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A conversation with a website client last week re-affirmed that there any many misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations when it comes to the topic of search engine optimisation (SEO).
To put this into context, their website had gone live just 30 minutes before (no exaggeration!) and to my utter amazement the client looked at me and asked “why aren’t we appearing in a Google search?”. I was absolutely speechless for a few moments and then began the onerous task of giving a much needed reality check!
With the swift moving pace of all things IT, technology and internet, there is a tendency, not surprisingly to only look at now and the future. Yes, I understand that you’re probably more interested in hearing from me about stuff happening in 2020. However, I feel that a historical perspective is helpful when looking at the world of SEO.
Why, because it helps understand what has motivated this search engine evolution over the years.
The Birth of Black Hat SEO
Black Hat SEO refers to the use of techniques and strategies that are used to improve search rankings whilst breaking search engine rules. Another way of putting this is “trying to fool the search engines to artificially inflate a website’s ranking. In 2020, these activities are likely to either result in a website being penalised or completely banned by the likes of Google.
However, in the early days of the internet, dubbed by some as “The Wild West Era”, a website owner could get away with a lot. This was before the time of Google algorithm updates, when there were far fewer websites existing. Tactics such as keyword stuffing were quickly devised to artificially inflate their search engine rankings.
This referred to the practice of outranking a competitor by simply repeating your target keywords enough times throughout your pages and meta tags. So if a competitor had the keyword repeated 100 times on their website page, then you simply needed to include it more times on your website page.
The page content did not even need to be intelligible or make sense and could be about any topic. So many pages would simply contain meaningless content with keywords randomly inserted.
A Poor User Experience
This led to the practice of setting up websites entirely based on high opportunity keywords (high search volume with little competition) which were littered with advertisements. I can recall a time when much of what I found from Google searches was largely useless. Whilst many advertisers made a very good living, it resulted in a very poor user experience for the rest of us!
Google of course realised that it’s entire search engine business model was being damaged and hopefully this helps you understand why Google’s focus on user experience evolved.
If you are interested in finding out more on the history of SEO, I suggest reading Search Engine Journal’s excellent “20 Years of SEO: A Brief History of Search Engine Optimization” article.
Hopefully this peek into the past gives you a feel for why ranking on the likes of Google in 2020 requires significant effort and an ongoing content strategy. There are no shortcuts and you should be extremely wary of any backlinking or other schemes or offerings that claim to be able to guarantee first page rankings etc. The next search engine algorithm update is likely to make them obsolete and in a worst case scenario you could find your website banned completely.
Google Requirements in 2020
If you are aiming to rank your site on Google in 2020, then the mantra you need to live by is the “user experience”. Ask yourself whether there is any aspect of your website that spoils the user experience for your site visitors?
Here are some areas you need to focus on:-
On-page Versus Off-page SEO
So far in this post, I have mainly talked about your ‘on-page SEO’. This refers to content that you have direct control over as already outlined. Another factor that Google uses, is ‘off-page SEO’.
Off-page SEO refers to page ranking factors that occur outside of your website, such as links from other websites that impact your search engine rankings. From this, Google makes a judgement call on your rankings which is often particularly troublesome for newer websites which have had no opportunity to build a track record. Let’s face it, at day one your website is not going to be the talk of the town no matter how hard you work at it!
Some ways to go about improving this include:-
SEM Rush Findings From 250,000 Websites
Earlier this year SEMrush published their findings from some research they did from data on 250,000 websites. Their excellent “27 of the Biggest SEO Mistakes Damaging Websites in 2020” post is worth a close look to give you further insights into common mistakes that are made when it comes to SEO.
After all, being forewarned is forearmed.
Hopefully this post has given you a good insight into what is needed to rank on Google and how we got here! I also hope this post has given you an understanding of why my client’s expectations of an instant Google ranking were somewhat ambitious.
Have you had any experience of SEO for your own website that you would like to share? I’m particularly interested in what you’ve done “off-page” that has worked for you since this is the most challenging for website owners.
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