Business and Operations
Marketing insights: July-August 2014
How the web is won
By Michelle Brisebois
Search engine optimization (SEO) is simply the art of making sure your
website is at the top of the list when people search the Internet for
information related to copy on your site.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is simply the art of making sure your website is at the top of the list when people search the Internet for information related to copy on your site.
Much like the Wild West, the web was once a free-for-all ruled by good guys (white-hat tactics) and bad guys (black-hat tactics). The fair maiden everyone wanted to attract was named “search,” and websites became repositories of keywords trying to trick the search engines into landing on a certain page rather than becoming interactive places for information. The web has matured and so must how we search it. If you’re wondering if SEO is all it’s cracked up to be, the answer depends on how willing you are to choose the right hat.
As a business owner, you want to spend your marketing dollars wisely. You’ll likely be hiring an outside person or firm to build your website and to help you optimize it so that search engines such as Google rank it higher than your competitors. It’s important you know how SEO has changed recently so you can choose your digital partners wisely. Think of a search engine as a phone book used to help people find your business and connect with you to make a purchase. With a phone book, your brain is the search engine using data (a name in alphabetical order) to find the person or business you want. In the case of the web, “spiders” roam the Internet looking for words, phrases and information that get categorized, attributed to your website, then indexed and stored by Google to be referred to when people search for information they need. When you conduct a Google search, you aren’t actually searching the web; you’re really searching Google’s index. The Google spiders start with a few pages and then follow links through to more and more pages. As the Internet has evolved, so has how search engines sort and rank information.
Of all search engines – Yahoo, Bing, Ask and hundreds of others – the most powerful and popular is Google. Google realized that some developers were trying to trick it into ranking their websites higher in terms of relevance by doing things like word stuffing, which involves using keywords and phrases so frequently on a website that it starts to sound unnatural. The folks at Google know that the best way they have to stay ahead of the competition is to return the most relevant search results. They realized most people aren’t searching the web with keywords in mind but are looking for the answer to questions. Now that people searching the web are typically asking fully fleshed out questions – for example, “What is the best restaurant in Calgary?” – Google wants to understand the true motivation behind the question in order to deliver the most accurate sites. Did you mean the best restaurant in terms of price point or reviewer ratings? Do you want to find the best restaurant in terms of atmosphere? Hummingbird (Google’s new search algorithm) attempts to determine the context for your question, which is a much deeper search than responding to a key word. Hummingbird is believed to have affected nearly 90 per cent of all queries and dramatically changed the way the engine processes user requests.
There are a few best practices that will ensure your site continues to rank well when search engines come to call. Don’t throw out existing content that’s working. Simply make sure that the copy on your website speaks to why your business is the best at whatever your business specializes in. Google now cares less about whether you’ve optimized each individual page on your site to a particular keyword and more about whether your page’s content answers the question presented by the search user. For best results, focus on adding new content that directly answers user questions. Great ways to do this include posts bearing the words “how to,” FAQs (frequently asked questions), directions, and other tips and tricks.
Make sure your website is updated frequently. Google will reward those sites that have a “pulse” and lots of activity. Content freshening is a signal to the search engine that your site is relevant and being used. Google is also incorporating activity on social media sites into its search parameters. The Googlebots love it when websites are mentioned frequently and linked to – this signals to the Google spiders that your site has relevant content and is worthy of being more popular than other sites with similar themes.
Some people may argue that SEO is dead. Far from it. In fact, it’s alive and well but no longer a puppet for the tricks that some developers have used to drive web traffic to a site in the past. As Google says in its guidelines to webmasters, “Relevancy and authority are the key factors that determine a website’s rank in search results.”
Is your website filled with interesting content and is it mentioned frequently by other reputable sites and social media mentions? The new frontier of Internet search rewards the good guys and punishes the naughty, so make sure you hire digital partners who believe in doing it right.
Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in brand strategies.