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…
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.
…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.
…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.
…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. That’s what my Web Strategy Reviews are for.
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