Master the basics of SEO to satisfy the Google Gods

In the last year Google made over 3,200 updates to its search algorithm.

I’ll just let that number sink in for a moment. Three-thousand-two-hundred. Assuming a normal 5-day week that’s 12 times a day someone at Google tweaks the search experience. Does Google even work a normal week?

There’s a statistic that circulates the SEO community that there are over 2,000 components to Google’s search algorithm so continuous updates are hardly surprising. But the truth is no-one outside Google knows exactly what goes into it (that doesn’t stop the rumours though).

So how are we mere mortals down on Planet Earth supposed to cope?

The answer is we can’t. And there’s no point in trying. All we can do is focus on the basics. That means making sure that your website is structurally and technically sound, that you provide a good user experience, and that you continually publish new, useful and relevant content.

So where do we start in satisfying the Google Gods?

When planning and managing SEO for your website, focus on Google. There are other search engines available, but when you consider that 80% of global search traffic goes through Google, then it’s fair to say that it’s the only game in town. Other search engines use a very similar methodology to Google, only their user experience and interface differ. But you can safely assume that what works for Google will work for others.

The one key thing you need to know about Google is that they are honest. They exist for the benefit of their users (i.e. people who use their search engine) and not website owners. Google has invested billions of dollars making their search experience natural, useful and painless. Therefore it is beholden on website owners to play by Google’s rules.

How Google Works (in a very tiny nutshell)

A stack of 4 lever arch files all nicely indexed

When you type something into Google’s search bar, it does not go off and search the internet. Instead it crawls its own webpage index. This index is populated with every unique webpage it has ever previously found. When it finds a new webpage (a webpage = a unique URL), it adds it to its index.

Google finds new webpages by following links. When you Google something, it will use its algorithm to find the best quality matches on the webpages in its index. Your task is to get each page of your website listed in that index and structure the page so that it meets Google’s optimisation rules – which is where SEO comes in. So the more unique pages you have on your website, the bigger your ‘footprint’ in the index, and the more likely you are to be noticed.

Google’s search algorithm is constantly evolving. It currently uses hundreds of  different factors (no-one knows how many) in deciding a page ranking. And they will tweak this algorithm several times a day. In the last year they updated their algorithm over 3,000 times! But the bottom line is Google ranks a webpage according to its EAT principle: Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness.

So how do you make Google pay attention to your website?

person typing on laptop with mug, pen and paper nearby

There are four key on-page (i.e. what your visitors see) elements to get right for SEO to succeed:-

1. Fresh content – search engines look for fresh, original, quality, relevant content

2. Keywords – Google page ranking software uses “semantic search”, i.e. the keyword/phrase typed into the search bar will often result in web pages using close (but not exact) matches, or synonyms. Google’s algorithms are trying to second-guess the intent behind your search and trying to deliver only the most relevant results

3. Links – Google will find and index your website because it has been following links. You could submit your website to Google directly via a sitemap in your Google Analytics account, but they will always find you eventually providing your site is optimised.

4. Social sharing – although not a direct page ranking factor, Google likes to see social plug-ins on your site plus social sharing is a way to drive traffic to your site, flagging up its popularity and authority to Google.

All of these elements work in combination and no single element works better than any other at improving your page rankings. Once you have mastered the basics of these and are managing and monitoring them on a regular basis, then you can focus on the finer technical detail such as metatags, site structure, etc.

But the key thing to remember is that SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if you implemented all of our recommendations straight away, this does not mean that you will shoot to the top of organic page rankings overnight. It will take consistent, regular efforts to keep your site optimised and ranking. 

Your Basic SEO Health Check List

1.       Site security: Is your site encrypted with an SSL certificate? If not your site is vulnerable to hackers and if you have a Contact Me form then any personal details submitted via that form may be stolen

2.       Mobile: Is your site optimised for mobile? Over 50% of online traffic is on mobile devices. If your site isn’t optimised for mobile that’s a lot of potential visitors who won’t bother

3.       Site speed: Is your site slow to load? Search engines (and people) do not like a web page that takes more than 4 seconds to download

4.       Site Structure: Is your key content more than 3 clicks away from the Home page? Search engines do not crawl content below the 3rd level of a site so make sure you don’t have any important content buried too deep

5.       Meta titles: Does your site have unique title tags for each page? Do they use your keywords? You have up to 60 characters to describe your website vis the page titles – use them

6.       Meta descriptions: Does your site have a unique meta description for each page? Do they use your keywords? You have up to 160 characters to create a mini advert for your business. Use them

7.       Does your site have: External Links (links to an external website)? Internal Links (links between the pages of your website)? Backlinks (links from an external website to yours)? Search engines follow links around to index new content. Make sure you have lots of links.

8.       Does your site have broken links? These are a red flag to search engines and a poor user experience. Remove or fix them.

9.       Does your site have social plug-ins? Search engines like to see actively promoting your business on social media.

10.   Local search: Are you on Google My Business? Optimise your free GMB listing with short posts and photos to keep you on the local SEO map

11.   Do your images have Alt-Tags? Tagging your images, logos and icons is a key SEO ranking signal as well as making your site accessible to visitors who use screen readers and keeping you compliant with the Equalities Act.

SEO is a big, hairy, grumpy animal who needs constant feeding. Work your way through the above list on a regular basis to keep it well-fed and on your side.

And if you need any help then give us a call.