Search Engine Optimisation – not an exact science

When I design a website my clients often think that all you need to do is upload the site, tell Google it is there and WHAM! they will feature in the search engine rankings – if only for their own business name. I always try to explain that it is not as simple as that  – I just wish it was. Here I would like to talk a bit about Search Engine Optimisation, why it isn’t an ‘exact science’ and often, how difficult it is to get it right the first time.

Let me start off by saying, a lot depends on Google. Google is constantly reviewing it’s criteria for listings and quite often ‘moves the goal posts’ so, last week you may have ranked number one for a particular search – but suddenly you have dropped down to number 3 or 5 or even 10 – ring your web administrator and shriek hysterically ‘WHAT HAS HAPPENED’. The web administrator just sighs and explains calmly that Google have perhaps changed the rules yet again but ‘forgotten’ to tell anyone. Time for a rethink on optimisation (and people wonder why I offer web maintenance contracts when their site is up and they don’t want to change a thing – it isn’t the SITE that has to change but keeping up with how Google perceives it – so it is a good investment if you want to keep your site on the search engine rankings). Google brought out it’s first PANDA ruling in February 2011. The change was to aim to lower the ranking of poor quality sites and enable those of higher quality to feature higher in the rankings. It saw a massive drop in sites with large amounts of advertising and a  rise in those with ‘original content’. Since then Google have been reviewing PANDA with the latest update of 3.3 coming out on 29th February 2012 (I won’t bore you with the details – if you are interested you can look it up on Google LOL)

So there are many things that are taken into account now to rank in the Google search.

Firstly and most easily to explain is, if you have a brand new domain name and a brand new website you will not go right to the top of Google – even for your OWN domain. Google (like we all do I suppose) uses brand trust to decide who to promote. If you are the new kid on the block WHY should Google trust you and put you right at the top of the tree? It takes a period of time and people visiting your site to let Google see that people do like you, they do trust what your website is telling them and your site ‘matures’ in Googles eyes. Often there is a problem and people have to take on a new domain name through no fault of their own. Some ‘web designers’ are not as honest as they should be and, although their client has paid them for a domain name and a website, the designer still classes it as ‘their property’ and, when there is a parting of the ways they will not give up that domain name to their client. I always use this analogy. If you go to your local supermarket or bakers and buy a loaf of bread, pay for it and take it home, does that loaf of bread belong to you? Or does it still belong to the baker because they bought the ingredients and made it? I understand a web designer not wanting to give over their ‘design’ to someone else to claim as their own but the domain NAME belongs to the client – they have paid for it and even if it is in the web designers name it has been paid for by the client. So, and sorry to digress, the new website could belong to a tried and trusted ‘brand’ but they are having to claw their way up from scratch and start again. I am in this position. I have had to change my domain name from HIPVOS.co.uk (cos it was short and quirky and easy to type LOL) to humaninterfacepublications.co.uk because every time I tried to advertise my site it was being thrown back at me as ‘spammy and unsafe’ (as you can see from my site there is nothing ‘spammy or unsafe’ on it LOL). So, new name and we are right back at the bottom of the tree trying to convince Google that we deserve to be placed on  a much higher branch. If you can encourage people who know you, possibly from your ‘old’ brand to visit your new site Google will soon see that you are popular and trusted and will start to trust you too. But not to go and visit ‘every page’ because Google ain’t daft and would see that as a ‘set up’ in a moment – but normal ‘web browsing’ of the site.

Your web designer or search engine optimiser do quite a bit of ‘behind the scenes’ ‘promoting’ too. After your site is first put on the web Google detects (out of the mega billions of sites out there) that YOU have a new website – so it sends its bott or spider or whatever you want to call it (lets call him ERIC) out to have a nosey at what you have put. First of all Google has to learn your name and so Eric looks at your page ‘Title’. This has to contain your name or it won’t get known. Next, he looks at a description of what your site is about.  Once you have ‘moved in’ and decided you like the decor a description of what is on each page can be crafted. Next Eric looks at your site content. Now, in the old days before PANDA, each page on your site had it’s own ‘page ranking’ and so the site itself could be complete rubbish but if you had one ‘good’ page that would zoom way up in the search rankings and you would be number one (this is what I meant earlier by low quality sites that used to rank high). Now Google assesses your WHOLE site and ranks it according to the content, so no longer can you make your home page fabulous but the rest of the site is a slum clearance zone. The quality has to be site wide. Also, pre-PANDA, you could put a list of keywords at the top of your site (in the ‘hidden code’ bit which you can always see in your browser if you find the menu item ‘view page source’ – that shows you all the things your web designer has done ‘in code’. It could be complete gobbledegook to most people but it isn’t ‘secret’ as a lot of people think). In those days Eric would read those and the search engine would ‘rank’ your page according to those search terms. Thing is, you could put ANYTHING in there and it might not relate to what was in your site at all – you could be mega clever and look in Google Adwords for what people searched most for, then bung that in your keyword tag in your header and whoossshh there you were are the top for those search words – not any more!! Google has got crafty and made Eric more intelligent and now, if there is a list there Eric totally ignores it and scans your webpages for relevant ‘key words’ – so if they are not on your site you won’t get brownie points for them. Also, Eric can’t see pictures or videos or any of those ‘swish’ flash animations that a lot of sites (and clients) like. So, your web designer puts what is known as an ‘alt description’ for each thing Eric can’t see. Here is another way of ‘promoting’ your page with something that is generally invisible to the public but Eric can see. So putting ‘bert.jpg’ or ‘spot.jpg’ or ‘here is my banner’ in these alt descriptions does NOTHING for your search engine ranking as, unless you want to rank for ‘Bert’ or ‘Spot’ or ‘Banner’ then you are losing out BUT, saying that, over using the keywords will make your site, in Googles eyes, ‘spammy and unsafe’ so it is using common sense which gets you noticed and makes you a trusted site. Another little ‘quirk’ whilst we are on the subject. Often a site will say ‘go to our so and so page CLICK HERE’ – just type CLICK HERE into Google – and top of the rankings is Adobe because the majority of ‘click here’s’ lead to adobe animations in the shape of videos and animations on sites (swf and flv in the coding – it needs Adobe to install software in order to see it working!!). So avoiding click here is a good idea and if the ‘place’ that people are going is the link it is much better, and much cleaner in Googles eyes.

So, Eric has looked at your page and told Google you exist and you get all excited at seeing your ‘name in light’ so to speak – type a search into Google and, often NOTHING. So you ring your designer and have a good moan and ask them what you are paying them for if no one can find you but, as you can see above, it isn’t an instant process. Eric will visit your site again if there is something new (so it IS a good idea to evolve your site and not just leave it sitting there dormant and admiring the view – if you walked into somewhere and found the same old thing day after day you wouldn’t visit again would you?) and also he is plodding round and visiting sites periodically anyway, even if there is nothing new, and so each visit helps your site ranking, especially if there have been plenty of people visiting your site.

Lastly, never trust or pay these companies who advertise and ‘guarantee’ you top search engine ranking. You are throwing good money away (more about ‘paid’ rankings in a later blog). If your site is good and interesting and people want to visit it (and there is always word of mouth, Facebook, Twitter and other places you can’promote’ yourself or get people to rave about what you have on your site and everyone MUST come and visit it – but make sure there is a link to the site!!) then you will rise in the rankings ‘organically’ – as the term goes. This is built on trust and trust really is everything isn’t it?

So I hope you have enjoyed this, the first of the Human Interface Publications blogs. I will be writing more on the various aspects of my business and will explore search engine optimisation further at a later date, telling you what tools you can use (or get your designer to use) to help improve your site and search engine ranking and compare organic results with ones you pay for (pay per click and pay on performance marketing).

Finally, I must add – there are other search engines out there which will list your site but Google dominates with over 90% of all search engine visitors so I will usually talk about Google when discussing site rankings.

Take care and please do leave your comments. I am afraid all comments have to be moderated because of ‘spam’ content and I don’t want my site classed as ‘spammy and unsafe’ so please do bear with me and I will approve comments ASAP.