Many business owners will here hear the phrase ‘search engine optimisation’ (or SEO) from friends in the business community or even competitors and may consider it as a route to increasing sales, but what is SEO? Alternatively, a business owner may have tried ‘SEO services’ in the past and found it either didn’t work as well as expected or was working, but no longer as effective – this article explains what SEO is, and why ‘new’ SEO is working better than ever.
I have been working in search engine optimisation and ranking website market before it was even called SEO. Here are the changes in SEO since the start of the new millennium and what you should be looking for in the SEO services that your SEO Agency offers or provides.
We take a look back at SEO through the years and explain what SEO is today and how best to utilise it for our website.
SEO in 2000
Back at the start of the Millennium, the ‘big’ search engines that most people were using were Lycos and Excite. Of course, back then a very small percentage of the UK population had access to the internet and those that did had a slow ‘dial-up’ system.
Websites were one or two pages with basic information to allow them to load quickly (within 20 seconds). SEO practices back then were to ‘hide’ as many keywords on a page as possible, so the website was found for those searches without making the page look to spammy for visitors.
In 2002 Google launched something called ‘AdWords’ and it was predicted to be the death of SEO, as people could pay for prominence, on the now the number 1 website for starting internet searches.
In 2003, Yahoo purchased Inktomi, AltaVista, and FAST, which was basically the end of all of the ‘smaller’ search engines. Google started to stamp down on ‘spam’ practices and websites. At the same time, Google realised that ‘AdWords’ were not going to kill off SEO and that in fact, the ‘natural listings’ encouraged visitors back to their search engine platform. Google started to recognise ‘professional SEO’ experts and promoted good SEO rather than spamming SEO.
2004 saw the first website ‘banned’ from the internet as Google took action against websites that were spamming them. They also took legal action against the “SEO Company” responsible.
To rank a website in 2006 you just needed links back to your website and so buying links/link exchange was all the rage and most websites had a web page where they would list companies and links to their website (I am still amazed how many websites continue this practice).
Between 2004 and 2008 Google, now was the only real “player” in the search engine world, started taking action against poor linking practices and companies and started tightening up on spam and buying links. The ‘Noughties” ended with all “naughty” SEO practices being practically stamped out, as Google concentrated on ranking websites based on their content and it’s relevance to the search being carried out.
SEO in 2010
Between 2010 and 2015 we started to see the search engines take notice of ‘Social Media’ sites and soon the results were filled with Twitter ‘tweets’ in the results. (I can still see the face of one of my customers when searching Google for his business, and the whole first page of the search results were compiled of tweets of a Twitter conversation that two members of staff had been having about how terrible the company was!)
Videos and images were also brought in to the search results with the Google ‘Caffeine’ update.
Google introduced “personal search results” with the websites shown in the search results based on your previous searches and websites you had visited before. This caused a ‘bit of a stir’ in the SEO world as customers claimed their websites were “top of Google” for any search they did relate to their industry, just because they had visited their own website many times before, so Google, of course, fed them back the website for all relevant searches. This can still be a bit of an issue until you show them the new ‘Google Incognito search’.
The focus on ranking websites was on being found for BIG keywords. A ‘Plumber’ in Bristol would want to rank for that search, and so that was the focus.
Google ‘Panda’ and ‘Penguin’ updates figuratively killed off ‘link exchanges’ with huge penalties for websites who had irrelevant links pointing towards them. At the same time, Google introduced “no follow links” to allow websites to provide relevant links to other websites and information without penalising either party. It was the start of “safe linking”. Quality and relevant content was now the key to ranking in the search engines.
A report by the ‘Office For National Statistics’ in 2014 stated:
- 38 million adults (76%) in Great Britain accessed the Internet every day, 21 million more than in 2006 when directly comparable records began.
- Access to the Internet using a mobile phone more than doubled between 2010 and 2014, from 24% to 58%.
- 74% of all adults bought goods or services online, up from 53% in 2008. Clothes (49%) were the most popular online purchase in 2014.
- Of all adults in Great Britain, 67% are aware of Internet storage space services, but the take up of these services to store data is much lower at 35%.
- In Great Britain, 22 million households (84%) had Internet access in 2014, up from 57% in 2006.
- Fixed broadband Internet connections were used by 91% of households.
The UK was now (almost) internet savvy and usage of mobile phones to visit websites was huge.
SEO 2015 and Onwards
The biggest change to the search engines in 2015 was the ‘penalisation’ of websites that were not “mobile friendly” – a mobile-friendly website has different information for the smaller screen to make it easier for the user to read and understand. In ensuring that users got the best experience Google started ranking mobile friendly or responsive websites (where the website automatically changes its size and format to fit the screen) higher in the rankings.
The UK population were using their mobile phones for local searches, and local companies could at last gain an advantage over the large corporates or ‘national’ companies on the internet.
The introduction of ‘semantic search’, where Google brings back websites in the results not based on the keywords, but the content on a page, again changed the way SEO agencies looked at working on websites. Ranking for the ‘Big’ keywords, such as ‘Plumber Bristol’ became less important, as internet users became savvier with their searches. ‘Long tail keywords’, and as many as possible, started to grow website visitors and more importantly, conversions.
What is The SEO Process Today?
It is probably correct to say that the processes or practices associated with search engine optimisation have now outgrown the term ‘SEO’
In years gone by working the content and structure of a website was enough. Now, there is so much more to do to not only rank a website in search engines but to get customer engagement. A better description of the service would be ‘digital marketing’.
Old practices, as mentioned earlier, meant ‘big’ keywords were key to ranking. A focus on a single keyword per page or even for a whole website would rank the business and back then it was all about ‘rankings’.
The old way of doing SEO
Today there are a number of factors to consider in regards to SEO. ‘Semantic search’ is the main driver and conversion the main goal, not rankings.
Semantic search is where Google returns information on the page, not the description the website creator input, back to the searcher. An example of this would be to take the ‘Plumber Bristol’ example. A few years ago you would have concentrated on ranking the business for “Plumber Bristol”, “Plumber in Bristol” and perhaps “Emergency Plumber Bristol” – although this still holds true for businesses that offer a solution for ‘distress purchases’ (where time and a solution outweigh the need for information and advice) better practice throughout a website is to add content that offers advice and guidance and includes ‘long tail keywords’ (3 or 4 word searches) such as “Emergency plumber with free callout in Bristol” or “Reviews for an Emergency Plumber near me”. Google wants the user to have the best experience and find the relevant information quickly, and semantic search achieves this. This is also sensible for a business owner. Would you rather your website was found by a searcher looking for “Plumber Bristol” where they could be after information, looking to get a job, looking for a plumbing service that you may not offer, or for a specific and targeted search such as “best emergency Plumber near BS7?? “Plumber Bristol” will get you a website visitor, being found for “best emergency Plumber near BS7? will get you a customer.
In terms of keywords, this is the largest change Google has made and it is here to stay. SEO or digital marketing is no longer about where you rank, but how many different search terms you can be found for and their conversion into paying customers.
A few years ago (and only 2 or 3 years ago) Google suggested to professional SEO Agencies that 300 words on a page were sufficient content. Last year they stated the MINIMUM should be at least 500 words.
Every day I am asked to review a website by a potential customer – and most of them have between 150 to 250 words on a page. This is common practice. There are two ways to look at this. Either Google has to change its expectations as most websites do not meet their grade or another way to look at this is as an easy way to jump the competition by simply adding content to your website. Do you think Google will lower it’s expectations or expect websites to improve to their standard? Google released the ‘mobile friendly’ update knowing that somewhere around 80% of websites would need to be upgraded – and they did it anyway as it benefitted over 50% of there users. Quality content effects 100% of their users.
I recommend to our customer about 800 words per page. This is enough content to be ‘semantic search’ friendly, provide relevant content and not be too word heavy.
A good practice is to have:
- Page Title – say what the page is about (‘Big’ Keyword if you must)
- Headline – asking a question
- The first paragraph explains briefly explains the content/solution
- Image / or video
- A longer description of the solution
Take our Emergency Plumber in Bristol, as an example:
- Page Title: Emergency Plumber Bristol
- Headline: Are you looking for the best emergency plumber near you in Bristol?
- First Paragraph: Smith Plumbing offer a 24-hour emergency plumbing service in Bristol. We do not charge a call out fee and can be with you in 20 minutes. That is why our customer reviews and feedback say we are the best emergency plumbing service in your area. Call now on…
- Image of the van or the Plumber looking professional
- Longer description: What they can fix, common problems they resolve, some of the quotes from their customers etc.
This has a number of benefits.
Firstly, those people who just want a Plumber will read the first paragraph, see the image of the van (build authority and professionalism) and call the Plumber. Other people will want more information which they can find further down the page. Is this cheating at SEO? Absolutely NOT. You are providing relevant information to the user and Google will love you for it. How content is structured and written on a page is the “new” SEO.
The second benefit is that your website will start to be found for a combination of the words on the page – semantic search – in the example above the Plumber could be found by customers and potential customers looking for “Smith Plumbing”, “emergency Plumber near me”, “Emergency Plumber in Bristol”, “Best24 hour emergency plumbing service in Bristol”, “emergency plumber Bristol reviews” and dozens of more search terms. If you were a Plumber would you rather be found for one big keyword or multiple relevant customers converting keywords? I thought so, and so does Google.
Old practices were to create website content for the search engines. Now you must create content to provide value for customers. This is an easier process than you might think.
What were the last 5 customer inquiries to your business? What was the problem they were trying to resolve? Write about the problem and your solution.
The historic way of ‘link building’ was to get as many links from as many places as possible. This year we have a very large company contact us about their SEO and they were horrified when we suggested that they needed to remove their 1.4 MILLION links back to their website as they had spent a fortune over the years buying the links. Irrelevant links, and the more you have the more detrimental it is highlights to Google the irrelevance of your website – regardless of how relevant it might be.
Today, a few, relevant links is far better than a Million links back to your website. Today, links have to be built through engaging relationships. Taking our Plumber once more, a link back from the ‘Gas Safe register’, a local plumbing center or bathroom showroom, and a few local websites that like his information would be enough.
Even though we still get some companies like this now, a few years ago when we suggested businesses should be on Facebook I was normally told “Facebook – that is for teenagers isn’t it? That is not our market”. If done well, Facebook can drive more traffic and paying customers to your door than your website. Facebook’s largest user group is 25 to 34-year-olds, the second largest is the 35 to 44 years old age group. The 45 to 54-year-olds are using Facebook more than teenagers, and as nearly as much as 18 to 24 year old.
Facebook Users UK age – courtesy of statista
Facebook allows a business to build a brand, engage customers, get customer reviews and instant customer feedback. Unlike reviews on your website which potential customer may see if they visit your website, a review on Facebook is seen immediately by all of the users’ friends and if their friend ‘likes’ the comment – all of their friends, friends. More and more of our customers are getting leads from Facebook. People are asking their friends for suggestions on businesses to use and getting dozens of suggestions back – if you are on Facebook you are more likely to get a direct link to your contact information.
What is next for ‘Social Media’? Live streaming! Twitter has purchased a company called ‘Periscope’ which allows you to live stream video from your phone. “So what?” I hear our ’emergency plumber’ asking. If I were a Plumber I would be lifestreaming my work as I fix a problem, with the video going out live to all of my followers and their friends – my own television channel that is free-to-air across the whole world. Next time your business conducts a ‘brainstorming session’ – periscope it – your customer will tell you what the solutions are.
There are no ‘old’ SEO practices for video as it just didn’t exist and when YouTube started out it was for showing funny videos of cats and the like.
Today that has all changed. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world and is owned by Google. YouTube has over 1 BILLION users worldwide and every minute, 300 hours of videos are uploaded. It would take you about 2 years to watch all of the videos that will be uploaded in the next hour. It would take you the rest of your life to watch all the videos uploaded today. Google’s own statistics say that by 2018 73% of searches put into a search engine will result in the person watching a video. Think of it another way, in a couple of years when 10 people search the internet for your product or service – 7 of them will watch a video, 2 will visit a website. That is why I create videos for our customers as part of our ‘digital marketing service’.