Introduction to SEO
So what’s it all about? Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of your website in a search engine’s natural (unpaid) search results for a particular query.
In the example below, typing the query ‘buy chandelier’ into the search engine Google returns 3 websites in a pink box – homebase.co.uk, oceanlighting.co.uk and lightinthebox.com. These companies have bid to appear at the top of the search results when anyone types ‘buy chandelier’. If you click on one of the adverts, they will be charged a fee by Google.
Under the pink box, you’ll see the natural, unpaid or ‘organic’ search results as they are sometimes called. Google uses an algorithm to work out which sites are the most relevant to the user’s search query, and displays those higher up its results.
Aside from Google, the other major search engines in Europe and the US are Yahoo and Bing. Although reported figures vary, it is estimated that Google holds a market share of at least 70% and likely higher. So SEO experts focus on getting your site listed as high as possible primarily in Google, because by far the majority of your traffic will come from Google.
SEO vs. pay-per-click
You might be wondering if it would be simpler to pay for your website to appear in the pink paid listings box (usually called pay-per-click or PPC). The answer: it can be, but relying on paid listings alone is usually an expensive move. Google’s pay-per-click scheme is called Adwords. Using Adwords, you bid against other advertisers to appear in the top 3 – and since everyone wants the top slots, these bids can get pricey. Every time someone clicks your advert, you pay whatever you’ve bid – whether it’s 5p, £5 or £25, regardless of whether you make a sale. In contrast, if your website appears high in the natural search engine results, you don’t pay anything – no matter how many people visit it.
It’s always a good idea to investigate whether pay-per-click could work for your business alongside SEO. Sometimes there are search terms which you can bid on that aren’t too competitive and which can generate extra sales for you.
Back to SEO…
Put simply, SEO is about designing a search-engine-friendly website (or overhauling your existing website to be search-engine-friendly), loading up great content and then making sure other sites link to it. Search-engine-friendly websites:
- Give users the information that they are looking for; and
- Are easily accessible.
There is a lot involved in each of the above two requirements, from ensuring that your content is high quality and original, through to designing and building your site in such a way that users and search-engine bots can easily find all of your pages.
So why do you need others to link to your website? Links help the search engines’ crawlers to find your website and, in a basic sense, Google treats links as votes. If your site has a lot of links from other relevant, trustworthy and authoritative websites, it is likely to rank well, i.e. appear high in the search results for relevant terms. Conversely, if your site has a lot of links from irrelevant or untrustworthy websites, it is unlikely to rank well – and may even get delisted altogether.
An SEO’s job
Somewhat confusingly, the term SEO is also used for ‘Search Engine Optimiser’ – that is, someone who does SEO on your website. Their job can include all of the following and more:
- Helping you choose keywords that your website has a realistic chance of ranking for.
- Reviewing and optimising your website to ensure it meets Google’s design, technical and quality guidelines.
- Designing a content strategy to attract links and targeted visitors.
- Driving traffic to your site through social media.
- Building links through various means – guest posts, articles, lens, bookmarking, directories and more.
No SEO project is the same – to build an effective SEO campaign, your SEO needs to look at:
- Your existing site (if there is one)
- Past website performance and what has been done to achieve it
- Your goals
- Your competition (other websites selling the same products and services)
- Your budget
and come up with a plan that usually spans the course of 6 months or longer. This doesn’t mean you can’t get any results faster by targetting search terms that aren’t quite so difficult to achieve rankings for – it just means that to rank for the big terms, it takes time and there are no promises.
Broken promises and black hat SEO
The marketplace is rife with SEO companies and ‘professionals’. There’s no standards body keeping an eye on things, and so standards vary a great deal. Many big companies will try to tie you into a contract of at least 12 months, meaning that if you’re not seeing any results for your money, you’re stuck. After 12 months, if there’s still no results, the contract will rarely give you your money back – those that promise this often concede only a free period of more (non-effective) SEO in the small print. Big tip: Please, please read the small print.
At the other end of the scale, there’s the black hat gang who use dodgy techniques to get you fast results. Unfortunately these results are almost always shortlived – rankings fall, sites are delisted and companies are left to pick up the mess. Avoid them like the plague as they’ll cost you money fixing their mess in the long run and this can be a slow, painful process with Google.
So how do you avoid the dodgy SEOs? The answer is to take the time to really understand what you’re getting for your money. Don’t assume because a company is ranked highly in the search engines that this means they’re good. You don’t know what techniques they used to get there, or if they’ll put as much time and money into getting you rankings as they did for their own site. And whatever happens, avoid tying yourself into a long term contract, even if the Agency looks big and reputable – we pick up plenty of clients who have lost thousands of pounds signing with the big agencies and we’re as baffled as they are as to what exactly they got for their cash. If there are no results, the contracts often exonerate them from any responsibility at all.
The cost of SEO
Hourly rates for SEO vary a great deal and sadly, as noted above, this is not an industry where you simply get what you pay for. An hourly rate of £35/$60 is fairly for smaller companies and independent SEOs – larger agencies may charge as much as £80/$125 an hour and we have heard of higher. The important thing is to understand exactly what you’re getting for your money. The number of hours you need depends on your goals but around 8-10 would be the bare minimum to keep a site fresh and climbing the rankings.
Contact us for a fresh and affordable approach to SEO.