With the evolution of media, the occupation of marketing has changed.
The shift away from big-budget advertising to more nimble, less obtrusive viral strategies has been just as interesting to witness as to participate in, but in earning recognition as legitimate – indeed, indispensable – elements of marketing and PR, online and social media are now undergoing their own adolescent transformation.
The medium is no longer in question; what’s become more important than ever is content. At the centre of this is SEO, and reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.
It’s not dying, but like other elements of online media, it’s evolving. Website rankings are no longer the sole metrics; just as important are quality content, a wider social media presence (including blogging) and a general online existence.
Back in 1997, when the concept of SEO was born, all kinds of trickery was used to maximize up-front search results, measures that have now been overtaken by more transparent online elements.
Page optimisation (stuff you do to the website) only accounts for about 20 percent of what affects rankings, and the rest is all off-page. Helpfully, Google specifically targets ‘spammers’ and people who over-game the system. The company’s head of webspam, a fellow by the name of Matt Cutts, leads a team dedicated to sniffing out ‘dodgy SEO’.
As the founder of a company called Pure SEO, I naturally have a special interest in the debate. Here are my top pieces of advice for corporates looking to work with a supplier to improve their SEO (I know it can be difficult to know who to choose; there’s a lot of jargon):
* Avoid companies that offer guaranteed rankings. This can influence the SEO company to go for keywords that are not as competitive, and aim only to get keywords on the first page rather than in the top few results. SEO should be viewed holistically; targeting just a few keywords on specific pages can appear contrived and therefore have detrimental effects. If links are built to numerous pages of the website, good search engine rankings for the entire website will follow
* Type relevant terms such as ‘search engine optimisation’ or ‘SEO’ into Google. If the company you’re considering doesn’t rank, ask why
* Look at their client list. If they have a host of reputable companies they are likely okay
* Always select a specialist SEO or SEM company to do your SEO, never a website developer. They are very different disciplines
* Ask for three current references from their clients
* Make sure they’re not already working for one of your competitors
* Ensure they don’t ‘outsource’ their SEO
* Ensure their work is done manually, not using automated software
* The number one rule for SEO is that the customer is the top priority. All Google wants is to serve relevant results to searches, so if you produce high-quality, relevant, interesting content or release information of interest to your customers, then you should be doing right in the eyes of Google
* Avoid Flash like the plague – Google can’t read it and it does not render on mobile devices
* Make sure they will not publish content without first obtaining written client approval from you or your agreed proxy
* Monthly reporting should be comprehensive and easy to understand
* SEO takes time – allow at least 12 months
These points are important. When done incorrectly, SEO can damage websites (this is known as black hat SEO).
When I arrived in New Zealand in 2009 I discovered there was a prevalence of black hat SEO among operatives here – much more than in the UK – and companies can use these tips to ensure they don’t fall prey to it, but build their online presence through legitimate and sustainable means for lasting reward.
Richard Conway is founder and MD of Pure SEO