Being in SEO I’m definitely prone (as are most in the industry) to geeking out over and having passionate discussions about the various techncial aspects of the job. However being an arty type and a bit of a philosopher with nearly a decade and a half in various customer facing roles, translation is something I’m also quite passionate about.
Having dealt with everyone from the smallest of sole traders through to the largest enterprise and government organisations, I’ve learnt the value of being able to help everyone from plumbers to politicians understand complicated technical processes in relatable and useful ways.
For this reason, I want to talk to you about the “philosophy” of Search Engines and how this can guide you in your SEO efforts.
The idea might sound like a bit of fluff, but I’m a firm believer that when you put down the frustrations and seemingly endless hoops a search engine makes you jump through in order to rank and get down to the “why” of it, the whole thing can suddenly make sense and decisions can be much easier to make.
To put it extremely simply: Search engines want people to continue using their search engine. Those people are the “why” of it. SEO practitioners sometimes wrongly bow down to search engines and miss the point. They should be bowing down to the end user.
For every algorithm update, technology shift induced change or functionality update there is one main driving force behind it and that is delivering the best possible results to the end user. So rather than get frustrated at yet another requirement being placed on your website or the goal posts being shifted yet again, let’s look at a few examples of a search engine’s expectations and hold them up to this idea.
1. Responsive Websites.
I’m willing to bet that most people complaining about the effort and cost involved in making their website responsive own a tablet, mobile phone, plus a laptop and/or desktop. I’d be further willing to bet that a certain amount of those people have “bounced” from websites they found online via one of their mobile devices without even thinking because it didn’t function well.
The fact of the matter is that mobile devices (and soon other types of devices such as appliance/in home displays) are on the rise. People are using the internet in more ways on more devices and for a search engine to deliver the best results, they need to cater to this. This isn’t the search engines trying to push you into technologies you’re not interested in, it’s them telling you exactly where the customer base lies and how to reach them.
Google’s own head of webspam Matt Cutts said in March of this year that mobile search could overtake desktop search in terms of volume in 2014, so not addressing this aspect of your website is nothing but counter-productive. You wouldn’t insist on setting up shop in the desert when you rely on foot traffic, so why would you insist on the digital equivalent?
2. Page Load Speed.
One of the older but still (and likely always) important factors in SEO. This one is easy to justify. Why would a search engine choose to populate their front page with slow, clunky websites which don’t load within expected time frames and impact user experience negatively? It might seem a chore to have to trawl through your site compressing images, minifying HTML & otherwise rethinking your site, but how much is the additional business this will bring worth to you? Go to Google’s page load speed tester, pull a report and most importantly – TAKE ACTION.
3. Meta Data & H Tags.
This area is the most commonly ignored despite being one of the most important ways to help users understand the basics of a page and reinforce their confidence that they are in the right place, so let’s break it down in a bit more detail.
Title Tags: Hover over the tab at the top of the page you’re currently on and you’ll see the title pop up. This is one of THE most important aspects of onsite SEO. It is also what appears at the very top of your result in search engines. It’s the opening line and should explain the page in short & concise terms along with a bit of branding. This encourages user confidence that they are where they think they should be and tags your brand to results relevant to what they’re after.
Meta Descriptions: While their effect on actual rankings is debatable these days, your meta description appears in the search results with keywords (what the end user has just searched for) bolded. It’s a great opportunity to catch a potential customer’s eye and your one chance from the SERPS (Search Engine Results Page) to net the traffic on the front page along with title tags. Its name is its purpose; a description. So for your own benefit as a business and the potential customer’s benefit as a consumer who is looking for the products and services you offer, use it like one.
If you’re on Chrome or Firefox trying holding CTRL & pressing the “U” key to pull up your source code, then CTRL + F and search for “description” to find it. If you’re using internet explorer, here is a useful link…. and another.
H Tags: These tags are often mistaken as serving some sort of design purpose (particularly if you’re using a CMS, which auto loads formatting for them) but they actually serve a structural/hierarchical purpose. The term “heading” is associated with them and rightly so. Your main heading on each page should have a H1 tag, sub-headings H2 and so on. Setting pages up with this structure ensures that everything onsite makes sense and flows in a user friendly way.
These aspects can seem tedious. Especially if you have an e-commerce site with hundreds or perhaps thousands of products in need of descriptions, titles and H tags, but when you apply a user-centric philosophy to the way you put your site together, why would you not want to have clear titles, heading structure and optimised search results?
4. Link Profile/Neighbourhood.
This is the big one. Continued algorithm updates have been focused on further sophistication of link profile analysis, much to the frustration of many, but the only reason this happens is due to continued efforts from black hat SEO practitioners to find ways around the algorithm with less than genuine links. Rather than give search engines what they want (and contrary to popular opinion they’re actually pretty clear on what that is on occasion), people think they have to “beat” Google for example. Sure, acquiring a genuine and sizeable link profile is not the easiest of things to achieve, but fake link profiles are kind of missing the point.
Search engines want to see that you belong to a community. More than ever, your online presence is being assessed rather than the website alone. The reason for this is trust. It also ties in a little to content and your contribution to the conversation online around key topics (keywords) as well as who and how many people see you as a valuable contributor and point people in your direction for relevant information.
It’s not a hoop, it’s you showing the search engines that you are what you say you are – an expert in your field and a valuable resource for users seeking what you offer. Get involved in your online community, offer valuable and useful information along with quality products, services and customer service and over time you will find that links will start to build themselves and you will be rewarded for your contribution and the trust you have acquired with better rankings.
It might be a bit of a cliche, but just as with anything else in life you can choose your attitude with regards to online presence. Should you choose to view your SEO as servicing your own customers, then the decision on whether or not to spend the money making your website responsive, the time correctly filling out meta data or optimising for speed or effort writing the weekly blog should be easy and the frustration should dissipate.
A great rule of thumb if you’re ever unsure or able to find definitive information about how something you’re doing might affect your SEO is to think about whether or not it might affect a customer’s experience or opinion of your website. At the very least you can assume it’s likely that anything affecting either of those aspects is something search engines are likely to look at down the line at some point if they’re not already, in which case you’re future proofing yourself.
And in the end you’ll reap the benefits that a good SEO attitude can bring.