If you are thinking about a new website, you may well have some questions about search engine optimisation. Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation out there, and myths about SEO are pervasive, so managing expectations can be difficult.
SEO is often seen as a bit of a dark art, and many marketing agencies capitalise on this in order to charge a hefty fee for their SEO services. In some ways they are right. The fact of the matter is, the only people who know exactly how Google’s search algorithm works, are Google’s own employees.
While there are many factors that affect your website’s search engine rankings, they can generally be split in to two categories. Unfortunately, while both are important, these two sides of the SEO coin are often conflated, leading to even more confusion.
1) Avoiding things that will cause your site to lose rankings
This is the easy bit.
The things that search engines will penalise you for are more well known, and avoiding these common pitfalls is half the battle. These are usually things that your website shouldn’t be doing anyway, such as:
- Not being mobile friendly
- Being too slow
- Not being secure i.e. not having an SSL certificate (https/padlock next to URL)
- Lacking correct HTML structure, aka semantic markup
What do we mean by semantic markup? The code that websites are written in, HTML, contains many different kinds of tags. While some tags are multi purpose, most of them have a specific purpose which is designed to convey a specific meaning, such as sections, headings, paragraphs etc.
This meaning is the only way a computer has of knowing what the content of your website means. Using a generic tag (such as a <div>) in place of a semantically meaningful one (such as a <h1>) greatly dilutes this meaning.
One way of visualising this is to view your website without any CSS, just the browsers default styles—while it may look bad, it should still make sense.
As it happens, this is also of importance when it comes to accessibility. The same techniques that help search engine crawlers understand your page, will also greatly help those with disabilities or impairments who rely on technology such as screen readers to browse the web.
2) Doing things that will cause your site to gain rankings
This is the real trick.
Avoiding things that could hurt your rankings will only get you so far. If you are in a competitive industry, it is likely that even if you manage to avoid every single potential SEO pitfall, you might not get on to page 1 for your desired search terms.
In the early days of the web, search engine algorithms were simple. Google started out by ranking pages by the number of other pages that linked to them.
Unfortunately, this simplicity meant it was also simple to exploit loopholes in the algorithm to gain a competetive advantage. Over time, in order to still provide useful results for their users, search engines have been forced to change their algorithms, and they are still constantly evolving.
The unfortunate truth is that there are no cheap tricks any more.
The good news is, there are a few techniques that are universally agreed upon to have SEO benefits:
- Having well written content that contains all the keywords you would like to rank for, but not in an obviously forced fashion
- Having high quality content that people genuinely want to read and engage with
- Having links to your site from reputable sources
- Having fresh content that is updated regularly
While all of these things are relatively simple (in the sense that they are not complicated to describe), none of them are easy.
Writing a blog is one way to add fresh, relevant and engaging content to your website. As a CMS, WordPress has its roots in blogging, so it is perfectly suited for this.
Some closing thoughts
SEO takes time. While search engines are constantly crawling the web, the sheer volume of websites out there means this is a time consuming process, and change happens slowly.
I recommend the popular Yoast SEO plugin for meta titles and descriptions, and social media images.
Lastly, being at the behest of Google carries risks. Due to the ever evolving nature of search engine algorithms, it is not uncommon for an algorithm change to cause sudden, unexpected drops in rankings. If your entire business model depends on Google search traffic, this could have severe consequences.
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