The history of SEO is littered with website owners trying to use nefarious means to convince search engines that their website should rank highly. The search engines spot these tricks, amend their algorithms to combat the tricks, there is a bit of a social media storm for a while, and then we all try to think up different tricks.
For example, there was a practice, now known as “keyword stuffing”, by which the website owner will want to rank highly for a search term (known in website development as a keyword). The owner will use the keyword over and over again in a great stream (keyword keyword keyword… etc.) and the search engine will notice that the keyword is used a lot, and so increase the ranking of the site. This looks a bit ugly for “real” people though, so to add the finishing flourish, we make the text the same colour as the background and.. Voila! They’ll never spot that! But they did. The algorithm was changed. Websites that used this technique fell in the rankings. We all stopped doing it.
Why does Google do this?
We shouldn’t be surprised though. Search engines are a business, just like any other. The search engines make their money by selling advertising space. Let’s take a Google results page for “handbags”:
The results highlighted in blue are the “organic” searches – the ones that, using the Google algorithm, rise “naturally” to the top. These are the sites that, assuming that Google’s algorithm works and that your search term was correct (in this case you hadn’t meant handbook, for example), are most likely to contain the information you require. The results highlighted in red are adverts, results placed by website owners on a bidding system for advertising space and the results highlighted in yellow are for products registered with Google Merchant.
Google bases SEO on trust
So the more accurate Google’s algorithm, the more likely a user will find exactly what they are looking for at the top of Google’s results page. This makes it more likely that the user will come back again and again, they will trust Google, and start clicking not only on the (blue) organic searches but on the (red) advertising. Then Google earns money!
Google is even trying to ensure that the adverts are relevant by using a quality score which incorporates an evaluation of relevancy (see http://www.wordstream.com/quality-score). If ads are not relevant, then advertisers pay more per click – this means that relevant ads are more likely to rise to the top of the ads lists (in red).
Google is clearly trying to appeal to its customer – the normal person, searching on Google’s search engine for, in this case, handbags.
So when we think about trying to rank our website, we should do it as naturally as possible. Provide real content with real value. But how?
Whatever your website is about, you will have thought about who would be interested in it. Who is that ideal customer? You may have a real person in mind – a friend or relative, perhaps. Or you may just know that there is a group of interested people out there.
Imagine that ideal customer, draw a picture in your mind, give them a name, give them a back story. What are they looking for?
If they are looking for physical products, like handbags for example, what do they want to see? Probably a picture of the product, probably some physical characteristics (size, weight, colour options etc.), probably some features (how many pockets, shoulder straps etc.) and preferably some reviews to see how others got on with the bag. They probably don’t want an essay on the history of handbag making (that might attract a different audience) or a biography of the designer (that might attract yet another audience). They certainly won’t want the word “handbag” written 300 times in white text on a white background, or some clever “viral video” of a cat (although that might attract a third audience).
Not-so-secret SEO Techniques
So the “secret” marketing techniques for SEO begin with delivering to your customer what they are looking for. Not particularly new, not terribly exciting, not a new gimmick that means I can sell you my latest product – but faithful, simple and logical, and supported by Google!