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Introduction to SEO

Google My Business

An increasing number of searches are local – a trend that has only been growing since the mobile internet and smartphones came to prominence. Today, more than half of web traffic comes from mobile devices and, therefore, it makes a lot of sense that Google surface a special type of search result, called “Google My Business”, if a company or business matches the search in question. We mentioned this before in “Backlinks”.

Getting a Google My Business listing is completely free – just head over to https://www.google.com/intl/en_uk/business/ and register. Be ready to verify your business either with a phone call or a piece of old-school paperwork through the mail.

Once you are registered you will be able to control, to a degree, how your business is presented including:

  • Your address
  • Your phone number
  • Your opening hours
  • Pictures of your business (inside and out)
  • and reviews of your business

Reviews of your business on Google My Business are incredibly important – they are likely to be one of the first things a new prospective customer will see. 

Trustpilot and TripAdvisor may have cornered the market temporarily in online reviews and Google is known to syndicate this data but, if you’re looking for a “mystic Chris” prediction for the future – expect Google to eventually default to using only its own data for star ratings against websites, once the amount of data reaches a “critical mass” and the data from third parties is no longer required.

Any business that offers a service through someone else’s platform that can be replicated by that platform will eventually either be bought by, or put out of business by, that platform.

You like me, you really like me…

It may seem needy but asking your existing customers for a review on Google My Business is an extremely worthwhile exercise. Often, a simple prompt to leave a review is all that it takes.

Working with SEO Consultants and Agencies

I wrote this book mostly because I was tired of finding my industry down on the same list as bankers, double glazing sales, estate agents, and dentists.

I’d want to reach the pearly gates just to discover that Dante had been brought out of retirement to craft a special new level of hell just for website developers, digital marketers, and IT consultants.

Not all companies selling SEO, CPC, digital marketing, and the like are bad. Sadly, quite a few are and whilst there are more businesses that need these services than people providing them, “bad apples” are getting a free ride, able to move when they need to – leaving chaos and carnage in their wake.

Hopefully, this book leaves you more empowered to tell the bad from the good, make your own way online, and use consultants and third parties in the right way – where we add value

Nothing makes a good consultant happier in their work than when it works.

Don’t be afraid to ask consultants lots of questions. They should be asking you lots of questions because, unless they’ve worked in your industry and with your business before, there’s always a lot to learn.

Never trust a consultant who keeps their techniques a secret. We’re not wizards, we’re mostly just looking things up on Google just like the rest of you.

How Do I Know if my SEO is Working?

Pretty important question, right?

Good news! There are a huge range of services out there that you can plug into your website to help you understand where your visitors are coming from, what they are doing when they are on your site, and how you can (at least try) to get more of them.

Every run of these tools will promise you the Earth in terms of SEO but remember – they don’t have any special insight into your website that you don’t have. Every analytical platform relies on data being passed to them by your website. They can only work with the data you give them and so, in reality, they aren’t telling you anything you don’t already know.

What good analytics platforms do do is help you marshal and interpret the data from your website and, hopefully, turn it into actionable insights.

Despite this all being pretty logical, I’ve seen websites running tens of analytical and tracking platforms simultaneously – utterly ridiculous.

Personally, I like to keep things simple and use a small set of tried and tested tools. 

There’s no point running more analytical platforms than you have the time and skills required to monitor.

Google Analytics

The king of analytical software and something no website should be without.

Completely free, extremely easy to implement, there is no excuse for not having Google Analytics on your website.

This doesn’t mean understanding what is in your analytics reports will be easy so, again, my recommendations is to keep it simple.

  1. Use Google Analytics to look at the key metrics that define website performance; number of visitors, conversion percentage, conversion value, and total revenue.
  2. Drill down into one variable at a time – where the visitor came from (their channel), where they started out (their landing page) and look for patterns
  3. Look for under-performing scenarios, such as one landing page that isn’t converting as many customers as others, and make a change to try and improve your website
  4. Wait…
  5. Re-check your analytics to see if your change has made things better… or worse.

Yes, it’s literally this simple. The trick, or the “art” if you prefer, is to spot the patterns in the first place.

I could write a whole book on spotting patterns in Google Analytics (I probably will, one day) but, for now, these are a few common factors you should always be looking into:

  1. Traffic Source: Where did the visitor come from? Was it a search engine, a link in a tweet, your cost-per-click campaign?
  2. Landing Page: What page did they start their journey on?
  3. Device Type: What type of device (desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile, etc.) was the customer using?

Murder on the Analytics Express

If I had £1 for every time someone had said to me “our sales are up/down because of X”, where X was one thing and they hadn’t bothered to look at any other factors… well, I wouldn’t need to be writing SEO books anymore. I’d be on a beach somewhere, writing books about something else entirely.

The point is, it’s easy to latch onto the first link you find between (let’s say) site speed and conversions. “Page load times went up and conversions went down”. Seems logical. Is logical. But is it the whole story?

What if conversions had been slipping down for months, but the site had only slowed down since the last software update? What if traffic had also dropped, or a popular product had gone out of stock or been taken off the market, or you’d stopped spending money on CPC this month?

Much like the conclusion to Murder on the Orient Express (no spoiler apology, if you haven’t read it then you’ve brought this on yourself) – there’s often more than one culprit.

Don’t get sucked in by your first deduction – be sure that you’ve looked at the problem from more than one angle.

“Unless you are good at guessing, it is not much use being a detective.”
– Agatha Christie

Land then Bounce, Exit or Convert

When looking at your analytics data, remember that there are three possible outcomes to every visit: Bounce, Exit, or Convert.

Bounce: The visitor leaves without going to another any other page – they literally “bounce off” your website.

Exit: The visitor leaves, but this is not the first page that they looked at.

Convert: Huzzah! The customer converted. They will now exit, but you got the conversion.

All three are normal states, but obviously we want to

  1. Reduce the number of bounces to be as low as possible
  2. Have the minimum number of non-converting exits

Attribution Models

Not every visit that ends in a bounce or an exit without a conversion is necessarily a failure. Depending on your particular industry or niche, it may require multiple visits to your website before the customer will convert.

Thinking more broadly, it’s a well-established marketing principle that it takes seven “touches” before someone will be ready to interact on a call to action. These touches can be online or offline, such as

  • A physical connection, such as meeting at a networking event
  • Seeing an ad, either physical or digital
  • Seeing your logo, maybe as a sponsor or on a brochure
  • Seeing your social media posts in a news stream
  • Receiving your e-newsletter or other email marketing piece
  • A phone call
  • A word-of-mouth mention by a friend or colleague
  • Visiting your website

Google offers a special type of report, the “Attribution Model” that allows you to see which online touches have taken place in the run up to a conversion.

If you’re unsure, for example, of what contribution your social media activity is having on sales the Attribution Model will be able to show you. 

Using this model you can control the timeline over which the interactions have taken place, my preference is for a 90-day window, and whether conversions are allocated to the first interaction, last interaction, or proportionally across multiple interactions.

When you are looking at a “normal” Google report you are already looking at a “Last Interaction” report – if the report tells you the traffic source is (for example) email then that is the last interaction. This is why I like to look at First Interaction on my conversions – this is the interaction that is doing the hard work of creating interest in a website/brand for the very first time with a customer. 

Advice on Time Travel

When conducting comparisons of any statistic, it is important to take into account the times that you are comparing.

Many businesses will have seasonal fluctuations in their sales – it’s not rational therefore to always compare this month to last month. Most businesses will want to look at month to month statistics, but comparing the past month to the same month in the previous year is more logical.

Don’t fall into the trap of comparing apples with oranges (or Mays with Decembers).

The Cookie Monster Paradox

I mentioned a little earlier the problem of running too many analytics platforms.

Not only is it a waste of time (unless you have an army of people to interpret all that data) but it’s also having a negative impact on your website performance. Most analytics tools need to deposit a cookie (a small text file of information) onto your computer to help them remember you from page to page and visit to visit. Google Analytics is no exception.

I’ve been using a tool called Ghostery (https://www.ghostery.com/) which tells me what tracking technologies websites are using and allows me to block them, if I want to, based on these cookies.

The most incredible thing that I’ve noticed using this utility is how much faster the web becomes when I’m not using my bandwidth to shovel data to umpteen third party tracking platforms that have been integrated into websites that I visit.

Like me, you’re probably already sick of cookie pop-ups asking you to complete complex preference arrangements on websites. Here’s my tip – install a cookie blocker like Ghostery and you’ll never need to worry about being tracked online again. You’ll also save bandwidth and have a faster internet.

“It’s impossible to move, to live, to operate at any level without leaving traces, bits, seemingly meaningless fragments of personal information.”

William Gibson

Can’t someone else do it?

If your website provider cares about you, they will make sure that you have access to Google Analytics and they will make sure you are getting regular reports.

If your website provider is one of the snake-blooded sort who are secretly reptiles wearing human skin… then they will send you the reports once a month and charge you for the privilege.

Either way, make sure you have the ability to log in and at least explore your analytics. You wouldn’t run your business without checking your accounts on a regular basis, would you?

Google Search Console

Google Search Console is like Google Analytics’ less popular, nerdier cousin.

Instead of telling you what is happening on your website, it tells you what is happening on search – and it is therefore an invaluable resource in terms of finding out how well your site is doing in terms of appearing in search engine results pages (SERP) at Google, how many clicks you are getting and, most importantly of all, what search terms are putting your website in front of customers.

At a minimum, make sure you can:

  1. Access Google Search Console
  2. Get a list of search results, clicks, and search engine position
  3. Filter this report to your country

That third point is of crucial importance. Google presents a different search index in different countries but, weirdly, aggregates that data in Search Console into a single value. You will (or should!) always rank best on your “home turf” so make sure that you filter the data you are looking at to the country you are based in.

Where to focus in Google Search Console

The vast majority of clicks go to the first few results on the first page of Google’s results. After that, the number of clicks drops precipitously. In fact, a lot of people will try a different search instead of going to page 2.

The last time I had to go to page 2 of Google’s results I felt as if I was walking down the alleyway where Batman’s parents got shot. If you want to hide a dead body, hide it on page 2 of Google’s search results.

So, if you are looking for “bang for your buck” when it comes to changes to your website, look for search terms or pages that are lurking just off the front page (position 11 and onwards, usually). Getting a page from page 2 to page 1 can have a serious impact on your traffic. 

Equally, pages that are lurking low on the first page can become superstars if you can just give them a little boost. Positions 1 to 3 are the holy grail. And, as an added bonus when you get there, you probably knocked one of your competitors out of there as well!

“Schadenfreude is so nutritious.”

Will Self

Before You Begin: Common Questions About SEO

If this is SEO, what is SEM? Or UX? Or that other thing…

What about SEM? That’s “Search Engine Marketing” and isn’t that better for me than SEO?

Well, in my opinion, there’s very little difference. You’ll also hear people talk about Search Engine Marketing, Content Marketing, Social Marketing, Conversion Optimisation, and “UX” – short for “User eXperience” as if they are some sort of black art, a dark magic that only they truly understand. When they do this, they’re not telling you the whole truth – today you might not understand what these things are, but you don’t need to go to Hogwarts to change that.

All of the things in this list, ultimately, are just techniques aimed at doing one of two things:

  1. Getting more people to your website.
  2. Making the people on your website do something you want them to…

Oscar Wilde said that “there’s nothing new under the sun” and that’s certainly true of the Internet. There are no new things – just new ways to do the things we’re already doing, just better.

So, when we talk about SEO in this book, we’re really going to be talking about a whole range of processes and techniques that can:

  1. Get more people onto your website.
  2. Make the people on your website do something you want them to.

and some of these will certainly cross into the worlds of SEM, Content Marketing, Social Marketing, Conversion Optimisation, UX etc.

There’s a very good reason that I called this an SEO book though – more people search for SEO than any of those other topics combined. 

That’s lesson one right there – find out what words and phrases your potential customers are searching for, and make sure you use the same language.

Nah, I’m good. I don’t think I need SEO…

Before we get into the main part of the book… I’m going to get something off my chest. I’ve honest-to-goodness heard people say “Oh, I don’t do SEO”  like that’s something to be proud of. 

Here’s maybe the most important tip in this book…
it’s not something to be proud of.

In today’s 100% digital world saying that you “don’t do SEO” is the equivalent of saying “Oh, I leave my business completely to chance” or “Oh, I let my competitors steal my business all the time”.

It’s ridiculous.

Now, if you’re one of these people you probably aren’t even reading this book but… just in case… I’m going to give you a get out of jail free card.

SEO is changing.

In fact, it’s changing so much, so often, that that sentence is probably the only one that I won’t rewrite in the next edition of this book. And there will be a next edition, there has to be, because…

SEO is changing.

When I sat down to write this book, I didn’t want to use the phrase SEO because, in truth, optimising your website is about far more than optimising it for organic search. It’s about improving the user’s experience. It’s about making sure you provide a great online service, tightly integrated with a great offline service. It’s about protecting customers data. It’s about speed, reliability, compatibility, and accessibility.

It’s about every aspect of your business becoming digital and supporting your digital strategy – which, as the world is now completely digital should just be called “your strategy”.

But… that’s a lot to get on the cover of a book and most people, rightly or wrongly, still call this stuff “SEO”.

So, here it is, my “SEO Book” and lesson one is this – you need to do SEO.

Isn’t SEO dead?

Wait a minute. I read the Internet. The Internet says “SEO is dead!”

Yes, I’ve heard it too but, like Samuel Clements, the rumours of SEO’s death have been greatly exaggerated. What is dead is SEO as we once knew it. The days of looking for technical “tricks” to work around the search engines algorithms are over and the days of any sort of automated content generation, magical link building, or SEO-by-posting-comments-on-other-people’s-blogs are seriously numbered (probably to minus 1 day and falling).

There’s a simple reason for this, and it’s Google’s own “Web Spam” team.

Google has invested a huge amount of time and money in building a team dedicated not only to improving its index, but also in protecting it. They are on a crusade to ensure that their search engine remains the first choice for any Internet user and their primary enemy is anyone who is trying to position a site in a better position than the one it “deserves” according to their algorithm. If you’re an SEO provider, sometimes that means you’re Google’s enemy, whether you meant to be or not. But, let’s face it, if your brand has been accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary as the verb for searching the Internet, you’d want to make sure you protected your investment too, wouldn’t you?

Under the auspices of the web spam team, Google  has released multiple significant updates to its index including the famously codenamed Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, and more. The ramifications of some of these are still being felt by businesses today. Google is also still updating, and adding more update projects to its schedule. Tracking Google updates has become a daily task for webmasters and SEO consultants, with whole web communities dedicated to analyzing and discussing what Google may, or may not, be doing.

It’s easy to see why people would be proclaiming that SEO is “dead”.

Obviously, I don’t agree, or I wouldn’t be writing a book about SEO today. Throughout this book though, I’ve been careful to stay away from any tool, tip, or technique that I believe may fall foul of a Google update any time in the future. Am I psychic? No, sadly not, but I do have a few very simple rules that I believe can guide you in understanding which tactics are likely to be viewed as “spam” by Google in the future.

The Rules of SEO

RULE 1: If you can automate it, it’s probably SPAM

Google believes in a “human-generated” internet. Any content, link, or page generated by a machine alone is likely to be classed as SPAM at some point in the future.

This also includes downloading content from another site or provider and regurgitating it on your own website. The days of cheap “affiliate” sites that could reproduce a manufacturer or supplier content but with generally better SEO are truly dead.

RULE 2: If you’re doing it “because it’s good for SEO” or “good for Google” but not “good for the user”, it’s probably SPAM

Anything done to a website purely to help it position better and that has zero benefit for the end user is probably a SPAM tactic. Whatever you do to your website, whether you do it under the banner of SEO or not, should be done to improve the experience for the user. Google wants to deliver its customers to websites that give them a great experience – if that’s you, they will position you better.

RULE 3: If you are paying an unknown third party for something, it’s probably SPAM

Anything that promises links, clicks, or traffic from undefined sources in exchange for money is either a straight out con or more SPAM (unless we’re talking about a clearly paid for advertisement). Google doesn’t have a problem with you buying advertising from them or from anyone else – but they don’t like to see links, social media updates, or blog posts that are made to look organic but have really been bought and paid for.

RULE 4: If someone tells you it will “trick” or “trap” Google, it’s probably SPAM

No matter who it is you are talking to, if they tell you they’ve figured out something Google doesn’t know about its own system… then they’re wrong (or soon will be). The problem with any SEO “trick” is that Google gets to hear about them pretty quickly. Any technique that works is invariably engineered out of the algorithm in very short order. At best, the benefits are real but transitory. At worst, those real benefits become real penalties if Google think you’ve been trying to abuse the system.

RULE 5: If someone told you about it in a SPAM email, it’s probably SPAM.

The snake oil salesmen of yesterday still exist today and they’re still shilling their wares via email, social media, and good old-fashioned cold calling. If a company is resorting to SPAM email to get your attention, how good do you think their SEO is really going to be? Shouldn’t they be living handsomely off the customers who find their website organically?

Hit delete and move on.

White Hats, Black Hats, and Negative SEO

Before we continue, and on the topic of snake oil salesmen, I’m going to make a quick note here for you about the two kinds of SEO that you might hear talked about on the web – “White Hat” and “Black Hat”.

They’re nicknamed this way because, in a Western, the good guy normally wears a white hat and the bad guy wears a black hat. It’s the same with SEO; the “White Hat” guys are trying to be “good” and play by the rules, whilst the “Black Hat” guys are out there trying to break the rules.

By now, I hope by now I’ve already warned you off the sort of tools and tactics that are ultimately only going to damage your website but, as one final warning, don’t be fooled by self-proclaimed “Black Hat” SEO providers. In recent years, offering “Black Hat” SEO has become something that some providers specialize in. They want you to believe that their “Black Hat” techniques are going to go undetected by Google and that they are selling you something better than a “normal” SEO provider. The truth is, it’s extremely unlikely that any “Black Hat” tactic is going to have a long shelf life. Google are watching these guys constantly and in the rare occasions that they do achieve something spectacular, Google have been known to dish out penalties manually to websites that it believes are breaking the rules.

Remember, Google is a business and a closed system. Whilst they are under increasing scrutiny from government bodies, there is no law that they have to rank your site, and they don’t have to include it in their index. Their business is predicated on giving their users the “right” answer – not the answer that you want them to give.

Sadly, “Black Hat” tactics can not only be used by people on their own websites – but on other people’s. A burgeoning area of endeavour for “Black Hat” SEOs is “Negative SEO”. Negative SEO uses known “Black Hat” tactics, which carry known penalties, on a target website to try and attract a penalty from Google.

For example, if you’re getting roundly trounced on Google’s front page by your competitor around the corner, you might be tempted to hire a “Black Hat” to go off and do some of the things that I’m advising against doing but, instead of doing them to your website, they do them to your competitor. They don’t need to hack the competitor’s site to do this (although you will find that service offered on some darker corners of the Internet as well) as most negative SEO tends to be “off-site” – e.g. it is concerned with activities such as creating lots of SPAM links to a website that Google will perceive as being spam and therefore (potentially) issue a penalty for.

Google claim that Negative SEO is impossible but there are a growing number of case studies that show examples of it. I’ve seen it myself and whilst you might be able to debate how much real impact it can have, there is no doubt that it is going on.

Arghh… this is getting confusing! Can I really do my own SEO?

White Hats, Black Hats, Penguins, Pandas, Web Spam… it can all sound a bit daunting, right?

One of the things I’m most often asked by clients and colleagues is “How do you stay on top of all of this?” and the truth is that it takes a lot of time reading, experimenting, testing, and then reading some more to sort the wheat from the chaff. SEO best practice changes frequently and there is always something new to learn. What was true today may not be true tomorrow but, in this day and age, you can say that about a lot of things and even in SEO there are certain “evergreen” truths that seem unshakeable.

  1. Don’t spam.
  2. Don’t cheat.
  3. Build a good website.

In short, you don’t have to be a chef to make a good meal; you don’t have to be a plumber to stop your sink leaking…and you don’t have to be an SEO consultant to take control of your website and improve things.

DIY SEO is about understanding the fundamental, evergreen aspects of SEO that will pay dividends when applied properly. If, after that, you still want to hire an SEO consultant that’s great – every penny you spend with them should be going into something worthwhile, not into fixing basic things that should never have been wrong in the first place.

Look, I’m really busy. I don’t want to do my own SEO!

“Can’t someone else do it?”

Homer Simpson

There’s nothing wrong with using an SEO agency, hiring an SEO specialist, and having someone else do all the legwork. SEO is hard, it takes graft, and you may not think you have the time. That’s fine.

But I don’t think you want to risk giving someone else, inside or outside your business, control of something so fundamental without having an understanding of it. 

If you’ve ever sat in a meeting and not understood a word of what that person responsible for your website is saying, if you’ve ever thought “that doesn’t sound right” but not known what questions to ask, if you’ve ever stared at a graph or a report and realised that you didn’t know if it meant things were getting better or worse, if you’ve ever had that nagging dread that you’re handing money over to someone and not getting a return on it… this is the book for you.

Francis Bacon was right when he said “knowledge is power”: you don’t have to be doing the day-to-day SEO work to understand how it works, what doesn’t work, what should be happening and how to measure it.

No matter what business I might be in, I’d be damned if I didn’t make sure I understood that part of my business. I’d be damned if I didn’t understand every part. A long time ago, I worked in retail and before you could run a store you had to work in every department. You had to know how every part of the business worked. Looking back, that was a very sensible thing for them to do.

Make no mistake – you need to KNOW this, even if you don’t DO this.

That’s the preamble over. Still ready? OK, now let’s go!

The One Thing That Matters in SEO and the Four Things You Can Do About It

THE THING THAT MATTERS: RETURN ON INVESTMENT

If I asked what you wanted to get out of reading this book, what would say?

The answer, I guess, would be “a successful website”, or maybe a “more successful website”. But… what does that mean? What does success actually look like?

Do you want more traffic? Do you want people to spend more time on your site? Do you want to be higher up the search engine rankings?

All good ideas. But also… all wrong.

I’ve worked with lots of different companies on lots of different projects. At the start of the project, there will be a huge number of competing priorities, a plethora of “must have” features, and dictats coming in left, right, and centre. The website is the business, so everyone wants to have a say.

That is, of course, before the site goes live.

Once the site is live, there is one metric and one metric only that people then want to talk about – return on investment.

Return on investment is measured in pounds, or dollars, or euros. It’s the simple measure of how much the site generates minus how much money the site costs to run.

Ben Hunt-Davies asked, “Will it make the boat go faster?” I like to ask, “Will that sell more boats?”

To get a return on investment we need measurable conversions – points at which the “visitor” becomes a “customer” and we can put a value to it.

You need to work out what your conversion point is – it might be a sale, it might be the completion of a sign-up form, or downloading a file. Whatever it is, the only true metric of whether or the not the website “works” is the total value generated by visitors reaching these goals and being converted.

All other metrics are steps before or after this point, either contributing to or being a consequence of this one crucial point. I’ve seen clients debate for days the shade of blue on a page, never once asking what shade of blue is most likely to get a customer to buy something (I know the answer to this, but I will take that secret to my grave).

That same client was banging the door of the office down, figuratively speaking, six months after launch wanting to talk about increasing website sales.

Like I say, once the site is live everyone gets a lot more focused on what really matters.

Smart projects, and smart website developers, tie everything back to the ROI from day one. 

If you didn’t do this, it doesn’t matter – what’s important is that you do this as of now and you keep your focus on this indefinitely. The only measure of success for your SEO project is Return on Investment.

But wait, my SEO consultant is telling me that metric X is more important than conversions right now.

They’re lying, fire them.


The Four Things You Can Do About Value & Return on Investment

Just as ROI is calculated as how much value the site generates minus the costs of running the site, there is also a simple equation for working out how much value the site generates, and it has just three variables.

Visits x Conversion Rate x Conversion Value = Value

So, if I get 100 website visitors a day, and I convert 2% of them at an average order value of £20 I get…

100 x 2% x £20 = £40

The fourth thing you can do is to reduce costs

There are acquisition costs from cost per click marketing, social media advertising, organic SEO consultancy, and the costs of reasonably priced books on SEO that will transform your life forever (like this one).

There are conversion costs in terms of offering discounts and incentives and for payment processing with payment providers.

There are costs that directly reduce conversion value as well: costs of products, cost of shipping, handling, etc.

So, if I get 100 website visitors a day, and I convert 2% of them at an average order value of £20, and I spent £5 on marketing and the products cost me £2 each I get…

(100 x 2% x £20) – £5 -£2 – £2 = £31

You want a more successful website? It comes down to four things:

  1. Increase the number of visitors to your website.
  2. Increase the percentage of customers who convert.
  3. Increase the value of the conversion.
  4. Reduce the costs associated with each step.

The Jurassic Park Test

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

Anything you do to your website, anything at all, should be aimed at achieving at least one of these four aims. If you don’t know why you’re about do something to your website and how you are going to measure how effective that thing is, here’s a simple piece of advice:

Don’t do it.

The fifth reason to do something

There is one other good reason to do something to your website and it’s actually the one that could have the biggest impact on the calculation… system risk.

Let’s assume the numbers we used in the past example are for just one day. Let’s also assume that every other day goes just like the one before and we live for a year in some strange, Groundhog Day world where each day brings the same sales as the day before.

Where do we end up?

((100 x 2% x £20) – £5 – (2 x £2) ) x 365 = £11,315

Now let’s imagine that, actually, our website is down 10% of the time. If we’re lucky, that only costs us 10% of the sales.

((100 x 2% x £20) – £5 – (2 x £2) ) x 365 = £11,315 – 10% = £10,183.50

You’re only going to get a Return on Investment from a website that is up and running. Eliminating or mitigating technical system risk is vital to protecting your ROI, as is ensuring that your website is compliant with all legal requirements.

(And, yes… I know you’ve “saved” the money you would have spent on advertising and you still have the product, but I’m not interested in the cash we already have and the stock in the warehouse. We want to generate sales – that’s the lifeblood of the business. Inventory doesn’t sit there silently, storing product costs money too.)

It may not be as glamorous as “making the boat go faster”, but keeping the boat afloat is important. Nobody wants to be the fastest boat on the ocean floor.

Dungeons and Dragons

The internet is full of strange and arcane terms for fairly boring, mundane things.

Don’t be fooled – we are all just nerds trying to make our jobs sound cool. Sometimes the marketing guys get in on it too – IT is a great industry for taking something you’ve always had, or bringing back something you used to have and we took away, and giving it a new name so that we can sell it to you again.

Here are some of the most important terms you’re going to find in this book, and what they really mean.

“HTML”: HyperText Markup Language. The code that web pages are made up from. You can see it if you use the “View Source” option in your web browser. Stuff like this: <h1>Hello World</h1> is hypertext.

“The Cloud”: Somebody else’s computer(s) that you access remotely.

“Spider”: A piece of software reads a web page, follows the links on it, and then reads the pages it finds. Spiders “crawl” the web.

“Link Juice”: When one website links to another, it passes “value” to the site – the internet’s equivalent of a vote. Back around 2007, a chap called Greg Boser decided to call this value “Link Juice”. I think it sounds kind of gross, but lots of people talk about Link Juice so… there you are.

“No Follow Link”: People concerned about losing their “link juice” love “no follow” links. A no-follow link contains a special, hidden code that tells the spider not to go down that path. A no-follow link passes no link juice.

“Robot”: See Spider.

“ROI”: Return on Investment – how much money you make as a consequence of the money you put in. Measuring the return on investment that your website provides is crucial – if you don’t measure this, then your website may just be a vanity project.

“D(a)emon”: An unattended process. The “mail daemon” does not rule over the special part of hell reserved for delivery people who think it is OK to leave your parcel in your bin and not even put a note through the door – it just sends and receives mail.

“Server”: Might be an unattended process or might be a physical or virtual device. (So, the “web server” might be a physical or virtual device which is separate from the “database server”, or we might be talking about two bits of software which are both running on the same real or virtual device).

“Network Marketer”: Someone selling to friends and contacts via their online social network. In many instances, also the new name for someone running a pyramid scheme. If Charles Ponzi were alive today he would probably be a “network marketer”.

“Vertical Market”: In short – what you do and who you do it for. Search engines don’t cope with websites that address multiple needs very well, so a lot of SEO advice will focus on working within your “vertical”.

“Virtual Server”: A portion of a larger physical server that acts like a real server. Typically a virtual server can easily be resized to provide more, or less, resources as and when required.

The ABCs of SEO

A + B + C = SEO?

Google says that there are thousands of different “ranking factors” that affect where your website appears in their index.

I believe that all of these ranking factors can be broken down into one of three broad categories:

  • Architecture
  • Backlinking
  • Content

Within each of these categories is a cornucopia of different factors and your total SEO score is based on how well you score against these factors in each of the three categories.

Put simply: A+B+C = SEO

Google emphasise and de-emphasise different factors, and different categories, at different times. 

There was a time when an architectural problem, e.g. a technical problem with the build of your website, was sufficient to remove you from the index completely. There are still a few problems like this, but overall Google and the other search engines have become much better at working around technical issues in website construction. That’s not a reason to ignore technical issues, but if you focus only on these issues then you’ll be missing two-thirds of the picture.

Backlinks (links from other websites to yours) were, without doubt, the most important factor for a very long time. Google reputedly experimented with an index that did not take backlinks into account and it failed to produce good results. Backlinks are notoriously easy to manipulate, sadly, and so Google and the other search engines have increasingly stringent rules on what kind of links they consider “good” and which “bad”.

Today, the mantra of many an SEO is “Content is King”. Google’s most recent update (Medic) focusses very much on the quality of your content, how much of an “expert” you appear to be, how much authority you have in your sphere/niche/sector, and how trustworthy your website appears. 

As each factor increases or decreases in relative importance, the true SEO equation therefore begins to expand:

(A x Importance of A) + (B x Importance of B) + (C x Importance of C) = SEO

Focussing on only one area is risky.

Create great content, but on a flawed website with no backlinks? No traffic.

Great website construction, but poor content and no backlinks? No traffic.

Great content and a great website but no backlinks… well, that’s a more interesting story. Google’s approach to backlinking is that every backlink should be organic, earned by your website purely by it having a great design, brilliant content, etc. In reality, your first few backlinks are going to have to come from somewhere

The internet is not Kevin Costner’s baseball stadium from “Field of Dreams”. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean that they will come.

We’ll talk about this more in the section on back-linking below. 

For now, just remember – ticking all three boxes is the safest option when trying to improve your website.