19 May 2013 | BlueBridge One

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is a term that has different meanings for different people. What’s certain is that the way Google ranks pages in its search results has changed dramatically in the past two years, following major updates, referred to as Panda and Penguin!

For a small online business which relies heavily on Google traffic, a drop in search rankings will mean a drop in sales. That can have severe consequences.

With so many different SEO companies out there and so many different opinions, how do you know who to listen to and who to trust?

I think the best place to start is to actually listen to what Google recommends. Think of it as straight from the horse’s mouth. I follow the Google Webmaster Central posts and also listen to Matt Cutts, the head of Google spam team. Furthermore, I am a member of SEOmoz and have been involved with SEO optimisation for many eCommerce sites.

Here is my summary:

The past

It’s no longer viable to use tricks behind the scene or resort to low quality artificial backlinks to boost the ranking of a website. I have seen first hand various sites being penalised by Google due to acquiring links from sites that are only there to provide links; such as low quality directories, low quality press release websites, article directories, artificial blogs, etc. Basically, the Google search algorithm has become very smart. If it identifies a link that looks un-natural or paid for (often acquired by SEO companies), your site’s ranking will suffer.

The future

Focus on the needs of your site’s users and the SEO benefits will follow. That is what Google says and I tend to agree with them. Now, what does that actually mean? It means understanding the specific pains, problems and needs of your specific target customers and providing them with the relevant and high quality information that they are searching for.

It means providing your target customers with an unparalleled user experience – a user experience that means buyers can find what they are looking for with minimum amount of clicks, and then be able to complete a transaction in a seamless manner. SEO still has a place when it comes to fixing the technical and HTML aspects of your site – so-called on-page optimisation.

On-page optimisation is everything to do with making your site more SEO friendly and more optimised for the right keywords. Again, the focus here should be on what will benefit your audience first, followed by keyword optimisation based on the knowledge gained from researching what people actually search for.

Here is an extract from a recent post from Google Webmaster Central, Another step to reward high-quality sites, which explains good practice SEO in a concise and easy to understand paragraph.

“White hat search engine optimizers often improve the usability of a site, help create great content, or make sites faster, which is good for both users and search engines. Good search engine optimization can also mean good marketing: thinking about creative ways to make a site more compelling, which can help with search engines as well as social media. The net result of making a great site is often greater awareness of that site on the web, which can translate into more people linking to or visiting a site.”