There is a lot of talk on the web regarding Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and how, if you just do this one thing, you will be at the top of Google. If only it were that easy! In fact, I believe there are seven distinct skills that a search engine optimiser needs to possess. Most people possess one or maybe two of these skills, very rarely do people posses all seven. In truth, to get to all seven, people who are good at two of these need to actively develop the other skills. This takes time and effort and, if you are running your own business, do you really have the time to do this?
The seven skills that I believe are necessary for SEO work are:
Web Design – producing a visually attractive page
HTML coding – developing Search Engine friendly coding that sits behind the web design
Copy writing – producing the actual readable text on the page
Marketing – what are the actual searches that are being used, what key words actually get more business for your company?
An eye for detail – even the smallest errors can stop spiderbots visiting your site.
Patience – there is a time lag on any change you make, waiting is a virtue.
IT skills – an appreciation of how search engine programs and the algorithms they use actually work
Many website designers produce more and more eye-catching designs with animations and clever features hoping to entice the people onto their sites. This is the first big mistake; using designs like these may actually decrease your chances of a high Google rating. Yes, that’s right; all that money you have paid for the website design could be wasted because no-one will ever find your site.
The reason for this is that before you get people to your site you need to get the spiderbots to like your site. Spiderbots are pieces of software used by the search engine companies to crawl the Internet looking at all the websites, and then having reviewed the sites, they use complex algorithms to rank the sites. Some of the complex techniques used by web designers cannot be trawled by spiderbots. They come to your site, look at the HTML code and exit stage right, without even bothering to rank your site. So, you will not be found on any meaningful search.
I am amazed how many times I look at websites and I immediately know they are a waste of money. The trouble is that both the web designers and the company that paid the money really do not want to know this. In fact, I have stopped playing the messenger of bad news (too many shootings!); I now work round the problem.
So, optimising a website to be Google friendly is often a compromise between a visually attractive site and an easy to find site. The second skill is that of optimising the actual HTML code to be spiderbot friendly. I put this as different to the web design because you really do need to be “down and dirty” in the code rather than using an editor like FrontPage, which is OK for website design. This skill takes lots of time and experience to develop, and just when you think you have cracked it, the search engine companies change the algorithms used to calculate how high your site will appear in the search results.
This is no place for even the most enthusiastic amateur. Results need to be constantly monitored, pieces of code added or removed, and a check kept on what the competition are doing. Many people who design their own website feel they will get searched because it looks good, and totally miss out this step. Without a strong technical understanding of how spiderbots work, you will always struggle to get your company on the first results page in Google. We actually run seven test domains which are testing different theories with different search engines. Remember that different search engines use different criteria and algorithms to rank your site – one size does not fit all.
Thirdly, I suggested that copy writing is a skill in its own right. This is the writing of the actual text that people coming to your site will read. The Googlebot and other spiderbots like Inktomi, love text – but only when written well in properly constructed English. Some people try to stuff their site with keywords, while others put white writing on white space (so spiderbots can see it but humans cannot).
Spiderbots are very sophisticated and not only will not fall for these tricks, they may actively penalise your site – in Google terms, this is sandboxing. Google takes new sites and “naughty” sites and effectively sin-bins them for 3-6 months, you can still be found but n t until results page 14 – really useful! As well as good English, the spiderbots are also reading the HTML code, so the copy writer also needs an appreciation of the interplay between the two. My recommendation for anyone copy writing their own site is to write normal, well-constructed English sentences that can be read by machine and human alike.
The fourth skill is marketing, after all this is what we are doing – marketing you site and hence company and products/services on the Web. The key here is to set the site up to be accessible to the searches that will provide most business to you. I have seen many sites that can be found as you key in the company name. Others that can be found by keying in “Accountant Manchester North-West England”, which is great, except no-one ever actually does that search. So the marketing
skill requires knowledge of a company’s business, what they are really trying to sell and an understanding of what actual searches may provide dividends.
The next skill is an eye for detail. Even a simple change to a web page can create an error that means the spiderbots will not crawl your site. Recently, I put a link to a page that didn’t have www. at the front of the address. The link still worked but the spiders stopped crawling, and it took my partner to find the error. We have recently invested in a very sophisticated html validator that picks up errors that other validators just fail to see. These errors do not stop the pages displaying correctly to the human eye, but cause massive problems with spiderbots. Almost all the code that I look at on the web using this validator flags major errors, even from SEO companies.
The sixth skill is patience, or is it a virtue! Some people seem to want to make daily changes and then think they can track the web page ranking results the next day. Unfortunately, it can take a week for absolutely correct changes to take effect, in which time you have made six other changes. Add to this Google’s
reticence to allow new sites straight on to its listings by adding a waiting factor of, maybe, three months for new sites, and you have a totally uncontrollable situation. We say to all our clients that a piece of SEO work should be looked at like a marketing campaign that runs for six months, since it is only after that time that a true judgement of the effectiveness of the work can be made.
The final and seventh skill is an appreciation of how search engines and algorithms work, for this where both IT and maths experience is useful. People who have programmed at a detailed systems level have a natural feeling for how spiderbots will read a page, what they will search for, what tables they will set up, what weightings they may give to different elements. All of this builds a picture of the database that will be created and how it will be accessed when a search is undertaken. Unfortunately, this skill is the most difficult one to learn as it relies on many years experience of systems programming.
So, in summary, I would say “If it was easy everyone would be doing it!”. I hope you will see that professional Search Engine Optimisation companies need more than a bit of web design to improve your business. Make sure anyone you choose for SEO work can cover all the bases.