FAQ - Simple DIY search engine optimisation for everyone

Question
Can I get a good Google ranking without using pay per click aka PPC?
Answer

That is a yellow, perhaps gold brick road to the Land of Oz for Companies wanting to gain more business through internet searches: and the caveat is to do this at the lowest possible cost. We will look at this question here and if you are new to this games or even if you have been around it for a while and wondered what goes on, you may be surprised by the simplicity of it all. Some related questions which we will touch on are:

  • Is DIY Search engine optimisation of your website an option?
  • What is a very good way forward to gain more business through internet searches?
  • What are the common traps to avoid when trying to get your web site noticed?

The very first questions to ask are: what is search engine optimisation and what is pay per click? The answers are both simple and also perhaps not exactly what you would expect. When people enter words into Google (or other search engines), Google will list web sites which it feels relevant to the words entered. Clearly there are millions upon millions of sites and they are all different. Google has what are called robots or web crawlers which tirelessly go from web page to web page and read and automatically catalogue the contents for each and every page they find. If you search (for instance on the words 'nursing agency operating software') you get a list (which includes our site www.ava.co.uk).  The actual words in that order may not appear on our site. However the www.ava.co.uk site does (in web terms) put its hand up when the Google robot comes along and says: the words "nursing", "agency" and "software" are important for the contents of quite a few pages on our site. It is this electronic equivalent of waving to say "hello" to the Google robot (and if it helps why not metaphorically buy the robot a beer?) This is called Search engine optimisation or S.E.O. for short.

If you have not prettied up your web site in robot terms then PPC or 'pay per click' is a good but possibly expensive way to kick off traffic to your website. There are a few things about PPC that are well known within the industry but will come as a surprise to those entering the arena for the first time. The real advantage of PPC is: the person clicking declared their interest and gone to the trouble of entering words that feature heavily on your site. Of course if you have chosen one (set of) words and the majority of people describe your product in a different way, they will not find your site quickly or possibly at all.

You should always remember that people will visit your site for free if your site has a naturally high page ranking on those self same search terms. They might even visit more so because some people have an aversion to clicking on (paid) Ad links. People with such aversion are generally more knowledgeable about the internet: they may be your best informed prospects as customers. Either way you need to get inside the head of your potential customers and what find what words they will use to search for your product. There is a link at the end of this article which discusses this in more detail. In 'pay per click' (PPC) as a rule, narrow terms are cheap, wide or generic terms expensive. Google runs an auction so your competitors who also use pay per click set the cost of your entry.  This is good for the established guys and definitely bad for the start ups. Fortunately, this is not quite the whole story.... If for some reason Google deems your site more interesting than your competitors they can or will (implicitly) offer you a PPC ad at less cost. In drinks terms: by making your site a malt whisky rather than an alcohol free beer, it may be more attractive. Put it another way: your pay per click bid will achieve a higher ranking for the same cost.

The bonus is that if the terms that you think are appropriate are the ones that your potential customer thinks appropriate, they are at least thinking about buying your product or one like it. That is a very good quality lead!

If you'd like to see an example of how small changes in search terms can affect your PPC spend then there is a more detailed examination of this on our site (there are links at the end):

Probably, if you have an internet site, you will on a weekly basis receive an email from cheapo.search.engine.optimisation@gmail.com. I know I do: although I receive less so now that our web site is ranked 1, 2 or 3 on the search terms we want. It currently takes us less than 3 hours a week to keep it there. Of course if we spent our time unwisely then we could easily take all week and have much less success. We provide Temp Agency software or Staff bank software for temping: mostly used by Nursing agencies: our web site is www.ava.co.uk. Please feel free to search on any terms that relate to the temping agency software sector and let me know if we are not on page one, in the top 3 or four entries.

If you have done that, then you know that there is significant substance behind this article.

So back to these unsolicited "cheapo search ranking co" enquires.  What will they claim to do for you and how will they (attempt) to do it? Can you do it yourself and do it better? (The answer is probably yes, so please read on.)

The most basic thing is to understand the reason that Google is successful. Google is successful because they rank sites according to three or more strong criteria and one overriding strategy. The criteria are (not necessarily in this order):

Number of inbound links (and the ranking of the inbound site): a so called authoritative ranking. This is why people try to get (for example) links from Wikipedia to their site.

Number of outbound links: How interested are the site web masters in providing a good search experience and so helping Google work. This is a web connectivity ranking. In this case links to "important" sites are of more benefit that unimportant sites.

Content: (active content). This is why you should have a weekly task of providing a new content page. Its why there are 3 (content) or 4 (active content) reasons for Google ranking. For a period last year we did not update our site on a regular basis: we were working flat out on new functionality in our software. Our ranking slid to the 3rd or 4th pages of Google search. It immediately started climbing once we started adding new material again. How do we know? We installed Google analytics which tells us.

Traditionally, every 7 to 10 days, Google will search your site to see if there have been new pages added. If there is, it will update its indexes and (it seems) give you a few extra points for effort.

Google are not standoffish in trying to help you get a good site ranking. However, they are very secretive about how they refine their search algorithm: i.e. give your web site its ranking. There are a number of very good reasons for this.

  • 1. If they told you exactly how they rank sites, the competition would do the same (or just look for better ways).
  • 2.  If they told you exactly how they rank sites, search engine optimisation companies (S.E.O.) would look for short cuts. (S.E.O. companies try shortcuts anyway and Google continuously fights this.)
  • 3. By definition the more effective their methods, the more likely you are to choose a site they rank highly and vice versa: the precise information that you are searching for should be highly ranked. Sounds obvious! Easy to say, complex to do.

Making sure what you search for is highly ranked is definitely not as simple as an: if a then b equation. Google has achieved constantly improving search over the past fourteen years since Google first started indexing the web. There is a link to a nice article about the Google start up at the end.
Google ranking means (amongst other things) a degree of what is technically know as recursion, sometimes also known as feedback. Ok two terms neither of which mean anything to non mathematicians. Let us put it in plain English. The ranking they give a site is (to a degree) dependent on the ranking they have previously given the site.
Example:

  • a)  So a site is highly ranked, but when people click on to it: it does not contain what they want and they leave and choose another link listed by Google.  This site should be ranked lower next week (or the next ranking calculation).
  • b) A lot of people click on the site that is at the bottom of 1st/2nd/3rd page and then do not search further. Probably means that page is what they want. Who searches further after saying to themselves I've found it? This site should be ranked higher next week (or the next ranking calculation).
  • c) New pages should be given a fair chance to be picked so that the search ranking can evolve quickly.
  • d) Old pages no one clicks onto go to the bottom of the class.

Now S.E.O. companies are always looking for short cuts: it means they can charge you more for less work. If your site is not what the searcher wants: reason 3 means that Google will work against the "optimisation". If your site is what the searcher wants then reason 3 means that Google will reinforce the "optimisation". If your site is really really what the searcher wants then b and c means that Google will do this for you over a month or two for free. The best result we have had is a page that was published one month and ranked 2nd (on page 1) within 6 weeks. And no it was not exotic content!

On the other hand Google tracks not only how many clicks you get to your site, but when and where they come from. Google is always looking (for example in simple terms) for the same PC clicking on same links to the same sites at similar times of the day or week. This is not a pattern of activity that is consistent with someone searching for stuff. People search for different stuff. A lot of people search for a lot of stuff. Google analyse the pattern of a lot of people searching for a lot of stuff. Clicks that fall outside this pattern are disregarded.

What not to do:

  • 1. Have any link whatsoever to any dubious site. Google will effectively remove you from ranking lists: you can apply to have you ranking reinstated once such links are gone.
  • 2. Copy (cut and paste) material from other sites (to make your site more interesting). Google will have already indexed the other site (you got there so: so did they) and will decimate your ranking.
  • 3. Duplicate pages (cut and paste your own stuff) on your site: Google will simply divide each page ranking by 2, 3 or more as appropriate.
  • 4. Employ someone to search for comments boxes on blogs or other sites and just paste the same old links and texts back to your site (duplicated non relevant comment). Google will match these up, see them for what they are and disregard them or even negatively rate your site. (This is often the "service" that "cheapo search engine optimiser" provides.) They often employ someone in India and that person will be leaving a trail back to them, when they visit sites to comment: it's a trail that leads to other companies using their services with similar entries.  Google will match these up and do the maths and devalue them.
  • 5. Respond to unsolicited emails offering "reciprocal" links or link swaps. Invariably such sites will just contain links and very little else. They will not do your site ranking much good at all.
  • 6. Use a 'dot com' address when you are a 'dot co dot uk' business. Google uses the area specific part of your address to help narrow searches.

To sum up what not to do: the people at Google are very clever: their mission is to provide links to sites that give value for your search efforts. Make your site a good site. Provide information that is useful to your customers or potential customers for them to read and view. Your customers will thank you by reading or viewing it. Google will notice their spending time on your site and thank you by improving the page rank. Don't try short cuts. Google have been doing this job longer than anyone and refine their search procedures daily (no exaggeration) to detect "suspicious activity or patterns to links".  They know each computer that accesses you site and can tell if it is in India (cheapo SEO) or in the UK (potential customer?). Google also know if viewing habits correspond to a real customer or an employee who the boss has asked to browse the site.

What to do:

Google have an unwritten contract, call it a strategy if you like. It's the basis of their business. If your site provides what people are searching for then Google must rank it highly.  If your site provides what people are searching for: Google pay per click must be cheaper or rank you higher for your payment otherwise it's a disincentive to click on pay per click.
So:

  • 1. Get your existing customer or competitors to help you define your customer(s)
  • 2. Provide additional helpful information customers really want.
  • 3. Provide information they want with good quality off site links.
  • 4. Publish pages on your web site in a digestible way that is also web search engine friendly and keep adding regularly.
  • 5. Setup Google analytics and don't be disappointed if a few things you try don't work as well as you hoped initially. Keep going.
  • 6. Start ticking off the list at 101 Tips to Improve Your Web Presence

Google will recognise your individual style and not confuse it with mass produced links. Happy DIY S.E.O..

Ian Pettman has a degree in Physics from Oxford University and for (at least) the past ten years has been Managing Director of Added value applications www.ava.co.uk, producing quality software for the temporary staffing and staff bank sector.

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This FAQ was last updated on Wednesday, September 30, 2015

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