers proclaiming that “SEO is dead”, based on their contention that Google’s focus on inbound links was the death knell for any serious optimisation work.

Having watched the industry grow from what was really a small handful of practitioners to the enormous range of companies and freelancers that are involved today, I can confidently state that SEO is far from dead – it is simply evolving.

One of the main reasons that people currently suggest SEO is dead or dying is the fact that mobile browsing has overtaken desktop browsing in terms of usage. What this means is that more people are using their smartphones or tablet devices to access the internet than are using traditional desktop or laptop computers.

Why does this impact on search engine optimisation? Well, Google generates the vast majority of its income from paid adverts – AdWords – that it includes in its search results. What you may not be aware of is that the top results in most searches are actually paid adverts. And on a mobile device, the screen space is so small that you may not be presented with non-paid results at all when you perform a search.

So the theory is that, with eg 51% of searches not delivering a non-paid result, there is no point putting any effort into SEO as the majority of people won’t see your site in the non-paid listings anyway.

However, if 49% of searches are still performed on desktop or laptop machines, this is actually a fairly large number of people considering the number of people online. (Even if these figures are 55% / 45% – that’s still a very large number of people being ignored by the non-SEO sites).

So to turn the naysayers’ argument on its head – if they’re saying we should only focus on the 51% who use mobile devices, what they’re implying is that we should ignore the 49% who don’t – thus leaving a very large amount of potential business that we’re not targeting.

The most compelling reason to believe that SEO isn’t dead, though, is this one:

The fundamental principle of modern day SEO is based on ensuring your site features quality content that visitors will actually benefit from having access to. (And I would argue that this has really always been the basis for a solid long term SEO strategy).

As a result of having this sort of content on your site, you are far more likely to attract the kind of quality inbound links that Google wants to see in order to determine that your site is worthy of appearing in its listings for relevant search phrases.

But the main point here is that the type of quality inbound links you get as a result of your quality site content will actually send you quality traffic in the first place. So, rather than simply having a bunch of links that are designed to boost your ranking in Google, the links you gain nowadays are more likely to bring you potential customers in their own right – with the fortunate knock-on effect of also helping to boost your site in Google. The very definition of “win-win”.

So my contention is that SEO is far from dead and will continue to be able to generate new business on an ongoing basis for many years to come – as it is successfully doing for my clients at the moment.

You can read more about my SEO services at my consultancy site.

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Posted in Search, SEO

Mad Men + Maths Men = Successful Marketing in the Digital Age

A great article and interview in The Times, on Saturday 24th October 2015, with Miles Young – the Chief Executive of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/industries/media/article4594544.ece)

His basic contention is something I’ve believed throughout my 17 years in the internet marketing space – that quality advertising in the 21st century requires both:

i) The scientific knowledge that comes from the excellent data we can utilise in the digital era (the “maths men” side of things).

ii) The human element of innovation and ingenuity that can only come from a creative approach (the “mad men” side of things – obviously a reference to the famous TV show of the same name).

And if I’m honest, despite my specialisation in the internet, I lean far more towards the “mad men” creative approach than I do to the “maths men” analytical approach.

One of the things I’ve always tried to explain to clients or other internet marketers is that the most important word in the phrase ‘internet marketing’ is the word ‘marketing’, NOT the word ‘internet’.

I’ll illustrate this with a bit of background that might initially appear to disprove my theory:

Before we had such things as Click Through Rates and Cost Per Impression measurements, one of the ways advertising agencies determined how many people were seeing their adverts was to park up next to a billboard poster. They’d then count the number of cars driving past the poster and devise a calculation based on the number of vehicles they spotted in a particular time frame. Thus they could suggest that x number of people were looking at the poster every hour and then attempt to gauge how successful the poster might be based on that measurement.

Nowadays, of course, we can measure how many times a particular advert is shown online and follow that through with a tally of the number of people that click through to a website, and even further to determine how many of those people actually perform a desired action once they get to the site.

So yes, the current model of digital advertising is far more sophisticated and potentially beneficial to advertisers than the billboard example of advertising success measurement outlined above.

And yet, the basic principle of working out how many people in a particular sample group (the people who see the advert) are convinced to do something as a result of seeing that advert, is one that goes right back to the days of coupon clipping from the local newspaper.

My well-thumbed copy of the classic book, “Tested Advertising Methods”, by John Caples, features numerous examples of old school adverts that were both measurable and successful as a result of applying the knowledge gained from the testing process in order to fine tune the wording, colour scheme, layout etc.

{As an aside, if you’re not aware of the legacy of the legendary advertising man John Caples, you may well have come across one of his ads – which is certainly a candidate for the most influential print advert of all time – “They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano – But When I Started to Play!-”}

This method of testing, refining, testing, refining and so on, is one that works much more immediately on the internet, of course. But the principles and motivations behind it are the same as those of printing 2 different versions of an advert, then measuring how many coupons are sent back from each ad to determine the “winner”. (A process known as “Beat the Control”, as the winning ad is then classed as the Control ad, with all subsequent tests being made to try and beat this ad in terms of the number of coupons returned).

So certainly I’m not suggesting that the analytical measurement of data is pointless – far from it. But, as Miles Young says in the article from The Times:

“..There is an obsessive belief that the measure is the end and not the means… You can measure clicks but you’re not evaluating them.”

Which chimes with something I’ve always said to my clients – the only really important measure of whether something’s working or not is whether you’re generating more business as a result of it. The way I see it, extra cash in the till is the key measure for any advertising campaign, however many extra % points of CTR you might have been able to achieve.

So having looked a little at what the “maths men” do and deciding that it’s certainly useful, but only so much – just what is it that I suggest the “mad men” are bringing to the party to make them the more important factor for success?

Again I’ll reference a classic text in the field, this time “Scientific Advertising” by Claude C Hopkins. He, too, talks about coupons and the returns from printed adverts, but one of the things I think that sets him apart from the “bean counters” is the style of his writing. Consider this paragraph:

“A headline is intended to salute the people you desire to reach. It is just like a bell-boy in a hotel calling for Mr Jones. Here is a message for him. Or like the heading on a news article. All of us depend on headlines to point out what we desire to read.”

A perfect description of why headlines are valuable for adverts – whether they be in a daily newspaper or at the top of a Google AdWord.

It’s the creativity – the “mad” element – that is essential for the process of evaluation that Miles Young talks about. ie we can tell that advert A beat advert B in our test, but what we need to find out is why? And, more importantly, we need to know what to do about it.

Interestingly, my copies of the 2 classic advertising books I’ve discussed so far each feature references to probably the most famous advertising man of all time – David Ogilvy. (He has a quote on the cover of my version of the Hopkins book and wrote a foreword to the Caples book).

Ogilvy, the man responsible for what is almost certainly the most famous (if usually misquoted) piece of copywriting ever – “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock” – was widely respected as a copywriting genius, but himself considered that his own “long suit” was in research, not copy. That is, he believed that his genius for coming up with effective slogans and promotional text was based on the fact that he took the time to understand as much as he possibly could about the subject he was trying to advertise.

He’d then think about what he was trying to achieve and see where he could make a connection between the message he wanted to put across and the facts he’d been able to gather during his research. (For example, the fact the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud had an electric clock isn’t necessarily a great selling point, but when combined with the suggestion of effortless luxury implied by how quiet it is inside the cabin, it becomes an unforgettable and extremely persuasive image).

I would say this is much more of a human characteristic – the ability to make connections between seemingly unconnected facts – than being a simple function of analytical or mathematical reasoning.

So ultimately, if it’s good enough for David Ogilvy (and John Caples and Claude C Hopkins, among others), I see no reason why an approach that encompasses both the aspects discussed – be it more “mad” than “maths” – shouldn’t be the best way to be going about things for me, or for you.

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Email Newsletters – a Worthwhile Value Exchange?

One of the things that businesses feel they should be doing is sending out email newsletters to their clients and potential clients on an ongoing basis.

The theory is that the newsletter will be keeping them “front of mind” and thus if it happens to coincide with a period when their contact is looking for their services, they will become the natural port of call.

All makes sense. However, there are 2 main problems with this theory:

1) Time

I’ve seen it happen so many times that the day to day business of actually being in business means the writing of the newsletter is continually put to the bottom of the “to do” list. (Same as those regular blog posts that you’re all writing…).

2) Quality

However committed and enthusiastic you are to your chosen specialist area, there comes a point where you just can’t think of anything else to say. (Though see my series on blog post inspiration for more about this).

Especially when combined with the lack of time, what you end up with is a hastily put together bit of industry information or internal news that – if you thought about it objectively – nobody could really be that interested in, even if they were in the industry or worked at your firm. So anyone not in those 2 categories – ie everyone you send the newsletter to – is going to give up reading your emails very quickly, defeating the object of sending them out to be “front of mind”.

Of course, there are some people who write well-crafted, interesting and useful emails that have their recipients eagerly awaiting their arrival. These people are few and far between, though, and outside of the boys from One Direction they tend to be recognised thought leaders in their industry.

So what can you offer that will be a suitable value exchange for the time you want people to spend reading your thoughts?

(Where a “value exchange” is defined as being them receiving something worthwhile in exchange for their time and – more importantly – their contact details such as email address).

The key is to provide useful info, of the type that anyone in the market for your product or service can actually use for their own ends, rather than a simple generic piece of fluff that anyone with a modicum of interest in the subject could put together.

I’ve always recommended that websites offer something of real value to their visitors, in order that they can gather the contact details of potential customers and thus initiate the sales funnel process with those people who’ve visited the site.

An email newsletter could feasibly fulfil this function, of course – and I certainly recommend you follow up with a sequence of emails to anyone who fills in their details on your site. But in the first instance, faced with the prospect of signing up for a newsletter or being able to download something that actually provides good information and represents solid value, I know which option I’d always prefer when I visit a site.

So what should this piece of information be that we’re offering in this value exchange?

Naturally, it will depend on the industry you’re in, but some simple ideas for what you can base this on include:

Top Ten Uses for XYZ that Help You Save Money

Make the Most of Your XZY by Following our Five Simple Tips

Read How Others have Maximised the Potential of their XYZ for their Own Benefit

Where each of the items above is written from the perspective of giving real and useful advice to the customer, without being a sales pitch or a simple recreation of what exists elsewhere on your site.

You can also look at providing details of complementary products or services, thus enhancing the value of what you sell through giving advice on something that helps it work more effectively.

One point to make here – you shouldn’t be afraid of giving things away. Plenty of people have told me over the years that they fell giving something for free somehow cheapens their brand and makes people think what they offer for sale can’t be worth very much.

My own experience, however, shows this up to be a false assumption, with people being genuinely grateful for the free advice and information they receive, such that they are more amenable to hearing your sales message either immediately or at some point in the future.

And don’t make the big mistake that I see all the time – where you have spent time and effort creating something of real value, then hiding it away at the bottom of the page where very few of your site visitors actually see it. (Or, similarly, featuring a “Newsletter Signup” link on your navigation bar).

You should highlight the value exchange clearly and prominently, so that people are in no doubt that they will receive something of value simply by entering their contact details into your simple form (Name and Email address are all that is required – though phone number would obviously be useful from your point of view, too).

So make sure you offer something beneficial on your site, and the value exchange will be so obvious to your potential customers that they’ll be signing up in droves.

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Posted in Email

Why Should You be Top of Google?

In all the years I’ve been promoting websites (17 so far and counting), one of the things I get asked most often is to get a particular site to “the top of Google”. Now, over the years there have been various ideas as to what the “top” of Google actually is – with Top Ten, Top Five and Top Three often being regarded as a very good runner up to that coveted Number 1 slot.

And there have been many changes at Google over the years, such that the very concept of a specific Google ranking position has been called into question through such things as Personalised Search and Everflux listings.

But this article isn’t about that issue.

The eagle-eyed among you (a phrase that always nostalgically reminds me of my old Action Man from the 1970s!) will have realised that the headline of this post is a question – why should you be? – rather than the statement – why you should be.

The reason for this is to try and make you think a little about what it is that Google is trying to achieve with its organic search results.

That is, if you look at things from Google’s perspective, why should it put your site at the top, rather than the thousands of other sites that are also competing to be where you want to be?

In order to appreciate this, we have to try and understand what Google’s motivation might be for featuring its listings in the particular order that it does.

Conspiracy theories from disgruntled SEO practitioners aside, it’s actually pretty easy to determine what Google is trying to do – offer its users the best possible result for the query they have in their mind when they type that query into the search box.

No rocket science or brain surgery being discussed so far – it should be obvious that Google’s organic listings are based on providing the best search experience for the user that it can. (Again, leaving aside any conspiracy theories that suggest Google tries to give organic listings that aren’t very suitable, in order that people will click the adverts and thus generate income for the search giant).

But once you adopt the mindset that Google works on behalf of searchers, not website owners, you quickly start to realise what it is that you should be offering on your own site in order to provide the best result for particular search queries that would be relevant to what you offer.

I’ll be coming back to this point in coming posts that deal further with SEO and how to get your site to “the top of Google”.

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Posted in SEO

Interesting CTR for PPC Issue

One of the fundamental tenets of running a successful PPC campaign is to try and improve Click Through Rate (CTR) – that is, if a higher CTR is one of your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), of course.

So it was interesting to review a split test pair of ads recently where there was a clear winner in terms of higher CTR – 7.1% versus 4.3% – which would ordinarily have resulted in the ad with the lower CTR being Paused and replaced with a new one, in a process of “beat the control”.

However, this particular pair of ads had been set up purely to measure the success of different landing pages, and both featured exactly the same text, capitalisation, Display URL etc.

So what was it about one of the ads that was attracting such a different CTR than the other? Interestingly, I don’t actually know.

But it certainly highlights an issue that is often overlooked when analysing PPC data – sometimes, things just happen without any specific explanation being able to cover it adequately. I’d certainly suggest that these random anomalies are few and far between, but they are certainly there and can serve to skew results in specific aspects of a PPC campaign, without being able to be identified and altered satisfactorily.

What needs to happen, of course, is a longer term view being taken. Which is exactly what happened with the pair of ads reffered to above, as over time, their respective CTR’s got closer together and have stayed pretty similar since then.

Shows the advantage of a broader perspective, rather than jumping on every minute detail, when it comes to focusing on what’s really important – achieving your business goals, rather than simply improving irrelevant stats.

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Posted in PPC

Some Essentials for SEO

There are many things which can go into a successful SEO project – even in these days of content marketing and quality links. But overall, there are a few essential elements that I recommend for all sites in order for them to be search engine friendly.

1) Metadata

The forgotten relation in SEO. Whilst description tags and the like are not as important as they were when I first started optimising sites – way back in the “dark ages” of the late 1990s – there are still benefits to be had from getting your metadata correct in terms of best practices for SEO. What this requires is:

– Title Tag

Still one of the most important elements in “on page” SEO – your title tag should reflect the keywords that are likely to be used to search for the content of the page. These words will be used as the heading for your listing in the Google search results pages.

– Description Tag

Not used for ranking purposes, but should appear underneath the heading in Google, as determined by the Title Tag mentioned above. The copy you use here can be very useful for convincing people to click through to your site, especially if it not only matches the keywords they might use, but also provides them a good reason to visit your site. For example, you can promote your USPs here to give people a compelling reason to click the listing.

2) Responsive Design

Google is very keen to see that your website will work well on any device (see this post on the Google Mobile Algorithm Update for more info). It may not be the case yet that your site will be penalised for not being responsive, but my bet is that this will start to happen before too long.

So you need to ensure that your site’s layout is adaptable to the device it is being viewed on – and not just from the point of view of it changing shape. You also need to ensure the site is navigable and user friendly, too, in order to keep people on the site.

3) Stickiness

A term that is not so much in favour nowadays compared to 10 years or so ago, stickiness refers to the capability of your site to keep people engaged whilst they’re visiting it. My recommendation is that you ensure each page has something of value on it that will keep people reading (or watching a video).

Google certainly doesn’t want to be sending its users to a site that only holds a visitor’s attention for a few seconds before they click back to try and find another, more suitable match for their search query. So you should populate your site with quality, useful content and keep those visitors (and Google) happy.

Whilst there are certainly lots of other things you can do – as previously mentioned – if you concentrate your efforts on the 3 issues listed above, you’ll already be doing pretty well in terms of SEO effectiveness.

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Link Building Outreach Tips

Back in the day, people used to share links on the internet because they actually thought the site being linked to might provide some value to people who read it. (Crazy concept, eh?). People would go out of their way to build up Links pages and Resource pages that included all sorts of sites the site owner had found, that they believed to provide useful information.

Obviously, the fact that someone was visiting their site in the first place made the webmaster believe that person was probably interested in the subject matter of their site. For example, if a site was about shark fishing, the person who managed the site would be fairly likely to assume that anyone visiting was going to be interested in fishing for sharks. So they’d populate their Links page with sites that were likely to also prove of interest to anyone interested in this particular topic.

OK, so far so what?

Well, when the mighty Google came along (Google being one who must always be obeyed, when it comes to SEO), and decided that inbound links to a site would make up a substantial part of its fabled “algorithm”, the Links landscape changed forever – sort of…

Providing site links was now no longer the preserve of friendly website owners who were trying to be helpful to their site visitors, it now attracted a whole new breed of “link builders” whose sole purpose was to try and fool Google into thinking a particular site should be ranked higher simply down to the volume of links it had attracted from other sites.

A Quick Explanation of why Inbound Links Matter to Google

The 2 students who setup Google in the first place decided they’d incorporate one of the central tenets of academic credibility into their search engine’s algorithm. That element being citations from recognised authorities. (Academic papers always include references to other papers from which the main arguments have been taken – which gives the paper credibility and authority, as it shows the content is based on other people’s work and so gives it an air of reliability and veracity).

So Google incorporated a large element of measuring inbound links to a particular web page in order to determine whether it was deemed to be a “good” page about a particular topic. The theory being that these inbound links would serve as “citations” from the original page to the one being linked to – thus providing evidence of the quality of this page.

The basic principle enshrined in the algorithm in the early days of Google is the main reason why SEO experts focused so much of their time on link building. And it’s still something that you can capitalise on today – so long as you go about it the right way.

Here’s a rundown of the 3 best types of links you can generate for your site, that will be Google-safe and actually beneficial for traffic and sales:

Resource Page Links

Utilised in the very earliest days of the internet to help people find sites that are likely to be of interest to them, Resource page links are still a very valuable link to attain. When a site has been put together that focuses on a particular topic, it makes sense for their Resource page links to be related to that topic in some way. These are exactly the type of links that Google likes to see – contextual, relevant links that are given for the purpose of helping a site’s visitors, rather than simply to aid with another site’s rankings. (Though, of course, this rankings boost is a happy side effect of having this type of link to your site).

So where can you find these Resource pages?

A good start is to use Google itself. Searches such as:

“topic keyword” + “resource page”
“topic keyword” + “resources”
“topic keyword” + “links page”
“topic keyword” + “links”

Will provide plenty of sites that feature the kind of links page we’re after – each of which will be related to the “topic keyword”. (So obviously you should ensure the “topic keyword” you search for is relevant to the content of your site – the one you want to obtain a link for).

You should make a list of sites that appear suitable, checking each one to see whether you think it is of decent enough quality – something you should be able to determine simply from your gut instinct. ie if you find yourself thinking “this site is a bit rubbish”, it’s probably not one that you should try to get a link from.

Contact each of the sites on your list with an email that compliments the site owner on their useful resource, and also introducing them to the fact that your own site will probably be something their site visitors could benefit from seeing, so could they please update their Resources page with a link to your site? The ideal method for being successful in generating multiple links is to have developed some great content – my suggestion being a collection of great blog articles, at least one of which you can draw the site owner’s attention to – which is more likely to find favour when it comes to providing a link.

Resource Page Broken Links

An even more successful method for generating links is to point out to the site owner where a link they have on their Resources page is broken – ie because the site no longer exists or the URL has changed.

Informing them that they have a broken link which needs to be removed / updated, plus providing a new site they can link to, is generally going to find favour with most site owners, as it helps them out and keeps their site looking current.

Editorial Links

The ultimate in Google safe links is to attract a link to your site simply because your content is so good that people genuinely want to link to it of their own accord. Anyone who’s tried any link building in the past may be sceptical of this approach, but it actually does work.

Site owners are keen to provide good content for their visitors, so being able to introduce them to something of real value – your quality content in the form of a blog post etc – is something they will be keen to do.

My experience here suggests that “topic keyword” bloggers are the most likely to want to link to your content, particularly if it’s complementary to something they have recently written about.

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Posted in Links, Search, SEO

Local SEO – Optimising your Site for Local Searchers

One of the inevitable consequences of the rise of the smart phone is the increasing frequency of local searches. It stands to reason that, if you’re looking for something particular by performing a search on your mobile phone, it’s quite likely to be because you want the thing you’re looking for to be nearby (at least, nearby to where you are currently).

As well as this aspect, it’s a well recognised phenomenon that there have been an increasing number of searches based on a local area over the last 5 or so years, even amongst those people using desktop or laptop machines to perform their search.

So, if your business can be seen to have a local element – ie the majority of your customers are likely to come from the local area – you really need to be optimising your site to take advantage. Here’s how I recommend you go about it:

1) Name Address Phone Number (NAP)

You need to ensure your company name (or the name you trade under if you’re eg self employed, which could, of course, be your actual name), physical address and the phone number of your organisation is displayed on your site.

Some people suggest you should have each of these details on every page of your site – for instance in a footer – and I would certainly go along with that, especially as it can also help in terms of enquiries if people have read to the end of a page and then see your contact phone number whilst they already may have the thought in their mind to contact you.

You can simply have the NAP info on your home page and Contact page if you wish, but I would recommend featuring it on every page if it fits in with your site design.

2) Google My Business

Google has an irritating habit of changing the name of its local business listings service on an ongoing basis (eg Google Places being a previous incarnation), but for now it seems to have settled on Google My Business as being the name it’s happy to use.

You should ensure that you have a Google My Business listing, and equally ensure that the Name Address and Phone number details recorded in it are identical to the ones you feature on your site.

Further populate this listing with info such as Opening Times and accepted methods of payment, as well as ensuring you are listed in a relevant category, to give Google as much info as you can that could help with your local search listing.

3) Don’t try to Fool Google

If your business doesn’t actually have a physical presence in a particular location (ie you don’t actually have a building / office / shop in the area you claim to), you are more than likely to be penalised for pretending you do. My advice is to only include NAP information for locations where you do have an actual physical presence. (Google is also wise to the fact that you may be listing yourself in eg a virtual office, when actually all that happens is mail gets redirected from there. Again, my advice would be to steer clear of this sort of thing).

4) Local Directory Listings

There are many internet directories that claim to have an influence with search engine rankings. However, there are only a small proportion of these that will actually have any real bearing on where you might be listed in the results for a relevant local search.

I’ve found there are approximately 80-90 UK-based directories that can help your rankings in Google. You should ensure that you try to gain a listing in each of them, with some of the more well-known ones being:

192.com
Yell.com
118118.com
Scoot.co.uk
Thomsonlocal.com

As well as some lesser known sites, such as:

Tuggo.co.uk
UKsmallbusinessdirectory.co.uk
Near.co.uk
etc

As with your Google My Business Listing, you need to make sure the Name Address and Phone number information is identical in each (that is, identical to the NAP info on your site).

5) Inbound Links

Not surprisingly, considering we’re talking about search engine optimisation, inbound links to your site play an important factor. As well as the local directory listings as mentioned above, you should try to generate multiple quality inbound links from other sources.

In order to ensure local relevance, I recommend looking at things such as your local Chamber of Commerce or other business groups, for example the BNI or similar networking organisastions. An inbound link from one of these sites will help associate your business with the local area you’re targeting.

You can also look to get links from local clients – eg from their blog by asking them to mention they’ve just had some work done or bought something from you, with the blog post including a link to your site.

And you musn’t forget that, just because we’re focusing on Local SEO, it is still SEO we’re talking about, so quality links are always going to be an important factor.

6) On Page Optimisation

With SEO in mind, obviously it makes sense to ensure your “on page” factors are optimised as well as possible. These will include such things as the metadata on the pages (Title tag, Description tag), as well as the visible text content that site visitors can see.

Incorporating the geographical areas within the text of these elements will help from a local optimisation perspective, especially if you include specific local information, such as referencing surrounding town names and landmarks that are specific to the local vicinity.

7) Reviews

You should try to get as many favourable reviews as possible in the major review sites, such as Trustpilot or Reviews.co.uk. You can encourage satisfied customers to write reviews on your behalf with a follow up email once they’ve completed their purchase.

The rule of thumb for 3rd party review sites is – the more good reviews the better, so long as they are genuine and from a site that Google is likely to recognise as an authority, rather than one simply set up to assist with a site’s rankings.

8) Social Media

Similar to getting good reviews, encouraging your customers to talk about you on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter will help with your optimisation efforts. Especially useful is if the people discussing your business are located nearby to your premises, as that again helps associate you with the local area.

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Posted in SEO

My History of Search Engine Marketing

I was chatting with a long term client the other day and we went through my own history with promoting websites. He remarked that my own involvement must somewhat mirror the overall history of the discipline, making “my history” almost equivalent to “the history” of search engine marketing!

Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as that, I do think he had a point. There aren’t many people in the UK who’ve concentrated on the same field for as long as I have; and while I think about it, there really won’t be that many people in the whole world! A fairly sobering thought in one way, but also quite a pleasing one in another.

So I’ve decided to run through what I’ve done in the search marketing area since I started all those years ago, by way of outlining how things have changed and yet in some respects remained the same.

1998 – Internet Evangelist

When I first started out, the majority of my time was spent in “evangelical” mode, trying to actually convince business owners that the internet was a worthwhile thing for them to be involved with. Seems ridiculous now, but I remember being told on many occasions that people were going to wait and see what happened before they committed to getting involved with the world wide web.

My own focus in the early days was on building websites – a natural consequence of businesses not yet having embraced the medium as being a useful sales and marketing tool – with several local businesses “benefitting” from my design expertise. I’ve put the word “benefitting” in speech marks, as my design skills left a little to be desired.

I actually started off using Microsoft FrontPage to build sites – a product which has been discontinued for almost 10 years now! My recollection of FrontPage 98 is that it was an extremely unwieldy piece of software that necessitated having 2 different screens open in order to generated anything resembling a web page. There was the FrontPage Editor element, which allowed you to generate code in what they laughably described as a WYSIWYG manner (What You See Is What You Get); which had to be linked up to the separate FrontPage Explorer – which was some kind of file management system. I never quite got my head around the reason why there had to be this separation, but I guess it was still the fairly early days when it came to web site development.

There was also a free version of FrontPage that was available with limited functionality. I did use this for the odd alteration to a website due to it being easier to use – as I remember, it didn’t have the clumsy double interface system of the full software.

Suffice to say, though, that my early experiments with web design were based on my having a sales and marketing background, rather than one in design. Whilst I stand by this even today – ie that websites are a sales tool first and foremost and should be built for this purpose, rather than simply to “look nice” – the element that was sadly lacking in my earliest designs was any sense that they had been put together by someone with a “good eye”.

I had, however, determined that any business that had a web presence would need some means of their potential customers finding them. To that end, each of the sites I originally built had been designed with search engines in mind. I certainly wasn’t using the term “search engine optimisation” in those days, having decided that “web promotion” was a conveniently descriptive term for what later became known as SEO.

Interestingly, a little while after I embarked on my internet marketing career, two PHD students at Stanford University incorporated a business that they decided to call “Google”. Stick around for the remainder of this post and you just may find I discuss that particular organisation again at some point…

AltaVista – King of the Search Engines

You may be familiar with the famous poem, Ozymandias, by Shelley? Essentially, the theme of the poem (written in the style of a sonnet) is of the way history treats great rulers and the empires they oversee.

The most famous lines from the poem, often quoted, are:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

In the poem, these words are inscribed on a statue to the great emperor – contrasting how he believed himself to be extraordinarily important in the world, yet the modern day traveller who comes across the statue has never even heard of him.

It may well be that AltaVista didn’t consider itself to be the “king of kings” when it came to search – but my recollection is that it was certainly the main one we were all trying to get our sites listed with in the late 90s.

Actually, when I first looked into how to get my sites listed in the main search engines for relevant terms, there were loads of them all trying to compete in the space. Nobody had quite worked out how to capitalise on the idea of search in terms of making big money, but they all knew they wanted to get a bigger piece of the pie for whenever the inevitable monetization light bulb went off.

Some of the search engines I was dealing with at the time that you may not be familiar with, or if you did know them have almost certainly forgotten about, were:

Excite
Lycos
Infoseek
Northern Light
UK Search
AOL Search

But the main one in those days was undoubtedly AltaVista.

Due to the number of different search engines that were around – and the possibility that any one of them could eventually come out on top as being the “go to” search engine of choice for web surfers* – my job was complicated by the fact that there appeared to be different rules for each one when it came to achieving good rankings.

* surfing the net is a phrase that has fallen out of fashion, but was all the rage in those days!

This was when I first learned about a phrase that people with even a passing interest in SEO have come across – “metadata”, a literal translation for which is “data about data”. If you imagine a library (which is essentially what a search engine is, though its contents are websites rather than physical books), there will need to be a system for identifying where the books are located in order that people can find them easily.

Books will, therefore, have descriptions on their back covers, which outline what’s contained within the pages. A table of contents and index section further assist with locating specific items of information within the book itself. These elements – the description, table of contents and index – are examples of metadata, as they are literally data that is about other data. (In this case, for example, the table of contents providing data – information – about where to find the rest of the data – information – in the book’s pages).

The basic elements of metadata from a web page perspective – Title tag, Description tag, Keywords tag – have actually remained the same in terms of what their function is. My job was to try and work out which search engine required more emphasis on which of these elements in order to try and gain a higher ranking in that particular engine’s listings.

Obviously, as time has gone on, the emphasis on the importance of metadata has shifted. The Keywords tag, for example, is almost entirely worthless nowadays – having started out as being the “secret ingredient” that could help a site rise to the top.

The Title tag is still an important factor – though not as much as it used to be – and the Description tag has been in and out of favour throughout the last 17 years, but now has found a pretty stable value for itself as a kind of default snippet of information that can be used in both search results and social media references.

And there are other elements that have had an influence on search positioning over the years, including some of the more recognised ones such as heading tags (eg <h1>, <h2>), and alt tags (the information included to describe the content of an image for those who either can’t see it or are browsing with images turned off).

But ultimately, the fundamental issue that has dominated search engine optimisation since even the days of AltaVista is that success is determined by the visible content of a web page. (I’ll be returning to the complementary issue of link building in a future post).

Monetizing Search with Paid Listings

The history of Paid Search is one I’m not going to go into in great depth, save that I was familiar with the original Paid Search engine, GoTo.com, when it launched in 1998. It subsequently morphed into Overture.com, which was eventually bought by Yahoo.

While we’re on the subject, Yahoo was a slightly different beast from the other search engines, in that it started out as a Directory. There was an editorial review procedure before your site could become listed – something that site owners eventually had to pay for, which was Yahoo’s original attempt at generating revenue from its service.

(Certain free competitor directories attempted to knock Yahoo of its Number 1 Directory perch – eg DMOZ, a service provided by the Open Directory Project, which was taken into the ownership of AOL after it had bought Netscape).

By far the biggest game changer, though, was the introduction of Google AdWords (told you I’d probably get round to mentioning them again) – which went on to become the massive moneyspinner that allows Google to enjoy the kind of multi billion dollar revenues it has today.

The earliest iteration of AdWords that I used was on a pay per impression model and one where you could pay to be in a particular slot on the page – obviously everyone trying to be at the top – and stay there for a month for a specific sum. This worked out to be a bit of a bargain for some people – especially in the early days of the “online Viagra” markets, as paying for that slot was a lot cheaper than having to pay each time someone clicked an ad. (I should point out that, whilst I was involved in plenty of these type of sites for promotional activities, the law eventually changed and the online pharmacy industry became properly regulated around 10 years ago).

The big game changing factor for Google was its adoption of Overture’s basic concept of Pay Per Click. In the Overture model, anyone who wished to bid higher than the next highest bidder would end up at the top of the listings – a pure auction system.

What Google did, though, was to introduce the Ad Rank formula, which essentially rewarded the better performing ads with higher positions on the page, without those advertisers having to pay more than they wished to. (ie if your ad got more clicks, you would rise up the page and still not have to pay more than your competitors who had a lower Click Through Rate).

So as well as SEO, PPC then became a very big part of the search marketing world from around 2003 onwards. Indeed, nowadays, with approximately 50% of all searches being performed on mobile phones, AdWords is increasingly important, as the organic (no-paid) listings are unlikely to even be seen on a mobile phone search results page, with the top listings all being AdWords.

I’ve been involved with the spending of hundreds of thousands of pounds on paid search over the years – perhaps most notably, when I ran the UK AdWords campaign for the launch of Microsoft Office 2007 – and have seen it develop from a relatively simple system into the enormously complex and sophisticated range of different services on offer in 2015. (Facebook and Twitter, for instance – still the new kids on the block in internet terms – both offer a PPC advertising service, with Facebook in particular providing a very targetable range of demographic settings).

Throughout that time, I’ve come to respect Pay Per Click advertising as the most sophisticated and controllable form of advertising yet devised. (A far cry from the days when advertisers would sit in a car near their billboard poster, counting the number of people who went past in order to determine how many “eyeballs” their advert was receiving!)

Red Herrings and Black Hats

Of course, with such a long history in search positioning, I’ve come across my fair share of “black hat” methods of trying to fool the search engines. (These methods supposedly get their name from the old TV westerns, where the “baddie” would usually be the one in the black hat, the good guy wearing a white hat).

And there have been plenty of “fool’s gold” magic bullets on offer over the years, whether they be doorway pages, random content generators, run of site links, article links, keyword stuffing etc etc.

But despite all the secret techniques, the solid foundation of what I was doing for SEO back in 1998 – solid metadata with quality visible content – is pretty much what Google still wants to see, which is why my clients are still being rewarded with good rankings and search traffic.

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Posted in PPC, Search, SEO