What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation in 2016 is a technical, analytical and creative process to improve the visibility of a website in search engines. Its primary function is to drive more visits to a site that convert into sales.
The free SEO tips you will read on this page will help you create a successful SEO friendly website yourself.
I have over 15 years experience making websites rank in Google. If you need optimisation services – see my SEO audit .
This article is a beginner’s guide to effective white hat SEO.
I deliberately steer clear of techniques that might be ‘grey hat’, as what is grey today is often ‘black hat’ tomorrow, as far as Google is concerned.
No one-page guide can explore this complex topic in full. What you’ll read here are answers to questions I had when I was starting out in this field.
Google insists webmasters adhere to their ‘rules’ and aims to reward sites with high-quality content and remarkable ‘white hat’ web marketing techniques with high rankings.
Conversely, it also needs to penalise websites that manage to rank in Google by breaking these rules.
These rules are not ‘laws’, but ‘guidelines’, for ranking in Google; lay down by Google. You should note, however, that some methods of ranking in Google are, in fact, illegal. Hacking, for instance, is illegal in the UK and US.
You can choose to follow and abide by these rules, bend them or ignore them – all with different levels of success (and levels of retribution, from Google’s web spam team).
White hats do it by the ‘rules’; black hats ignore the ‘rules’.
What you read in this article is perfectly within the laws and also within the guidelines and will help you increase the traffic to your website through organic, or natural search engine results pages (SERPs).
There are a lot of definitions of SEO (spelled Search engine optimisation in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, or search engine optimization in the United States and Canada) but organic SEO in 2016 is mostly about getting free traffic from Google, the most popular search engine in the world (and almost the only game in town in the UK):
The art of web SEO lies in understanding how people search for things and understanding what type of results Google wants to (or will) display to its users. It’s about putting a lot of things together to look for opportunity.
A good optimiser has an understanding of how search engines like Google generate their natural SERPs to satisfy users’ navigational, informational and transactional keyword queries.
A good search engine marketer has a good understanding of the short term and long term risks involved in optimising rankings in search engines, and an understanding of the type of content and sites Google (especially) WANTS to return in its natural SERPs.
The aim of any campaign is more visibility in search engines and this would be a simple process if it were not for the many pitfalls.
There are rules to be followed or ignored, risks to take, gains to make, and battles to be won or lost.
A Mountain View spokesman once called the search engine ‘kingmakers‘, and that’s no lie.
Ranking high in Google is VERY VALUABLE – it’s effectively ‘free advertising’ on the best advertising space in the world.
Traffic from Google natural listings is STILL the most valuable organic traffic to a website in the world, and it can make or break an online business.
The state of play, in 2016, is that you can STILL generate highly targeted leads, for FREE, just by improving your website and optimising your content to be as relevant as possible for a buyer looking for your company, product or service.
As you can imagine, there’s a LOT of competition now for that free traffic – even from Google (!) in some niches.
You shouldn’t compete with Google. You should focus on competing with your competitors.
The process can be practised, successfully, in a bedroom or a workplace, but it has traditionally always involved mastering many skills as they arose including diverse marketing technologies including but not limited to:
- Website design
- User experience
- Website development
- PHP, HTML, CSS, etc.
- Server management
- Domain management
- Backlink analysis
- Keyword research
- Social media promotion
- Software development
- Analytics and data analysis
- Information architecture
- Log Analysis
- Looking at Google for hours on end
It takes a lot, in 2016, to rank on merit a page in Google in competitive niches.
The big stick Google is hitting every webmaster with (at the moment, and for the foreseeable future) is the ‘QUALITY USER EXPERIENCE‘ stick.
If you expect to rank in Google in 2016, you’d better have a quality offering, not based entirely on manipulation, or old school tactics.
Is a visit to your site a good user experience?
If not – beware manual ‘Quality Raters’ and beware the Google Panda/Site Quality algorithms that are looking for poor user experience for its users.
Google raising the ‘quality bar’, year on year, ensures a higher level of quality in online marketing in general (above the very low-quality we’ve seen over the last years).
Success online involves investment in higher quality on-page content, website architecture, usability, conversion to optimisation balance, and promotion.
If you don’t take that route, you’ll find yourself chased down by Google’s algorithms at some point in the coming year.
This ‘what is SEO‘ guide (and this entire website) is not about churn and burn type of Google SEO (called webspam to Google) as that is too risky to deploy on a real business website in 2016.
What Is A Successful Strategy?
Get relevant. Get trusted. Get Popular.
It is no longer just about manipulation in 2016.
It’s about adding quality and often useful content to your website that together meet a PURPOSE that delivers USER SATISFACTION.
If you are serious about getting more free traffic from search engines, get ready to invest time and effort in your website and online marketing.
Google wants to rank QUALITY documents in its results, and force those who wish to rank high to invest in higher-quality content or great service that attracts editorial links from reputable websites.
If you’re willing to add a lot of great content to your website, and create buzz about your company, Google will rank you high.
If you try to manipulate Google, it will penalise you for a period, and often until you fix the offending issue – which we know can LAST YEARS.
Backlinks in general, for instance, are STILL weighed FAR too positively by Google and they are manipulated to drive a site to the top positions – for a while. That’s why blackhats do it – and they have the business model to do it. It’s the easiest way to rank a site, still today.
If you are a real business who intends to build a brand online – you can’t use black hat methods. Full stop.
Fixing the problems will not necessarily bring organic traffic back as it was before a penalty.
Recovery from a Google penalty is a ‘new growth’ process as much as it is a ‘clean-up’ process.
Google Rankings Are In Constant Ever-Flux
It’s Google’s job to MAKE MANIPULATING SERPs HARD.
So – the people behind the algorithms keep ‘moving the goalposts’, modifying the ‘rules’ and raising ‘quality standards’ for pages that compete for top ten rankings.
In 2016 – we have ever-flux in the SERPs – and that seems to suit Google and keep everybody guessing.
Google is very secretive about its ‘secret sauce’ and offers sometimes helpful and sometimes vague advice – and some say offers misdirection – about how to get more from valuable traffic from Google.
Google is on record as saying the engine is intent on ‘frustrating’ search engine optimisers attempts to improve the amount of high-quality traffic to a website – at least (but not limited to) – using low-quality strategies classed as web spam.
At its core, Google search engine optimisation is still about KEYWORDS and LINKS. It’s about RELEVANCE, REPUTATION and TRUST. It is about QUALITY OF CONTENT & VISITOR SATISFACTION.
A Good USER EXPERIENCE is a key to winning – and keeping – the highest rankings in many verticals.
Relevance, Authority & Trust
Web page optimisation is about making a web page relevant and trusted enough to rank for a query.
It’s about ranking for valuable keywords for the long term, on merit. You can play by ‘white hat’ rules lay down by Google, and aim to build this Authority and Trust naturally, over time, or you can choose to ignore the rules and go full time ‘black hat’.
MOST SEO tactics still work, for some time, on some level, depending on who’s doing them, and how the campaign is deployed.
Whichever route you take, know that if Google catches you trying to modify your rank using overtly obvious and manipulative methods, then they will class you a web spammer, and your site will be penalised ( you will not rank high for relevant keywords).
These penalties can last years if not addressed, as some penalties expire and some do not – and Google wants you to clean up any violations.
Google does not want you to try and modify where you rank, easily. Critics would say Google would prefer you paid them to do that using Google Adwords.
The problem for Google is – ranking high in Google organic listings is a real social proof for a business, a way to avoid PPC costs and still, simply, the BEST WAY to drive VALUABLE traffic to a site.
It’s FREE, too, once you’ve met the always-increasing criteria it takes to rank top.