The Truth About Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Over the past week, I’ve had a couple of people come to me wanting advice regarding search engine optimisation.  They’ve done some reading up on the topic, which is normally a good idea – dependant on the source material of course.

Search Engine Optimisation is a controversial area.  Yet it is an area that needs at least some time and focus for self employed people or businesses.  However, although there are many dedicated, qualified people working in the area of SEO, there are also unscrupulous people who have gone into the area seeing it as a ‘get rich quick’ or ‘easy way to make money’.

What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?

Search Engine Optimisation, is as the name implies, a way to optimise your website for search engines.  This should be done in the background of a website – in other words it should not impact on your user.  The visual parts of a website should have WUO rather than SEO – that is Website User Optimisation.

However, I will quickly clarify that you should not be presenting something totally different to a search engine which doesn’t relate to the actual page a user sees.  Many people with a website know basic SEO techniques – such as using relevant keywords a number of times on each page, setting meta tags, and following principles of good web design.  Presenting a materially different version of a website to a search engine will likely get your removed from the major search providers – as an example, this type of action would be a clear breach of the terms and conditions for listing in Google.  And if your not listed in Google, you’ve hit major, major problems.  In fact, not being listed by any of the major search engines is likely to impact your website, business, visitors and customers.

SEO, for the most part, should be invisible to the user.  And good SEO will be.  Some SEO rules, such as the general rules given above, generally stay there or thereabouts the same.  However, another form of SEO is to exploit certain perceived ‘weaknesses’ in a search engines algorithm such as Google’s PageRank – search engines do monitor these and close them up but as one hole is closed another one usually opens.

There are many misconceptions and misunderstandings (some propagated by so called ‘Search Engine Optimisation companies’ or ‘SEO consultants’).  I must stress that there are many SEO consultants and companies that are legitimate – but a few too many are alas, not.  We’ll try to clear up some of the misconceptions and misunderstandings here.

SEO is a service, not a product.

Search Engine Optimisation is not a ‘thing’, it is an ongoing process.  The rules and guidelines regarding search engine optimisation are changing all the time – and because of this, to stay fully ahead in the game, your website needs constant changes to its SEO strategy and implementation to gain the full benefit.

While it is true that you can buy ‘one off’ SEO packages from companies, this does not mean that your website does not need search engine optimisation again. Your website will likely benefit from proper SEO done once, but over time the benefits will diminish.

This is in the same way that you can get your car on a service plan (continuous) or as a ‘one off’ package (i.e. one service).  Now the one off service is cheaper than a continuous service plan.  But the fact you have your car serviced once and it runs in top condition then, doesn’t mean that in three years time it’ll be running in top condition – for this a regular service plan would be required.  The same is true for your websites search engine optimisation.

While it’s true, as mentioned above, that one off SEO does help your website (especially if you’ve not done any SEO on your website before), if you’re serious about SEO and maintaining a benefit from it, you need to look at having it done on a regular basis.  Regular can be quite loosely defined here depending on the results you want and the money you want to invest in it – a self employed contractor is likely to want to put in less resources into SEO than a multi billion pound corporation.

Whether regular be once a day, or once a year is up to you – but to gain the maximum medium to long term sustained benefit you need a plan, not just a one off.

Now this is not to say that you have to commit to a SEO plan with a company.  You can get a one off package from a company or companies on a regular basis.  However, you choose to work it is up to you.

Just remember – SEO is a service, not a product.

SEO does not have a ‘price’

One of the most searched for and asked questions regarding search engine optimisation is ‘how much does it cost?’.

While many websites will try to define a ‘cost’ for you, the reality is it ‘costs’ anywhere between £50 and £50,000.

A similar question for me to ask is ‘how much does a house cost in the UK?’.  The answer to both of these questions, in reality, is how long is a piece of string?

A house in the UK could cost you £1, then again a house could cost you £250,000,000.  The same premise applies to SEO.

While a house can have 1 bedroom or 20 bedrooms, in the world of SEO you could be getting a few tags placed in your website or having a thousand page website fully optimised to all the lastest standards and guidelines taking into account each major search engines algorithms.

Equally, you don’t just want a price quoted to you by a company without further clarification.  If I sent you a quote of £300 for a one off SEO package you might think this is quite competitive.  And the truth is, it might just well be – it all depends on what I’m actually going to do  for that money.

This is in the same way that a £40,000 quote for a car might be competitive.  It all just depends whether it’s a Kia Picanto or an Audi R8 I’m quoting you for.

£300 would be competitive for a full 250 page site overhaul but not for adding a few meta tags to 10 pages.

Find out the cost and exactly what will be done for this cost.  If your non-technical then consult someone in a technical field, a computing professional or other suitably qualified person to see what they think about the quote.

SEO isn’t about ‘getting to number 1’ (at all costs)

This might seem a strange one, but bear with me.

If you’re a cleaning company there’s no point getting to number 1 for dog grooming.  Yes, you’ll get a lot more traffic – a lot more pointless traffic that is.  The load on your website will go up, comments from bemused searchers will increase and the cost of your website hosting will increase.  Everything will increase apart from valid hits from visitors and customers.

You want to rank highly, but you want to rank highly for things that are relevant to your website.

Relevancy is the key here – not getting to the top at all costs.  Which brings me nicely onto the next point….

There are only two people in the world that can genuinely guarantee top spot on Google

That’s right, despite thousands of websites, companies and individuals guaranteeing you the coveted top spot on Google, there’s only two people in the world that can guarantee this.

I know what you’re thinking, but despite all the excellent advice I’m giving you in this article, one of those people isn’t me ;).

These people are Larry Page and Sergey Brin.  And unfortunately for us, they aren’t going to do that for you.  I mean, offering them a bribe is hardly going to work 😉 (read, they are two of the richest men in the world).

Anyone offering ‘guaranteed’ top spot in Google are simply not being fully truthful.  Don’t be surprised to see a ‘*’ floating in a next to invisible size 2 font lurking near by.

Google, and other search engines, algorithms change on a regular basis.  This affects your websites ranking, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst.

The only thing that could be realistically guaranteed is that your site will be optimised to current standards and knowledge, which should result in an increase in search engine performance – that is it.  And this is assuming the caveat that it is done by a suitably qualified professional that knows what they are doing.

In conclusion…

SEO is an important part of the design of any website.  SEO is a service not a product, and it is a service which needs to be regularly maintained.  There are no guarantees, no magic formula, not ‘get rich quick’ equivalent in SEO land.  Hard work and investment of resources in SEO undoubtedly leads to good results, but ensure that you fully understand what SEO is and what you are getting for your money before embarking on contracting a company or individual to perform search engine optimisation on your website.

Image: mattsearles

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