October 1, 2010
I get asked whether or not I provide SEO services on a regular basis. I don’t, and I specifically choose not to. There’s nothing wrong with providing such services, but it is a minefield of snakeoil and difficult to judge value for money. There are hundred of companies providing seo services, and some are good. Most are providing limited benefits to people who think they need their help.
It stands for Search Engine Optimisation and it started to come to the fore approximately 2001. By 2005 it was massive business. It’s the dark art of trying to get your website to the top of The Big Search Engines. At the moment, that means Google, and I’ll use Google through this post, but it applies to all search engines. It can combine a variety of techniques ranging from the purely technical to the covert unethical. There is a good article and diagram of such things on eMarketing’s site. There is one mistake on it – “spam reporting competitors” is definetly not white hat (legit), and should be down in the black hat box.
Most companies who approach me about SEO work have a problem that they want to solve. Either, they’ve been told they need to include SEO in all quotes to do with web things (the danger of poor procurement) or they’re not seeing the traffic or sales they expect online and are attributing this to not ranking well on Google for their product area.
The reason why I turn down nearly all of this work is that there is a horrible simple truth, SEO is not a “spray on” service. Your ranking in search engines is mostly down to your content, how the site has been coded, and what promotion work you’ve been doing. Except in a few cases you can’t pay somebody to suddenly make you top of Google for “car leasing” (or whatever your business is.)
Structure your website so that relevant content is in the same areas of the website, and that information is linked in a compelling way. Using words and phrases that are likely to be search for is a good start, and avoiding dated techniques such as “click here!” type links will help a great deal. There is an excellent primer on the subject of On Screen SEO available from Conversation Marketing
It is also worth thinking about your navigation on the site. Things that are hidden in databases are not as easily indexed by search engines, so as well as having a search facility to find things a solid cross-linking and discovery mechanism is needed. Here’s a whole wedge of good info about indexing the hidden web to read about.
You webpage is probably being written in HTML, a few forgiving language. Poor quality developers can write HTML which is really poor quality, but your webbrowser will do everything it can to make sure that it displays. Great for you, terrible for the Internet at large. Invalid HTML will drop your search engine ranking and also provides a terrible user experience for people using older browsers or browsers for those who are differently abled. A good developer will do this as a matter of course, a poor one won’t understand why it is important. You can check the validity of your pages using W3C’s HTML validator. A word of warning, a single error will invalidate a page, but might be unavoidable (your CMS might have sneaked in something), but if you’re seeing lots of errors you’ve got trouble. The homepage of The Approachable Geek has three errors at present. I’m not worried, but I will be fixing them.
URL’s (web addresses) come in two flavour, those your can read, and those you can’t. The address for my article about online services (http://www.theapproachablegeek.co.uk/blog/using-online-services-to-help-run-your-business) page is human readable, and this is a good thing for everybody concerned. You can read it out down the phone. You know what it’s talking about just by reading it. Search engines understand what this page might be about because of the words in it. Geeks will get very excited at RESTful urls (and so they should, but most people won’t need to). I could talk about good URLs for hours (and have).
Then there are unreadable URLs. Sometime there are technically difficult to avoid, but most of the time they are the result of poor programming, old software (including some dreadful content management systems) or ill-thought-through ideas. They are dreadful for everybody concerned, because they do nothing that the good URLS did well in the previous paragraph. They also suck for your site’s rankings, because they are meaningless. Which would you rather see, http://www.theapproachablegeek.co.uk/blog/using-online-services-to-help-run-your-business or this one (name held to protect the innocent) http://www.reddacted.com/site/article_detail/item14169/?link_466=14169
New websites should have good URLs if the developers is any good. If your existing URLs are rubbish there may still be hope. Speak to a techy about “URL rewriting” and they should be able to help.
How you are linked to, and how you link to people can have a great effect on your rankings. Avoid Click here links. Link in context, from words that say what the link is.
Building up inbound links to your site is a time consuming process, and is not always as productive as you might imagine. Try to get links from other relevant content, not just random sources. A link back to this site from an article about technical consultancy will be far more important to my ranking than a link from a blog I commented on off topic.
Never ever pay for mass linking services. Everyday I have hundred of spam comments left on my blogs linking back to people who have paid for thosands of links. They are spam, they count for nothing.
Do register you site in DMOZ the open directory. It might have been around for ever, but it really does carry some weight.
If your site has the two cardinal sins of invalid mark up and poor URL structure then talk to a technical company to see what they can do to help. It may not even be possible to sort out without rebuilding some or all of your site, and it certainly won’t be easy, but getting these two things fixed will make a huge difference. Without them any “off page” SEO activities are unlikely to be much help
If you’re pages are valid and your URLs are up to scratch then you probably just need some help writing your content and structuring it, and could benefit from some link building.comments powered by Disqus