I think you may find this very interesting......and hopefully it will change your way of thinking about the processes involved with attaining good search engine positioning. Because once and for all I'm going to explode the myth of the SEO Magic Bullet!
To get the full picture, let's take a trip down Memory Lane back to 1996 at the very dawn of the Internet, when Bill Gates made his famous "Content is King" speech! It's long since been deleted from his page, but I managed to trace the full article on the WayBack Machine.
Some of the many interesting (and prophetic) points that he made were these:
"Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet" and "If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will".
So what Bill Gates was saying is that Content would be the primary driving force behind the growth of the internet. Now here we are 20 years later.....and what's changed? In my opinion.....only peoples' perceptions of what is actually important to their websites. Because many still believe in this mythical Magic Bullet of SEO practices being the be all and end all of how successful their site will be.
It's understandable they think that way.....just look at the never ending wave of BS and white noise they get bombarded with via e-mails trying to peddle various SEO services that supposedly "guarantees" them Google number 1. Plus, let's not forget the mass of self appointed SEO "experts" giving advice on their Google Adwords funded blogs, and of course the guy down the pub who has got "connections" at Google.
I do accept that certain onsite initiatives can influence Google's assessment of your site, but these cannot counteract poor quality or non-existent content on your website. I've told people this for years, but invariably they don't want to accept it.
So I'm going to put this SEO Magic Bullet myth to bed once and for all! To do this, I ran 3 SEO audits using one of the highest rated and most precise professional analysis tools that are available.
Here's Site A....which was WebSpain! And what do you know?.....we got a fairly respectable 88%.
But how does that relate to our position on Google? We're always around the top.....we have been for years in fact. Same on Bing and Yahoo too. So initially it appears as if the onsite initiatives that we did have got us to that position. But one test proves nothing......so let's look at one of our clients' sites.
This is Site B, who is one of our clients......and it's also 88%. Which demonstrates that there's nothing been done on our site that hasn't been done to our clients' sites. In fact everything is the same including the software! Presumably this one should be number 1 or thereabouts as well? Well it isn't....it's at the bottom of page 3. What? Look at the SEO score....it doesn't make sense! When I had this result I then went to the top ranked site in their industry (who's not a client of ours) and ran the test.
This is Site C, who is not one of our clients.....and they scored 75%, which is a fairly decent result. But it's obviously a long way behind the 88% of our client's site. So we have a strange situation here! A site with 88% SEO on the bottom of page 3, while another site with 75% SEO that is ruling Google! How can this happen?
It happened because the technical audit for onsite SEO initiatives is not sophisticated enough to assess the quality and relevance of the content in the way that the Google searchbot does it. After examining Site C, I came to these conclusions:
1. Site B (done by us) looked visually better and had more technical optimisations than Site C. So everything we were physically able to do, we had done.
2. Site C (not done by us) looked the poor relation, but their content was very good indeed for that genre. It was educating and informing readers, telling them what to look out for, giving them tips and ideas, and answering any potential queries.
So what can we learn from this? Site A (WebSpain) had the technical initiatives and the content, while Site B (our clients) had the technical initiatives, but was let down by a lack of quality content. And Site C (not our clients) overcame the lack of technical initiatives by having good content that delivered value and information to the users.
It validates everything we've ever said.....no amount of SEO enhancements will ever compensate for lacklustre content.
And what did Bill Gates say 20 years ago? "Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet".
He wasn't wrong! And not just any content.....he was referring to quality content. Don't fall into the trap of thinking any content is good.....it's not! It is quality not quantity that gets results!
The best way I can sum all this up is to say that it appears that Content is still King......but be aware that Content Marketing is now Queen.
Last September we published this article: SSL for SEO! It related to Google announcing that sites which had HTTPS/SSL encryption would be looked on more favourably in terms of search engine positioning. This represented a major step in their stated initiative of making the internet a safer place.
At that time it wasn't clear how big a ranking signal it would be, and since then no major changes were really noticed....until 10 days ago! Because since then, Google’s ranking data for HTTPS pages has increased by 9.9%......which is a huge swing. You can get the full analysis Here!
But be aware that this doesn't mean that having SSL encryption on your site is some sort of SEO magic bullet, it just means that the priority given to secure sites appears to have been increased. There are numerous other factors involved in the process of search engine ranking......with content and mobile compatibility being the main ones.
Nothing has been officially announced by Google, other than changes in algorithms were coming up. And even then, they wouldn't be drawn on exactly what those might be. But in light of the massive revision in the status of HTTPS/SSL sites over the last ten days, it appears that this is the direction they're taking.
Just to recap, HTTPS/SSL is a 2048bit data encryption method that encrypts the connection to sites giving a higher level of personal security. Essentially, users have a secure connection to the site to prevent the theft of personal and private information. In many cases the data may not be highly sensitive, but setting up a HTTPS connection ensures that no external party is spoofing addresses to retrieve information from users that they would not normally divulge. This activity is now becoming more common and a HTTPS connection safeguards against these attacks.
Strengthening web security benefits everybody, and by implementing this process on your site you'll be demonstrating to users, and Google, that you take this very seriously. Our position on this is that we certainly wouldn't want to be in the position whereby fingers were pointing at us as being responsible for the theft of users' data. Which is why we have always had SSL security on this site.
The difference now is there seems to be measurable search engine positioning benefits that you can gain from it as well. So it's a win-win situation for everybody.....except the cyber criminals of course!
Speaking to clients I invariably get a negative reaction when I suggest they focus on using Google Plus to promote their businesses. Normally it goes along the lines of "I don't like it", "I find it confusing", "Nobody goes on there".....in fact I've even been told "Why bother.....I've heard it may be closing down?"
Unfortunately within this industry so much misinformation and disinformation gets circulated by self appointed "experts" it's sometimes difficult to establish who is actually talking common sense rather than just idly speculating. Not wanting to appear to be one of those radical, free thinking individuals who base their mantras on everything other than cold hard facts, I'll buck the trend and just give you the reality of the situation. Then you decide!
1. Let's debunk the myth of "closing down". The fact is that Google Plus has over 300 million active users. I would suggest that not even the legendary Gerald Ratner would be crazy enough to close down something of that magnitude!
2. Google Plus is directly linked to Google Search. Absolute fact!
3. When you post content on your Google Plus page, you increase your chances of getting ranked and found in searches.
4. Any content that you promote gets indexed in search results virtually immediately.....whereas it could take weeks for Google to spider it on your site.
5. When you add your business address to your Google Plus page, you have a good chance of it appearing in the search results along with a full Google Map, directions, and business profile.
6. It enables you to promote your own profile along with the business profile, introducing the personal element rather than just a corporate entity. In fact, your Google Plus profile photo will show up in the rankings drawing peoples' attention immediately. That's a a great way to stand out from the crowd.
7. By getting more friends and followers on the network you increase your chances of getting more +1's on your article.....which then get picked up via the indexing process. So it snowballs!
8. Author Rank! This is a fairly new development and represents a shift in direction from Google which focusses less on SEO elements within the site, and more of a focus on the individuals who actually generate and distribute the content. This enables you to potentially establish yourself as an authority figure within your industry.
9. Google Plus profiles are now appearing in the search results on the right hand side, and these include all the recent posts that you have made. So people are encouraged to look at you much more closely.
10. We all want Google to recommend us highly in their natural organic searches, and Google Plus is an integral part of their company. So it only makes sense that you embrace their initiatives. Bottom line is.....if you want them to promote you, then actually give them something to work with.
I'd summarise by saying that what we're seeing now is a move by Google to integrate their search engine dominance and their social media network. So I can forsee a situation where social marketing on their platform and SEO initiatives are going to be inextricably linked.
Don't get left behind on this......just make sure that you're really concentrating on your Google Plus promotional activity!
The IT industry has always evolved at a fast pace, and never more so than in recent years with the massive expansion of mobile computing as a part of everyday life.
I can remember over 20 years ago when the internet was predominantly text documents and grainy images delivered via a 9.9k analogue modem. Back in those days I'd speak to businesses about getting websites and they had absolutely no idea of what the internet was. Many dismissed it as a passing craze, but by the late 90's people had realised how important it really was. Which then brought about the dotcom boom!
After that point the technology obviously became more sophisticated, but every week I'd read about "the next big thing" that was going to change everything. In most cases they came and went, never even causing a ripple on the surface. So I began to get cynical.....to the point that any potential initiative was viewed as the latest internet fad. Without realising it, I became resistant to change. That's a bad move in this industry, and I'll give you an example of when I made the wrong call. It was a howler!
In 2006 as FaceBook started gaining momentum, and a year or two later when Twitter came along......I dismissed them both.
In my defence I had lived through the rise and fall of Yahoo Geocities and MySpace, so I had solid reasons to be sceptical.
My non-involvement and total dismissal of these initiatives continued until 2011. Then it hit me that these types of Social Media were not going to disappear as their predecessors had done.....in fact they had turned into massive platforms for business initiatives!
I looked carefully, saw a big game going on......and we weren't in it. All our competitors were highly active with huge followings.....but we didn't even exist.
For the next two years we focussed on clawing back the deficit caused by those wasted years where I'd got cynical, complacent, and resistant to change. I learned from that though.....now I embrace every new initiative at the outset. Because if you don't, you could end up outside looking in.
Consequently, when the mobile computing boom came along (which was the biggest ever gamechanger), we jumped on it straight away. In fact at one point in early 2013 we were the only designer in Google's top ten to be mobile compatible, as I wasn't going to make another gaff like the Social Media fiasco.
I think that as we get older we become less accepting of change, and I'm sure there was an element of this involved when I made the wrong call on Social Media. I fell into the trap of thinking that if something has always worked well on the current business model that's being employed.....then why change?
But in business terms that's a dangerous way of thinking, because invariably the business scenario around us is changing and evolving all the time. It's a case of the game keeps changing, and unless you move with those changes then ultimately you could find that you're no longer part of the game.
As I've said in previous articles, Social Media is very important, but mobile compatibility is critical!
This is not something in the future.....it's right here, right now! The future is now upon us.....and it's called Mobile Computing! Are you a part of it?
After many years of being involved in the IT industry, plus working in other business sectors prior to 1988......I notice that one thing never changes! And that is the endless quest for "cheap".
Obviously, there's absolutely nothing wrong with looking for the best deal when you're buying something. But don't confuse "cheap" with "value for money", because these are two different things. Particularly in regard to web design.
There are some things in life that you don't want to cut corners on, because they're just too important to take chances with. And what you're talking about in this context is the future of you and your family. Effectively, it's not a question of how much money you can save at the time.....it's more a question of how much money you can lose in the future.
Now let's relate this to business web design services by examining some options when you're planning a website!
1. For example, you can get basic website building software for a few pounds and have a go yourself! Why not...it can't do any harm surely?
2. And there's always a self-professed expert down the pub who knows all about this stuff. Don't be put off by the fact that he doesn't actually do this for a living successfully.....because what could go wrong?
3. And if those options don't work, you could always use a FaceBook Business page of course. That way you don't even have to pay for a domain or web hosting! Result.
4. Now here's a radical one! Contact a number of professional web designers, look for a verifiable track record, check testimonials, and get a feel for who you think is right for you.
So you make your choice out of those options above, and let's say you go for options 1, 2 or 3. You add some content to your page telling people how professional you are, and then wait for business to come in. Unfortunately, you find that nothing happens, nobody seems to take you seriously, and then you start getting frustrated.
But look at the way you went about it.....look at the end result.....does that say "professional" to you? And here's the thing, it's not going to say "professional" to anybody else either.
So besides presenting yourself unprofessionally, you've now made claims that none of your previous business decisions actually substantiate. Add loss of credibility to the unprofessionalism, and before you've even got off the ground you've stacked the odds against you. The bottom line is that if you can't demonstrate a reasonable degree of professionalism to prospective clients, then why would they expect you to be professional in what you do for them?
It doesn't have to be that way, but unfortunately that way is the legacy of cheap. Now I'm sure that you don't need the grief, and you most certainly don't need the loss of credibility, so play it safe and go for option 4. It's a no-brainer!
This option doesn't have to be expensive, shop around, do your research, and get testimonials from prospective companies.
With us, you are guaranteed to get a professional website that is fully mobile compatible, you'll receive unsurpassed support, and prospective clients (plus competitors) will know that you're deadly serious about what you're doing.
Admittedly that option isn't "cheap".....but in terms of "value for money" we think it's unbeatable. Only you can make your business a success, but now you've got a professional platform on which to plan your future. If you're serious about your future, only option 4 gives you a realistic chance of success. While options 1,2, and 3, whichever way you dress them up, are no more than occupational suicide. So choose wisely!
As you know, the way that people use the Internet is changing. We're experiencing a move away from the traditional desktop method into a more mobile centric environment.
So if your focus is only based around attaining high Google rankings, then you need to stop and evaluate everything you do right now......because Facebook are launching their own in-house app to corner the search market.
Google’s “Mobilegeddon” algorithm change that occurred on April 21st has now created a scenario where mobile searches are critical. And Facebook has been more than happy to take advantage of the new opportunities this presents by developing an in-app keyword search engine specifically for use with mobile devices. At present, search returns via this option are sorted by relevancy, though recently published articles that have attracted a high degree of social engagement are also in the listings.
Why is this happening? Mobile ad revenue is big business, particularly on Facebook. Their ad revenue is increasing and businesses are now willing to pay more for FaceBook ads than Google ads......so obviously they must feel that this avenue represents a better return on investment than traditional methods.
This is indicative of the power of social media advertising, and now with the search ap being launched we could be heading towards a situation where potential clients ignore Google completely and do their searches on FaceBook. So if you don't have a clearly defined and well established presence on there, you could find yourself outside looking in.
Still not convinced? Then I'd suggest that you factor in the statistic that Facebook attracts 1.44 billion active users every month! That is a massive outreach. And if they are going to offer the opportunity for users to do a full search on their platform, effectively eliminating the need to go to another search engine, then it's going to be a game changer.
Google has clearly defined the criteria that mobile based internet communications are critical, and now Facebook appear to be seizing this opportunity to grab a big share of the market.
They've already established themselves as an outstanding platform for businesses, advertisers and users.....so they have the numbers behind them to seriously challenge Google's dominance of the search market. And over a longterm basis, through the introduction of different initiatives, they have the potential to render the conventional search engine, as we know it now, virtually obsolete.
Therefore, I would strongly advise that you maintain a serious and active Social Media presence across all platforms (particularly Facebook), with ongoing daily promotional activity. What you posted yesterday is no longer relevant, and I always suggest the "little and often" method because 75% of engagement occurs within the first five hours. Additionally, make sure you expand your user base with more friends, likes, followers, circles etc.....or you'll end up just talking to yourself.
In the past all SEO activity has been based around the results of traditional desktop searches on Google......but now we have to prepare for the changing face of search. Don't get left out in the cold!
Essentially this relates to a situation that I've seen occur at different times with different people. It refers to the scenario where people over-analyse and obsess about their site to the nth degree.......while totally missing the big picture.
The catalyst is normally their competitors are grabbing all the business.....so their only answer is to play with their website. Their mindset seems to be that because they're not doing much business.....it must be the website's fault! They believe that if they change a few words here or there, or change a photo of a tree to that of a bush, it's going to turn everything round!
Now if you find yourself in this situation and your only business plan is to play with your website.....then the bad news is that you haven't actually got a business plan! So let's focus on real world initiatives, not time wasting exercises on your site that nobody (least of all Google) is interested in.
Examples of intiatives:
1. If your domain name is expiring in the next few months, renew it now!
Reason: Google checks the WHOIS register and likes to see a long timeframe before expiry, because they don't want to recommend somebody who may not be there in 3 months time. So put a couple of years on it to demonstrate that you're in this long term.
2. Dedicated IP address and SSL security encryption!
I have SSL running here now (see the padlock in the browser address bar).....it shows professionalism, demonstrates security, proves your identity, and complies with what Google expect....so you get SEO benefits! Read this article for more information: SSL for SEO!
3. Google loves new content! This is the absolute cornerstone relating to how your site will be assessed.
But it's quality not quantity that's important. You need to generate unique well-written content that delivers value. And if you have great content that people want to read, then Google will prioritise you. They'll give you more respect, take you more seriously, and you'll gain credibility as an authority figure within your industry.
4. Social Media is another Google listing trigger! And I'm talking FaceBook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, Linkedin, and Pinterest. You need to cover them all with quality content encouraging interaction and shares! If you leave one out because you don't like it.....then you're taking shortcuts. Ignore them at your own risk!
5. Networking....both in real life and on business networks like Linkedin. But don't waste your time by interacting with people who are not "influencers" within their respective business sectors. There is no mileage whatsoever in having a network of business contacts who are either consistent under-achievers or serial failures. Be selective!
6. E-Mail Newsletters! Sign up to MailChimp and send out e-mail newsletters to potential clients using your latest site content. If you're in business to business then research potential clients and make the first contact. If you're dealing with end users as in property sales, then start off with the mail addresses of previously interested parties and keep adding to it.
To summarise, these initiatives are not industry specific, they are good practice across all genres, and is exactly what we do. There are no guarantees of getting more business, but you're now actually taking proactive steps to build the brand (branding is going to be the next big thing on Google), and hit a wider target audience in different ways.
This is not SEO.....it's marketing and promotional initiatives while building brand awareness. So it's not a matter of doing things on your site, it's a matter of doing things with your site in terms of presenting it to more people across all media channels and on multiple levels. But it all starts with content.....that is the driving force!
So don't fall into the trap of wasting time on things that make no difference! I know for a fact that if my site looked better than it does, it wouldn't bring me any more business. Conversely, if my site wasn't as good as it is, I wouldn't lose any business! Therefore I don't waste my time playing with it! I focus on real world initiatives.
Because the reality of the situation is that the site is not my business.....it's just a tool that I use in conjunction with my business. No more, no less!
Google's designated cut-off day of 21st April for the de-listing of non-mobile compatible sites (Mobilegeddon) has come and gone. At this time it's still too soon to see any visible changes because of the millions of sites out there that need to be re-assessed.
The feedback that we've received because of Google's new stipulations is understandably not positive. After all, why should anybody be forced into making this upgrade by a third party? And I totally agree in terms of principle.....however, there is another side to this that I'd like you to consider.
Google are a massive company, and they didn't achieve that position without making some smart business decisions. Like any company their underlying motive is profit, but over the years their vision and initiatives have made huge improvements to the online experience.....GMail being just one of them.
This change in policy regarding mobile sites is not something they've just dreamt up to flex their online muscle. It's driven by consumer demand for using mobile devices......and that means all of you who have smartphones, IPads etc.
Latest figures show that consumers are interacting with websites via their mobile device 64% of the time, and that mobile searches now account for 67% of Internet traffic.
So whether you know it or not, you have already missed out on business over the last year by not offering potential customers the optimal user experience on mobiles. In light of that, my view is not to look at it as losing business from 21st April.....but to approach it as an opportunity to gain business by reaching a wider target market.
Google have established that we want to use mobile devices, and in order to give us the best possible user experience they have made these changes. But what I would emphasise is that Google are not forcing people to make these changes......people have forced Google to take this step simply because they wanted to use mobile devices.
Over the last few months I've received e-mails from some businesses complaining about Google's de-listing of non-mobile sites. However, to add a surreal element to the situation, their messages were actually displaying "Sent from My IPad" etc in the signature field.
So the ones who were the least enthusiastic about the era of mobile internet usage......were the ones who had actually embraced this technology themselves! The reality is that I have no connection with Google whatsoever, and, even more surprising is the fact that I don't even own a smartphone!
And that pretty much illustrates the irony of Mobilegeddon......because Google are simply giving people what they wanted.
Remember this date: 21st April 2015. Because this is the day where Google search results are going to change forever! They could change for the better for you....or they could change for the worse!
This is the day that Google have now announced will be the launch of their new search engine evaluation algorithm! And it's the one that we've been warning everybody about for 6 months......where Google start dropping non-mobile compatible sites from their listings. For the official announcement just check Google's Webmaster Central Blog.
The announcement is fairly self explanatory on Webmaster Central. It's a huge revision of their system, and there's going to be a lot of sites adversely affected. However, if you have a mobile responsive site then you don't need to do anything, because you have exactly what Google expects to see.
But if you have an older site that isn't mobile responsive, then it seems that your rankings are going to drop quite dramatically. This will bring about a knock-on effect of less visitors, less leads, and less sales. The only way to avoid this scenario is to get a mobile compatible site in place by this date. And then of course you'll get the benefit of the ranking increase.
Why is this happening? As we've stated before, Google wants to provide it's users with the best possible results. And if your site will not display properly on a mobile device, then Google recommending sites of this type is totally at odds with it's stated objective.
Why is mobile viewing so important? Would it surprise you to know that in 2014, internet searches made on mobile devices were actually higher than those on desktop PCs! This had never happened before, and estimates suggest that this pattern is going to keep increasing dramatically year on year. Some have even suggested that it's going to lead to the demise of the desktop PC, except within office locations. Which ironically is the environment that they were originally designed for, prior to the home computer boom in the mid 90's.
So whether we like it or not, this is the age of mobile computing. And if you're not reaching that market with your products or services, it's not a good longterm scenario for any business. The countdown is on, and 21st April is getting closer! If the rankings of a non mobile friendly website start to fall, its probably down to one thing – Google’s latest algorithm update!
It's a fact of life that whether we like it or not, time moves on for all of us! Particularly within the IT industry, with so many new innovations occurring on a regular basis!
As a consequence of this ever changing environment, a question that I sometimes get asked is "How long should a website last?"
Unfortunately there's no simple answer to this one, because there are many contributing factors that can influence longevity.....most of which are beyond our control. I'm referring to factors such as discontinued software applications for sites, and vulnerable server software being withdrawn. Then there's new technologies that emerge......a typical example of that being mobile responsive websites.
However, I'm going to give you the main reasons for upgrading your website software, and hopefully give you an approximate timescale for when I'd consider it necessary.
The main reason for upgrading, and by a very wide margin, is security!
Cyber crime is rampant! But it's not just cyber criminals that an online business needs to worry about.....it's vandals! In fact, these are your biggest threat. Just the same as if they broke your shop window or daubed graffiti on your walls, they'd love nothing better than to trash your website. It's a game to them!
Did you know that there are sites out there that actually organise competitions for members whereby they score points by defacing sites? And they always leave a calling card on your site (sometimes not very pleasant) in order to identify themselves so they can rack up points in the game.
Eventually, vulnerabilities that initially could only be accessed by the elite few will be accessible to even the novices. Very often via user-friendly interfaces, and even guided by online tutorials! It's one of the reasons why software keeps moving on in terms of older, vulnerable applications being withdrawn and newer versions being introduced to replace them. While no application can be guaranteed free of security flaws forever, newer systems are all coded with the knowledge of past vulnerabilities in mind, and patched accordingly.
We've always taken security on the servers very seriously, and the trigger for it to activate is very slight. But if a vulnerability exists in an application that allows a third party to infiltrate your site by simply walking in without raising the alarm, then none of these measures are going to take effect. Given a long enough timeframe, intrusion is guaranteed. So security must always be paramount in your planning.
Of course there are other reasons for upgrading your website. These would include embracing new technology. A typical example would be mobile responsive websites, which has been the most significant technical advancement in the past 10 years. This is the one that's changed the game totally.
Or maybe your competitors have recently taken a major initiative in revamping their web presence, and you're now looking like the poor relation? If that's the case, then it could be the time to consider upgrading.
Has your business switched direction? Or have you changed your marketing strategy? If so, then it may be time to change your website to match the new focus!
Perception! As the years pass, your site will look more and more outdated. And so will potential clients' perception of you. Essentially, you will not be giving them the confidence to use your services.
All of these are valid reasons to consider upgrading......but the security aspect is by far the most important!
As for the life of a site.....in principle it could run forever if you can find a webhost that will run obsolete server software indefinitely! Plus you'd need to be totally invisible to potential hackers of course.
In reality, neither of those scenarios are going to be very likely, so I'd say around 3 to 4 years before you'd need to think about replacing your existing site. If not for functionality and appearance, then most definitely for security reasons because you may well be vulnerable by that time.
But whatever your reason for considering an upgrade, you'll still get the benefits of all of the aspects! Plus you'll have the peace of mind of knowing that your site is looking modern and attractive to potential clients, while being as safe and secure as possible.