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SEO Frequently Asked Questions

SEO isn’t magic, or based on secret know­ledge, despite what some scammers claim. It is simply hard work and number-crunching, based on pub­lished guidelines and con­stant exper­i­ments into what works and what doesn’t.

You can learn to do a lot of it yourself if you like — but you’ll need a best-of-breed SEO tool to do the number-crunching for you. Oh, and a lot of time…

Even then, that’s only a fraction of what my flexible digital mar­keting and SEO packages for small busi­nesses in the UK offer!

Still, SEO does prompt quite a few mis­un­der­standings and fre­quently asked ques­tions. So, here are the answers to a few of the most common ones.

SEO Basics

…or “What are the main SEO factors?”

The main factors used by search engines to rank web­sites can mostly be split into the fol­lowing on-page and off-page signals:

Off-page SEO Factors

  • Backlinks — how many other quality sites link to the target site?
  • Social Media — social media mar­keting activity matters

On-Page SEO Factors

  • Engagement — do vis­itors click on results, then stay to interact with the site?
  • Content — is it rel­evant, well-written, readable and unique?
  • Technical quality — code quality, security, speed and mobile-friend­liness matter

Of these, quality back­links are espe­cially important, because getting them takes a lot of work. It’s easy to get spammy back­links by the dozen, but these won’t help your site’s search engine pos­i­tioning. In fact, they could ser­i­ously damage it.

Still, there’s another factor, too: Consistency. Search engines want to promote quality sites. Because of this, they act­ively pen­alise quick-fix tactics, to stop folks from ‘gaming’ the system.

White Hat SEO

…or “White, black, grey — what’s with all the hats?”

It’s a cowboy-film analogy. As in, the good guys wear white hats, the bad guys wear black hats and there are some in between who wear grey hats. Sadly, not all SEO con­sultants are good guys.

This happens pre­cisely because good search engine pos­i­tioning is worth money. That means any SEO “guru” with a “magic bullet” tech­nique that guar­anteed good rankings fast (as many claim) would be worth a mint — until their secret got out. After that, everyone would be using it, lev­elling the playing field again.

In the meantime though, such an unfair advantage would also stifle com­pet­ition and destroy trust in search engines. Searchers want quality results, not results achieved through trickery or bribery. So, search engines have an incentive to provide the best results they can.

Whilst SEO quick-fixes do exist then, search engines work hard to pen­alise and ban sites that use them. So these are called “black hat” SEO tech­niques. By banning them, Google encourages busi­nesses to compete on quality (“white-hat” SEO) rather than on trying to trick their systems.

For the same reason, search engines label paid results as ads, so that searchers know those results offer no guar­antee of quality. That’s why many searchers ignore the paid ads, of course — and why unpaid (“organic”) search results remain so important to business success.

“So how do I know you’ll only do white-hat SEO?”

Good question. Actually, people who have met me rarely need to ask this, but oth­erwise it should be a fre­quently asked question.

So, for one thing, when Google detects sites that use black-hat SEO tech­niques, the pen­alties it applies can be very costly or even impossible to undo. Sometimes, the only solution is to give up on the site and start again with a dif­ferent domain name. As such, when pen­alties hit, those who practice black-hat SEO are often quick to disappear.

These black-hats tend to style them­selves as “gurus”, talking about “SEO secrets” — or at least as SEO spe­cialists. That’s because, if SEO is your entire business, the incentive for quick-fixes is sig­ni­ficant, if you’re pre­pared to run when the pen­alties hit. There are some really good, truly white-hat SEO spe­cialists around, but finding them by trial-and-error can be costly.

In con­trast, I’ve been in business since 2005 and I don’t just do SEO — though I have been doing it longer than many SEO “spe­cialists”. So I’m no fly-by-night, and as my clients rely on me for more than just search engine pos­i­tioning, running from Google pen­alties simply wouldn’t be pos­sible for me. So, I have no incentive for quick-fixes and every incentive to help folks build long-term rankings through reliable, white-hat SEO.

Local SEO

…or “What if I only trade in, say, Cardiff or Bristol — isn’t SEO only for national or global business?”

Not at all — local busi­nesses need SEO too! You may only trade in your local area, but folks still expect to find you online — and no, they won’t simply search for your name. They’ll search for the service they need, and their loc­ation — for instance, “plumber Cardiff” or “physio­ther­apist Newport”. If you aren’t on the first page of results, you’ve lost the sale. Local search is so important that search engines now modify results based on the searcher’s loc­ation anyway.

You may also like to check out my post on how to master Local SEO.

Keyword confusion

…or “My name is already first in Google, so I don’t need SEO, do I?”

Well, see above. Your business name is probably fairly unique, so it’s no sur­prise that you’re the first result if people search for that. The trouble is, they don’t — and your pos­ition for other search phrases will be very dif­ferent. Even if they did search for your name, that would just mean that they already knew you. SEO is about reaching those who don’t, in order to expand your market.

“Well, I’m first for ‘<insert search phrase here>’, so that’s enough, isn’t it?”

Is it? Maybe. If you monitor all the fol­lowing, then fine:

  • How much monthly traffic you’re getting from that phrase
  • Whether that traffic con­verts into customers
  • Whether or not other phrases might do better

Otherwise, that’s what you need to do — and that’s what SEO tools are for. If you’ve just guessed at a search term though, there’s a fair chance you’re at the top because it doesn’t gen­erate enough traffic for anyone else to be com­peting for it.

“So just add the keywords to my site — that won’t take long, will it?”

Well, I could — but it wouldn’t do any good. Search engines have been ignoring the “keywords” tag for over 15 years because people abused it. Whoever sug­gested that probably advised stuffing the page with your key phrase, too — pos­sibly in hidden text. That can now ser­i­ously damage your search pos­i­tioning. This is why you need reliable, up-to-date SEO advice, such as my Web Strategy Reviews offer.

SEO for SMEs and micro-businesses

…or “I’m small — can I get cheap SEO?”

As a small business owner myself, I feel your pain — I do. However, the rates I publish are rel­at­ively cheap SEO. We’re talking about hours of skilled work each month and data-gath­er­ing/number-crunching tools that don’t come cheap. Larger firms often spend thou­sands each month on search engine optim­isation. They know it’s a very effective form of mar­keting, and that effective mar­keting is defined as some­thing that makes more money than it costs.

So, the key question for you should really be, “How many extra sales would I need each month to pay for the SEO?” Then you need to figure out which search phrases are most likely to bring in that extra trade. Guessing these often gets them wrong — you need to run some numbers.

Still, some small busi­nesses operate on such tight margins that even extra sales don’t seem to justify a mar­keting expense. If that’s you, don’t get trapped — if your margins don’t let your business grow through mar­keting, it will stagnate. Would better margins let you afford mar­keting to get new business? Again, this is some­thing we can cover in a Web Strategy Review.

“…but X is cheaper?”

Fine — try X. At your own risk. I can’t guar­antee that your site’s per­formance in search engine results pages (SERPs) will be fixable after it stops working, though.

Fast and/or cheap SEO is pos­sible — by using banned, “black hat” tech­niques. These ser­vices usually offer a guar­antee of “first page on Google,” too. They can work for a while — but when search engines spot the breach of their Terms, they apply search pen­alties, or even ban sites com­pletely. Dodgy SEO ser­vices then dis­appear — after all, they don’t lose any­thing if an ex-cli­ent’s site has been dropped by Google, right? Other tactics may include deliv­ering fake traffic or building tem­porary links that “magically” dis­appear if you stop paying them…

Of course, most spe­cialists won’t admit to using black hat tech­niques. There are some good ones who only use safe “white hat” methods, but they aren’t cheap. However, some spe­cialists charge just as much and simply take bigger profits, so even cost isn’t a reliable indicator.

In fact, it’s hard to tell if a spe­cialist is truly “white hat” unless you keep up with the ever-changing search engine guidelines and have the tools and skills to invest­igate what methods firm has actually used on a given site. I’ve even heard horror stories from exper­i­enced web techs and top digital mar­keters who have been taken in by “SEO specialists”.

So, how am I dif­ferent? Well for a start, as a pro­fes­sional web designer who has been giving ongoing support to clients since 2005, it would be hard for me to simply dis­appear. I also have the rel­evant tools, skills and exper­ience to provide white hat SEO ser­vices. So, whilst I mostly do my own SEO, I’m also in an excellent pos­ition to test other ser­vices. Over the years, I’ve done so, and now partner with the (very) few that I trust to manage the most time-con­suming optim­isation tasks. Basically, I took the risks so that you don’t have to.

Getting fast results with SEO

…or “I need fast results! How can I get good search positioning quickly?”

Okay, I under­stand, but slow down. The answer is that you can’t — but there are some other strategies that could help. Let me explain…

SEO is the most cost-effective strategy for com­peting over the long term. Search engines want to deliver reliable, quality sites to their users though. Quick-fix SEO tactics are abused by dodgy sites and fake SEO spe­cialists, so they get heavily pen­alised. So, what are your options?

Paid Ads (PPC)

Well, paid ads for one. Google’s Adwords pro­gramme and Facebook advert­ising are the most notable players in the “Pay-Per-Click” (PPC) field at the moment. These can get traffic to your site fast, and if you do it well, that traffic can be very closely tar­geted (espe­cially through Facebook). Targeted traffic reduces the cost of each click on your ads, and increases the chance of those leads con­verting to cus­tomers. The idea is that, even if getting 100 extra vis­itors costs you £100, if just one con­verts to a cus­tomer worth £110, you just need to keep repeating that.

The problem with PPC is that you’re locked in. If you stop paying, that traffic dis­ap­pears overnight. Also, ads don’t always work that well, or forever — so it’s still an ongoing jug­gling act. By com­parison, whilst getting good search rankings isn’t fast or cheap, it tends to be cheaper than PPC over similar periods, and those rankings tend to last. They also build the authority of your brand, which improves conversions.

PPC is one of the few things I don’t offer direct help with right now. Why not? Because my fees for the work involved would add a fair bit to the mar­keting budget you’d need. I can help with con­sulta­tions, but most PPC systems try to make it easy for small busi­nesses to manage them in-house.

Other Ways To Get Website Traffic Fast

Still, some other tactics do exist that tend to produce faster results than tra­di­tional SEO, and yet aren’t pen­alised. They may not get results quite as quickly as a (well-run) PPC cam­paign can, but they can be more cost-effective and reliable in the long run. These, I can help with:

  • Press Releases — syn­dic­ating news items to groups of estab­lished news sites to get a share of their traffic, and natural back­links, too
  • Social Media Marketing — apart from building a social presence that will help your search rankings, some channels can be used for lead-pro­specting in various ways
  • Video Marketing — this went main­stream in 2017 and is expected to become dom­inant over the next few years. YouTube is actually the second biggest search engine — and Google owns it. So, videos on YouTube can promote your site on Google, too — often very quickly. Making videos can be costly, though, so you also need cost-effective ways to make videos that stand out
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