Search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques are constantly changing.
And so it’s vitally important that businesses know where they stand at any given time, particularly if they have paid for SEO services, as changes can significantly alter the way websites rank in search engines.
Most businesses will be aware that good and bad techniques are described black hat and white hat, the black being unethical and the white, ethical.
There is also a process known as ‘grey hat’, a murky middle ground, neither black nor white, where techniques push the boundaries, but are not black enough to get a site penalised.
This year has been arguably the most important in bringing home the evolution of search engine changes to the website-owning public.
Google’s widely publicised updates to its algorithm, named Panda and Penguin, have brought the process of linkbuilding, keyword stuffing and other unnatural SEO techniques into sharper focus.
And following their releases earlier in the year, many sites that had been optimised unethically dropped down in the search results.
But what became clear was that Google was intent on targeting bad SEO, and favouring content that was written for humans.
That has always been its intent, but with every turn, search optimisers were able to find new ways to tweak content to place businesses unnaturally high in the listings.
The legacy of SEO
And that’s where legacy comes in.
The difficulty for businesses is that if they leave their SEO to a third party, how do they know if it’s been done ethically?
If techniques deemed ‘OK’ five years ago, are now frowned upon, does that mean your site will suddenly start losing its popularity in the search engines?
Will you have to pay for the work to be ‘undone’.
Or even if businesses take the DIY approach, how do they know the guidance they ‘found on the web’ was right, up to date, and ethical.
SEO has always been a minefield, and it still is.
Treat Panda and Penguin as a wake-up call. Even if you’ve not been penalised by the algorithm change, take note of the way this is going.
Ethical SEO will never be penalised.
If you build a site from scratch, it’s important that all the elements of ‘behind-the-scenes’ are coded to search engine guidelines.
And if you use a well-built site framework such as WordPress, many of the search elements are already in place or can be placed correctly with an plugin such as WordPress SEO, or All-in-one SEO.
The rest is up to you.
Content is the most important area for you to focus on. Yes you. Gone are the days when businesses had static websites, and businesses would have to pay their web designer for every single update. Gone are the days when every page had to be SEO’d.
With the advent of content management systems, every businessman and woman can now take control of their content and update their own sites, from the office, from home, or from the Costa del Sol if they want.
But wait. Doesn’t content have to be ‘optimised’ and ‘keyworded’?
Yes, of course, but just like your printed brochures, your newspaper ads and your vehicle signs, all marketing material has to be optimised and keyworded, but ‘for humans’. They are your customers.
What about links?
Links into your site are vital for good search engine results. A link is a vote of trust. If someone finds your site worthy of linking to, then search engines see that as a ‘plus’ in your favour.
This is where unethical SEO practitioners have run riot.
They found the slow and laborious process of creating links back to your site from directories, forums, blog comments, etc, worked and they’ve charged handsomely for the privilege.
But the legacy is that Google is now identifying unnatural links through the likes of Panda and Penguin, and they won’t be the last!
And so this is another area where you the content manager can take over. You know who should be linking to your site, and why. Generating a relationship with another site that finds yours worthy of a link is a bond which will not only help your website rank well because there will be a relevant connection, but also because there is a human connection, a rapport created by the linking of a giver and a receiver.
There you go, humans again. Yep, that’s what it’s all about.
I’m not a DIY person
We’re not saying that a site owner needs to do all their own SEO, there are still some very important parts that should be set or checked by a competent ethical practitioner, and you can even subcontract your content management if it suits your business processes.
What is important for you to do is to know what’s ethical and what’s not, and if it takes a little longer for your site to get up there, so be it, at least it won’t drop with the next update, and leave you footing a bill to rescue it.
The more content you create for your site, the more search-engine friendly it becomes and the more people will enjoy it for the reasons they came to your site in the first place.