SEO – ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ – poses a major challenge for small businesses: if you publish a website it can’t really be ignored, but on the other hand you can spend a lot of time and money trying to generate what they call ‘Google Juice: ‘A site that has more ‘Google juice’ shows up more prolifically on top page rankings.’ – Techopedia.
SEO isn’t the only Google Juicer, but it’s a necessary foundation before spending money on search engine marketing (SEM) and other marketing strategies to create a greater online presence for your website.
The deeper problem is that trying to get one’s head around SEO simply saps the will to live. It makes double entry bookkeeping look like fun. Two pages of an SEO handbook are enough to send the worst insomniac to the Land of Nod.
So when those unsolicited emails pop up in your inbox promising to get your website onto the top of the front page of a Google search, it’s tempting to flick pass the whole box of boredom to an ‘expert’. Unfortunately, according to Peter Kent, author of SEO for Dummies, ‘SEO businesses are 80 percent scam, so if you hire someone to do it for you, you’ve got one chance in five of things going well.’
At the IPIC seminar session ‘What You Don’t Know About SEO That’s Hurting Your Business’, Kim Bultsma (pictured above), who via her business Cup of Content trains small business in creating content for their blogs and websites, told the audience you are dealing with a member of the scamming 80 percent if they:
1. Promise you a front page on a Google search;
2. Say they will buy listings for your website;
2. Won’t tell you who their clients are;
4. Promise short-term movement in rankings;
5 Don’t tell you that content is THE best method of increasing your rankings.
‘Anyone who tells you they can get you on the first page in 6 months is insane,’ she said. ‘SEO is a long game. They probably can do it for a while using “Black-hat” techniques – things that will work at first but hurt you eventually, and then you have to fix all the stuff they did.’
(‘Black-hat search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the unethical or aggressive techniques used by some webmasters to gain higher search engine ranking…Black-hat SEO represents practices deemed unfair by the general Internet community, and changes to major search engines such as Google have been made to prevent black-hat webmasters from obtaining the results they want.’ – Techopedia)
She continued:’They may say they will “buy listings” for your website.’ (From listing websites created solely to generate and sell external links.) ‘This used to work but it doesn’t any more. You have to have legitimate sites linking to your site. That’s one of the [Black Hat] techniques which works at first, but Google is on to it.’
This is a game in which Google owns the bat and balls, makes up the rules and changes them regularly. It seems that ‘Google is on to’ many of the wheezes that SEO consultants have in the past used to boost their clients’ rankings. Things like ‘Keyword Stuffing’ (overuse of the same keywords on a page – ‘discount cameras’, ‘portrait package’); ‘Cloaking’ (presenting completely different content or URL to the user than to the search engine spider); ‘Doorway pages’ (otherwise useless pages optimised for targeted keywords and designed to rank high for particular queries); invisible text (keyword stuffing white-on-white or tiny text onto the page).
Google’s increasing sophistication in detecting the main Black hat techniques has left quality content as the absolute prerequisite for good SEO. Or at least Lord Google’s definition of quality content.
Copied content naughty – Google smack!
Another thing of which the lord and master takes a dim view is copied content. Absolutely hates it. This might create some SEO problems if your website is from a specialist turnkey website supplier such as Dakis (retail and labs) or Photoshelter (professional photographers). You may need to jump in and tweak content to differentiate yourself. It’s worth noting that Dakis has recently launched an optional accessory’ SEO service for its clients.
The good news is that Google doesn’t regard duplicated images as copied content.
Looking at the local market, this makes the one central Camera House website, with information about store locations, a better option, SEO-wise, that 50 or 60 store-based Camera House websites running duplicated content.
Google has actually singled out what it calls ‘thin’ affiliate sites for special punishment: ‘Google believes that pure, or “thin,” affiliate websites do not provide additional value for web users, especially (but not only) if they are part of a program that distributes its content across a network of affiliates. These sites often appear to be cookie-cutter sites or templates the same or similar content replicated within the same site, or across multiple domains or languages. Because a search results page could return several of these sites, all with the same content, thin affiliates create a frustrating user experience. https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/76465
So don’t be a thin affiliate, be a good affiliate instead, and Google will respect you for it: ‘Good affiliates add value, for example by offering original product reviews, ratings, navigation of products or categories, and product comparisons.’
Referring to photo specialist websites supplied to retailers by software developers such as Dakis and Photo Finale, Kim noted: ‘Unless you have gone in and changed your product descriptions, you guys probably have exactly the same content on your websites. That can hurt your SEO.
‘I don’t want to scare you, because that’s a lot of work, but if you deal with a product each day for instance, or by category- prints, etc -you can create a kind of template you can use.
She suggested making changes initially in a Word doc. And making a copy.
While continually emphasising the centrality of quality content, Kim Bultsma took the audience through some useful software tools, and steps those of us without HTML coding skills (or OCD) can use to lift page ranking.
In Part II of this feature we will get down and dirty with Kim’s 10 or so simple SEO tips most website owners can easily incorporate into their workflow when creating website pages.
– Keith Shipton