Gaining a high ranking with search engines by use of optimisation strategies that satisfy current algorithms.
Search engines use algorithms to return relevant results to a user’s search query. Organic search drives around 51% of web traffic and works irrespectively of paid adverts and the locality of the user. Organic SEO is important as it delivers relevant traffic as the search engine results pages (SERPS) have been generated as a direct response to the specific search query. This results in better conversions and lower bounce rates.
Paid methods of advertising can deliver more targeted results than organic search, the downside of this is that once the funding has run out for a particular campaign the traffic to your site dies along with it. Organic search is continuous regardless of a lower investment level or break in activity.
Relying purely on social media to drive traffic puts your website in a vulnerable position as platforms can change the way they operate. Algorithms can be changed and affiliate links can be cut without notice so effectively website owners have little control over the environment. Search engines update algorithms but change logs are widely published. This enables website owners to keep up with the changes. Social media does not generate long-term traffic as it encourages people to share, read articles and then leave the page. It does not encourage brand loyalty.
Ultimately organic search returns the results that people are looking for, there is a much better opportunity for longevity, brand loyalty and a return on investment. However, a fully comprehensive and successful approach to search engine optimisation will be a blend of organic SEO, local marketing, content marketing and social media.
Value, Authority & Relevancy
Value: The primary aim of any search engine is to provide the most relevant search results in the shortest possible time. Websites providing the best researched and most informative answer to search queries are perceived as providing value, and will, therefore, be ranked more highly. A method of defining value is how much time a user spends on a particular page. Pages that feature compelling content will encourage users to spend longer on the site.
Domain authority: A score out of 100 that indicates the strength of an entire domain or subdomain.
Page authority: A score out of 100 that indicates how well a single page will rank with SERPS.
Inbound links: The popularity, number of, relevancy and page rank of inbound links are all contributing factors that contribute to the overall page authority.
Domain age: Search engines look at the initial date that web pages have been indexed. A domain that has been in existence for a long period of time will score more highly than a newly registered domain.
Content: Google has algorithms to determine how good the content of a web page is. Pages that are both well researched and well written will score more highly.
Relevancy: Pages that are deemed more relevant to a users search will be ranked more highly. Content should add value, be on topic and the website should not be in breach of any of Google’s rules. Google’s rules include web design principles, technical guidelines and on page optimisation.
The Importance Of Trust
In the days before Google Panda, websites were not ranked in accordance with trustworthiness. Therefore, high page rankings could be achieved much more quickly and easily. The competition also far less fierce. Businesses that are serious about recognition in the digital marketplace should focus on white hat organic SEO strategies to improve page rankings.
Black Hat SEO
This type of SEO focuses on breaking the rules in the hope that tactics will remain uncovered and page rankings will be increased. Black hats will take all the possible shortcuts. This became problematic as the websites featuring at the top of SERPS were not necessarily worthy of the trust that they had been awarded. For the majority of the time, web users are able to rely on Google to provide relevant results. To remain as the most popular search engine, Google was forced to develop and implement a number of algorithms to ensure search results remained relevant. Common black hat techniques include…
Artificial links: The use of backlinks from unrelated websites to boost traffic. These links have often been paid for. Link farms are web pages with the sole purpose of creating links to other websites.
Gateway pages: The automatic redirection of web traffic from hidden pages that have been stuffed with content and keywords. The page that the web user has been redirected to may be irrelevant to the original search query. Gateway pages have been designed with the website owner in mind, not the website user.
Keyword stuffing: When used appropriately, keywords consist of carefully chosen words or phrases that demonstarte a clear focus on what the page is about. They are disguised in the coding of the page but should also be featured a number of times within the written page content. Stuffing refers to the overuse of keywords to the extent that they no longer accurately describe the content of the page.
Meta description stuffing: Meta descriptions are short descriptions of the content of the page, also hidden within the page’s code. When a meta description is stuffed with keywords it no longer accurately describes the content of the page.
Hidden content: Written content that has been disguised within the code of the website and is not obviously visible to the end user.
White Hat SEO
A white hat strategy is all about adding value and not violating any of Google’s codes of conduct. The focus should be on the user experience and relevant content. White hat SEO is considered a a long term investement to a website. Common white hat SEO techniques include…
Quality content: Providing the most relevant and accurate answer to the search query of a web user.
Semantic HTML: Using web code to structure content in a format that makes it easier for engines to better understand the content of the page.
Headings & metadata: The use of appropriately used and clearly defined metadata. In addition, titles ease navigation by being an accurate reflection of content.
Keywords or keyphrases: These are terms that a user may input to a search engine. They should therefore be well researched and used effectively throughout the correlating pages.
Quality backlinks: Links should be from trusted websites that are relevant to your content.
Grey Hat SEO
A grey hat strategy places itself somewhere inbetween the white hats and the black hats, they bend some of the rules in the hope that the risk of being uncovered remains minmal.
Algorythm changes have reshaped what is deemed to be trustworthy content. Google’s primary aim is to be the number 1 favoured search engine, this is achieved by providing relevant results in a timely manner. Web users want genuine and reliable answers to their queries, not spammy or artificially positioned results. In the early days of organic SEO, meta keyword tags were the ultimate key to SERPS; this has since evolved to the extent that Google makes over 600 annual algorithm changes, we will look at the main updates in more detail:
Google’s Panda Algorithm
Initial release date: February 2011
The objective: To combat sites with poor quality content, for example, content farms achiveing higher rates of success with SERPS. Panda also examines how easy a webpage is to navigate, how much information appears above the fold, how many external links the page has and the quality of the user experience.
The effect: Increased performance for news and social media sites were reported while websites with a high focus on advertising suffered from decreased rankings. Panda affected around 12% of searches. The implementation of Panda also unfrotunately enabled many websites that infringed copyright to score more highly with SERPS than the original content.
Content farm: A website with a huge amount of poorly written and poorly researched content, often a collabaration of articles from freelance writers.
Visit the Google blog for more guidance on building high-quality sites.
Google’s Penguin Algorithm
Initial release date: April 2012
The objective: To defeat sites that are in in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. In particular, sites that purchase links to boost page rankings are deemed to be using black hat techniques. The ultimate aim was to penalise sites producing an excessive amount of spam. A link to a website from another reputable website shows authority. In contrast, a link from an unknown site would give much less credibility. Correspondingly, web pages with a large number of untrustworthy backlinks would undermine the credibility of the overall site.
The effect: The update effected approximately 3% of search results. Few sites overall lost search rankings for specific keywords. Websites that have been negatively affected by the Penguin update should identify unnatural links and request to have them removed using the disavow tool.
Google’s Hummingbird Algorithm
Initial release date: August 2013
The objective: Hummingbird was a complete overhaul of the previous Panda and Penguin updates. The specific aim was to more effectively understand exactly what users were searching for.
The effect: Websites that feature content that specifically and accurately answers questions people are searching for are ranked more highly. To recover from a hit from Google Hummingbird a website owner should ensure that content is relevant to what the user is searching for, it should also be informative and well written.
Blueprint for Organic SEO
A successful strategy for organic SEO should encompass…
- Keyword research
- Onpage optimisation
- Link building