Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) can feel like a strange game of cat and mouse for many brands and businesses. The reality is that once you have grasped the best practices of SEO and are on top of changes in the industry, it begins to make much more sense to you and your business.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for 'search engine optimisation' and it is exactly what it says on the tin - it is the act of ensuring that your website is optimised for search engines. The objective is to get your website listed as high up the search rankings as possible, to increase visibility in search engines, like Google, and ensure your potential customers can find you.

But, to achieve that coveted high visibility when people search, you have to negotiate your way past the guardians of the rankings - the search bots, or clever, complex algorithms - which have the power to elevate a site to the top or make your pages disappear from view.

In 2018, there are over 200 determining factors in where your website will rank for certain keywords.

How do you 'do' SEO?

To win favour from the algorithms, digital marketers have to second guess exactly what criteria they are basing their judgements on, as the search engine developers never reveal their secrets. And just to make it all that bit harder, the rankings criteria change fluidly.

For many involved in building online brand presence, SEO becomes focused on creating sites which meet the criteria of the search engine bots. However, evidence is emerging that this could in itself be counterproductive, and that algorithms are now starting to penalise sites which look overly manicured for SEO purposes. What is equally important is that we ensure that websites are made for human use as well as for SEO purposes. 

Be careful not to go an SEO step too far!

This has all come about with the latest Google algorithm, Fred, which we wrote about earlier. Sites which previously scored highly on search rankings because of their high content nature have now fallen foul of the algorithm update. But don’t despair, the sites that have reported to have lost their visibility appear to be focussing on lower quality content, and advert schemes, so their proposed vale to you and I, the typical end user, is minimal. Hence, Fred was created as a way to further improve results pages.

Let’s dig into this a bit further. According to analyst Jennifer Slegg, the Fred algorithm seems to be penalising sites on a number of characteristics:

  • Advertisements: Overloading sites with ads, particularly if they get in the way of other content and make it more difficult to scan and navigate the page.
  • Links: There appears to be a renewed focus not just on the number of links and the ranking/quality of the pages they link to, but also to the purpose of the link and what benefit it gives to the site visitor.
  • Lack of ‘Added Value’ Content: In other words, content which doesn’t directly help the brand or the marketing message, but might be considered interesting or useful to the site visitor nonetheless.

As Slegg’s article points out, the problem for SEO marketers is the lack of clear, definitive answers about the criteria Fred is using. Some ad heavy sites are still performing fine, as are some sites loaded with inbound and outbound links. And what constitutes ‘added value’ content is very much open to interpretation. 

We like Slegg’s conclusion that this marks a new phase in Google’s crusade for quality web content. For the past decade, the search giant has waged a war against the ‘primitivist’ approach to SEO, against the tendency to create illiterate, repetitive, keyword stuffed, link loaded click bait - the sort of pages Google’s early algorithms inadvertently encouraged.

As Google’s search criteria has evolved, most noticeably in the form of its Webmaster Guidelines, the ‘quality content’ mantra has taken hold in SEO more and more. Fred seems to be upping the ante even further by discriminating not only between low and high quality sites, but those which appear to play the SEO game for the site’s own benefit and those which seem more genuinely concerned with delivering a quality experience to the end user.

Ads and links are not in themselves the issue, the question is over what they are they being used for. If it is simply a case of bombarding visitors with messages to push them further down the funnel, you risk being penalised. 

Google’s message on quality is therefore clear - it considers the needs of the end user over the site owner. To that end, SEO for its own sake can no longer achieve its aims.

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Written by Jon Walker April of 2017