Website marketing for 2013: Is SEO still SEO?

Recently I’ve had quite a few clients asking new questions about search engine optimisation (SEO). I must admit that after 15 years of designing, building and promoting websites I do tend to spit the term out without comprehending that it may mean different things to different people. Just like the web, internet marketing is ever evolving. A quick glance online indicates that there are numerous new views about SEO and the best way to tackle recent changes to search engine algorithms, not to mention the growing potential of social media marketing.

Is SEO still SEO?There is absolutely no doubt that SEO is changing. I’ve seen articles recently that question if the term “SEO” is dead. Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of Webspam, recently asked if SEO should be given a new name. Ultimately SEO as a phrase is not dead, I don’t believe it needs a new name and it’s never going to go away. However, with an eye on truly effective website marketing, and in the context of the ever changing world wide web, I believe that SEO should only ever be mentioned as part of a greater whole. This is a key change (particularly post Penguin and Panda).

“Search engine optimisation” has often been thrown around as a term that summarises website marketing. Effective marketing of websites has never related to doing just one thing however. So what should SEO be bundled with for 2013? Well I think that at the most basic level you can’t promote a website without all the following:

  1. Traditional search engine optimisation
  2. Natural link building (“natural” seems to be the new “organic”)
  3. Social media integration and marketing
  4. Content marketing

Obviously the above elements can all be considered organic, and there are paid solutions that can provide instant rewards, however, I’m only looking at non-paid long-term marketing solutions in this post.

SEO itself requires the ongoing analysis of website metrics, keyword analysis and search engine performance of site pages. Are people staying on a website long enough? Are a healthy number of users returning to the website? Are there individual pages that could perform better? Where do web pages feature in search engine results for a given number of search terms? Are those search terms accurate or could they be improved? The questions are endless, but these are all queries that need to be addressed on an ongoing basis and dealt with using a consistent strategy. However, if you carry out this type of SEO work and don’t bother with link building, social media marketing and improving your content, then your website will never perform well in search engines.

To get the best out of your site you must combine all four elements: ongoing SEO, continued natural link building, rolling social media integration and regular content development that has been planned in advance. These days content is at the heart of all this; get your content marketing strategy right and it makes everything else a lot easier. How? Great content gives you more to optimise and an increased spread of keywords for users to find when searching. Net result: improved chance of more site traffic. Inspiring content will interest people, make them stay on your website longer and give them a reason to come back. Net result: improved website metrics and more repeat visitors. Unique content increases the chances of people mentioning your website on social media platforms. Net result: free social marketing by word of mouth. Trustworthy and authoritative content means it’s easier to obtain links from other websites, plus webmasters and bloggers will be more likely to choose to link to your site without needing to be asked. Net result: more inbound links for less effort.

For me, SEO isn’t dead and doesn’t need a new name. SEO is what it is, search engine optimisation. However, if you’re planning website SEO for 2013, consider that the most effective use of search engine optimisation is when it is combined with natural link building, social media integration and content marketing. What’s more, get your content marketing strategy right, and link building, social media integration and SEO all become that much easier.

Online marketing myths busted

No explosivesInspired by the Mythbusters TV show which I regularly watch with my son, I thought I’d bust a few search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) myths myself (although it won’t be quite as entertaining as the real Mythbusters, nor will it feature any explosives).

Myth number 1: There are companies that can submit a website to 10,000 search engines (and it only costs a few pounds)
Lets start with some facts (dated May 2012). 66.5% of people use Google to search the web. 15.5% use Bing. 13.5% use Yahoo. A further 4.5% use Ask and AOL. Even if there are 10,000 search engines out there, what is the point in paying good money to be submitted to them when 100% of internet users search using just five search engines? Myth busted.

Myth number 2: It’s possible to make money by selling links placed within your website content
Technically yes, but (and it’s a dam big but) it violates Google’s webmaster guidelines and can result in your website Page Rank being penalised and a decrease in the level of trust placed in your site. With 66.5% of web surfers using Google for organic search it’s way too much of a risk. Myth busted.

Myth number 3: Submitting a website to tens of thousands of directories is good value for money
Search engine guidelines are quite clear: links should occur naturally and spamming or attempts to manipulate Page Rank (or to attempt better placement in search results) violates Google’s webmaster guidelines and can result in your website being penalised. If you have a webmaster account with Google watch out for manual link warnings and penalties (particularly so since the Penguin update). Dodgy tactics include buying links, bulk network links, bulk directory links, masses of links on completely unrelated websites and directories, as well as keyword heavy anchor text and regular anchor text manipulation. Myth busted.

Myth number 4: It’s possible to buy a link from a website with a Page Rank of 9
As mentioned in myth numbers 2 and 3, this violates Google’s webmaster guidelines, but even if it was acceptable why would you do it? Think about the person selling the PR9 link; do you think that they will accept one link on the PR9 website then stop? Or is it more realistic to assume that the PR9 link placement will be offered to all and sundry resulting in the site in question having tens of thousands of outbound links which completely degrade any authority and trust the site may have had? Page Rank can be faked, buying links violates Google’s webmaster guidelines, selling links violates Google’s webmaster guidelines, and if those three things don’t persuade you to avoid this action, ask how many other outbound links appear on this magical PR9 website that can retain high PR whilst openly violating Google’s webmaster guidelines. Myth busted.

Myth number 5: It’s possible to offer something for free on my website in return for an inbound link
I do hope that this isn’t getting repetitive, but there are only so many ways you can say “this violates Google’s webmaster guidelines“. If you offer some sort of free service, advertising opportunity, a free download, directory placement or registration and request an inbound link in return, then your website will probably be penalised by Google and you will suffer a decrease in Page Rank and consequential loss of traffic.

Ultimately building up a presence, reputation and authority online can’t be bought or achieved instantly; so if you see a cheap service that looks too good to be true then it probably is. Although I’ve mentioned Google numerous times above, the guidelines of other search engines aren’t that different. Also, there are some websites out there that do make use of some of the dubious marketing tools detailed in this post, but if you go down this route you are gambling with your website and run the risk of being penalised (and losing Page Rank, traffic, leads and/or commission) or worse still, being removed from the Google index.

How can my website be leaking juice?

Pure website juice, with bits (never from concentrate)When discussing website optimisation I often mention juice, and if the other party hasn’t run off thinking that I’m insane because I’ve also used terms such as Panda and Penguin in the same breath, I go on to explain that it’s the influence that can pass from one web page to another by way of a hypertext link.

What’s juice doing in my website? Well, every website has a Page Rank (PR) named after Larry Page, co-founder of Google. The PR is assigned to a website based on multiple factors such as the code used to build the site, the content within the site itself, the number, range and quality of other sources linking to the site, as well as things like visitor metrics (how long people stay on the site). These are all worked out by a mathematical computer program referred to as an algorithm.

Lets imagine a brochure site with a Page Rank of 3. On a typical brochure website you may have ten internal links (to things like “services”, “prices”, “about us”, “terms of use”, “disclaimer” and the like) and you may have a few external links to websites such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. By linking to all these pages without the correct code in place you are passing juice; basically telling search engines that your website (with it’s Page Rank of 3) values all of the web pages and sites that it links to equally; but is that true? Do you want your “terms of use” page (which will hardly ever be looked at and is highly unlikely to bring in site visitors) to be considered as important as your “services” page (which summarises all the great work you do and is a key lead generator)? Do you want a search engine to think that you deem your link to Twitter (which allows people to leave your website) as important as the link to your own “about us” page (which defines who you are and can help persuade a site visitor to call you to request your services)?

Answer: No. If you’ve managed to get your Page Rank up to 3 you must have put quite a bit of work into your content, optimisation, website marketing, and as a result developed a decent online presence. By allowing all links to pass juice you’re also allowing your PR3 authority to be passed on to everything your site links to, and in turn, you are undermining the great work you’ve put into your website.

Juice etiquette by Del MonteHow do I stem the flow?
As some of your internal pages are far more important to you than others, and also because you want to retain as much authority over your content and links as possible, it is best to plug the holes and stop passing juice. By adding ‘rel=”nofollow”‘ to the less important links and all external links, you are advising search engines what you consider to be important (your “services” and “about us” pages) and those pages that are useful but to which you don’t want to pass any authority (such as “terms of use” or a link to “Twitter”). By doing this you make your internal and external links far more efficient, retain authority, and stop your website from from dripping away all that hard earned influence.

Ultimately deciding when to pass, or not to pass juice, is just a small part of the ever evolving science that is search engine optimisation and marketing, but it’s another little thing that can help your site along the way.