The things you want to know about SEO but are afraid to search for

Cat scared of computer

You’ve probably received at least one. An email arrives in your inbox telling you everything your website is doing wrong from a search engine’s perspective. It tells you Google have released a new algorithm (called Pigeon or Panda), you’re not using alt tags and keywords or your meta tags are not optimized. Not to worry though, because this company or individual can make some simple changes for you to get more visitors from Google.

These emails are frustrating. They exist to take advantage of businesses that do not fully understand search engine optimization (SEO) but do realize that this is a key platform for users to find their site. It also leads to the perception that there is a set list of items or a quick fix for you to perform well on Google.

People are getting wise to these, but search engine optimization is still often misunderstood.

What does it mean? And does it really matter?

Here’s an overview of some initial elements of Search Engine Optimization that are often spoken about.

Google Panda, Pigeon, Hummingbird etc

A couple of times a year, Google updates how it evaluates where site’s rank in search listings. Major updates are named to assist in identifying core changes such as a focus on local, mobile or piracy. If you are pro-active with your website, don’t use underhand tactics and are looking at positive user experience and best practice, these updates should not negatively affect you.

Meta data – meta title and meta description

This is what search engine’s pull through to a search listing.

Apart from the meta title to an extent, these won’t have particular impact on your search ranking directly. Meta data generally assists in driving visitors to your site by showing you have the content they are searching for. With a well-written introduction, the users who land on your site will be in the right place and not immediately leave, which will be a good sign to Google.

SEO reviews will point out if you’ve not set your meta data. This is all about control. If you do not set these yourself Google will pull out information it thinks is relevant, which means it might not fit within the set character count or clearly summarize the page’s content.

Meta data – Do not use ‘keywords’

Another part of meta data is a list the keywords that you can input. These no longer have any influence on your ranking. For some search engines, too many keywords can actually harm your ranking and it’s an easy way for competitors to see what you are targeting with no benefit to you.

Alt tags

Alt tags are descriptions you can add to the images on your website. They have a very small impact on SEO but are key to your site’s accessibility for users who struggle with their vision.

So what should I be doing?

Don’t trust a quick fix.

Search Engine Optimization is a mix of well-written content (which bears in mind search trends), effective user experience, growing your digital presence through social platforms and digital PR as well as the technical side of your website.

A starter list of steps that aren’t quick fixes

  1. Be clear who you are, what your website is about and why the user should care immediately on your website
  2. Create clear actions on your website so users know what to do
  3. Do be mindful of meta data and alt tags but keep the focus of these on your user’s benefit
  4. Dedicate time to keep your website up-to-date with new content
  5. Create quality content which is written naturally and is applicable to what your users are searching for
  6. Check your website follows search guidelines and is running optimally
  7. Utilize social media and digital PR