If you’re here reading this article, you’re probably someone who’s already burnt your fingers trying to use traditional SEO techniques and get your site ranked high among search results. And in the process, maybe you have been penalised by Google’s Panda or Penguin algorithms.
The Traditional Search Engine
During the legacy era of SEO, it was relatively easy to get your site ranked high among search results. In fact, it was the simple reason why the term SEO, i.e. Search Engine Optimisation, got coined. In order to understand how traditional SEO worked, let us try and understand how search engines worked initially.
In earlier days, a well designed website would have a page dedicated to the structure of the website, called the sitemap. This page highlighted what content existed within the website, and an automated robot (a computer program from the search engine) called the “search crawler” would visit the sitemap to index your website’s content and “learn” when to link to your website, based on user searches. If your website did not have a sitemap, the crawler would attempt to create one for you.
Over time, since many websites began to host similar content, what search engines started doing is, give priority to those sites which had other links on the web directing users to their content. In the real world, you can compare it to a busy road-intersection with many roads linking in from different directions at let’s say the city centre, against a small traffic diversion along the outskirts.
While the busy intersection would be getting traffic from all directions, the diversion along the outskirts would receive traffic from destined passengers or lost users of the road. And, the search engine would simply use the number of in-linking roads as the potential to bring in traffic to a destination and compute that the city centre is the actual hub of excitement – the place where you would like to go. So while, you could be looking for a ranch to go buy milk and bananas, the search engine could end up re-directing you to the El Rancho Supermarket chain where most of the other traffic is headed.
Actually, the strategy isn’t bad, and it’s basically how a search engine works even today. But, for most users, the search results would be great, and given the right context, the ranch you are looking for, would appear among the 3rd of 4th results on the page.
However, in the absence of context, there was a caveat that traditional SEO experts would use to increase the search visibility of low-quality sites. In real life, if you compare the content of a website to the products on the shelf of the supermarket that a hundred customers would purchase on an average day, against the visit to a lonely ranch that would happen once in two weeks, there were ways to make a business appear among top results on search engines.
Now if you are a ranch owner, and you are promised by your SEO agent that your ranch is going to appear as the number one among search results, he or she is probably going to use the traditional tricks in the book to get you to the top. How they do it, is simply by creating a lot of references on the web that create backlinks to your website. What you are trying to do here is, fool the web crawler into believing that there are more products and services at the ranch, available for consumers, in comparison to the supermarket chain. Which is probably not true.
As search engines evolved, they started to notice that many sites, colloquially called “thin sites” were getting promoted to top ranking among the search results, using such flimsy SEO techniques. Logically, the ratio of customers visiting a typical supermarket at a crowded city centre in comparison to a ranch would be approximately 500:1. It is thus obviously not correct that a search engine directs you to go visit the ranch, every time you search for milk and bananas.
But in the heat of things, there would also be cases where a ranch owner’s website will appear on the 2nd or 3rd page of search results, only because there are a lot of other supermarkets in the city selling milk and bananas. In such a case, the investing into a website may seem very futile as it will generate very little business, if you rely only on search engine results.
Amongst the developments that happened in the evolution of search engines and the growth of the internet, developers and web masters started to use keyword jacking in order to improve their site rankings. In the real world, it would mean, that if you are a ranch owner and you know that you can siphon out a few of the customers who are looking for milk and cookies, you will create a method to push those customers to your website who you will convince later to buy milk and bananas instead. So while your ranch does not offer cookies to its customers, you become concerned about the small percentage of those who are willing to make the shift. What you neglect by doing this is, there will be quite a few people who will reach your website, and sign off quickly, because they failed to find milk and cookies, that they could quickly find in the supermarket. And some of them might even talk ill about the search engine, that provided a link to your website.
Consider the case of a small hawker who sells cooked rice and curry at lunch time, near the supermarket. He too learns, that he could direct a few customers to himself, if he had a website. Now because milk and bananas are keywords that fall under the same category as food, and rice and curry are also categorised under food, his SEO agent, who did not have complete knowledge about the industry, decided to keyword jack his website, to get him top position among the search engine results. While he is selling only rice and curry to about a hundred customers on a particular day, and the supermarket is serving nearly a thousand visitors who are not just coming in for milk and bananas but a whole range of other products, “Mr. Rice & Curry dot com” becomes the top search result for someone looking for milk and bananas.
Your ranch’s website now, gets buried under the burden of large multi-product supermarket chains, as well as multiple small-time business owner’s websites. Some of them are remotely not even competition. But because their websites and other links on the web that were targeted using keywords that should ideally be used for your business or industry, your website sits lower in the rankings. In fact, very often websites are created with the sole purpose to cheat search engines by farming off content against other websites. They use the traffic to create advertising revenue from visitors. In reality, they do not offer meaningful content to their visitors.
Pandas, penguins and penalty
What Google did to penalise such websites, were release some free roaming animals on the internet that would visit the index results and penalise the websites that did not do justice to their position in the search results. This did this by a number of techniques. For example, if a user searched for the word “apple”, and instead of reaching the supermarket’s website, the ranch or the apple computer website, reached the website of the rice and curry seller, he or she would soon loose interest and leave the site.
What these animals do, is basically sniff around the web and find such sites, and penalise them among the indices. The algorithms are not executed everyday. So if you are using such techniques to improve the search results of your website, chances are your website could still appear high among search results and continue to do so for a few months more. But once you are penalised, your website will go down low, and even after corrective action is taken, it will stay low for many months to come because these algorithms will not revisit the lower ranked results again for a long time to come.
The correct method to do SEO
If you have read this far, you’re naturally interested in knowing what one should do to correctly manage SEO for your website. And the first go, we will advice you to stop chasing the top rank on a search engine. What you are looking for are hard numbers that mean business. Thus, you need to build visibility among the right audience, with the right message and talk to them meaningfully.
Let’s face facts. Shortcuts to success, will get your short-run success. If you’re hacking your way to the top of search results on Google, there is a great chance your website is going to be discovered by the penalty animals, sooner or later. If you do not want to get discovered by the Panda, then do not be the bamboo.
Content is king
A good optimisation strategy needs time to implement. If you are looking for your ranch to compete with the products in the supermarket, you will have to create new attractions for the visitors. Typically, new attractions would translate to more content on your website. It could be in the form of great new products and services, or experiences for your visitors.
Keep your visitor engaged
Your customers are going to prefer visiting the ranch over a supermarket for two simple reasons. Number one, the quality of products. Number two, the experience. While an ordinary customer could rush to the supermarket, purchase milk and bananas, and walk out with cookies in a bargain, a visitor to your ranch will prefer to buy organically grown fruits, and their child will make friends with your farm dog.
This is how the content on your website will make a difference. While an e-commerce website will have a large number of products that are in demand by a whole lot of consumers, the wandering visitor who visits your website may like to read about farming, agriculture, different crop in the season, or read about how your dog manages sheep in their pen. He or she may not actually end up buying milk and cheese from the website, and may still log in to the supermarket’s website if they are looking to make purchases online; but if you can reduce the bounce rate by creating content that people like to engage with, it will have a strong impact on your search rankings. More so, if your website has built in tools that allow them to share the content with others, and leave comments about why they like your content, you will create loyalty among your visitors. And that is precisely what you should aim for.
Invest in your growth
Once you have figured out who are the visitors to your website, try and learn what are they looking for. There can be an entire audience, who laterally start looking for ranches instead of farms, because there are no farms in the region that sell honey. Find that need, and fulfil it.
When your visitors will get what they are looking for on your website, it will improve your credibility, and word-of-mouth publicity. Even, if you do not hit the top rank on Google overnight, you will have added a product line, and the small number of customers who come to your ranch will be buying more products soon, or asking you to add more to your customer shelves. In short, your business will be doing what you want it to do.
Prune the hedges
Remove keywords from your website that it does not provide meaningful content for. To put it simply, if you are a coffee producer, do not talk about how milk is healthy for your bones, just because coffee and milk are related products. If you are not selling milk on your website, there is no point attracting visitors who want to buy milk. You might just get traffic in the short run, but the drop-rate will attract penalty.
If you believe in the 80:20 principle, then it is time to understand that if 80% of your visitors are looking for something that’s not available on your site, then your rankings are going to be among the lower 20% of the group where your website hold any credibility for the content you offer. If you are focussing on 20% of the market to bring you 80% of your business, then focus 100% of your content on the needs of the 20%. The extra 20% will happen automatically because of the trickle effect.
Results from a well-implemented SEO strategy will not come overnight. As you build content around products and services that create happy customers, recommendations that will come from satisfied visitors. Advertising and PR activities will help you boost conversion only when you have a solid foundation. That foundation will be evident not just on your site’s analytics dashboard, but also on your account statements.
When you build a holistic strategy involving great content, keep your visitors engaged, and optimally use the right calls-to-action. Your website should be robust enough for you to invest further in paid promotions and targeting specific audiences using other forms of digital media.
You will be confident to achieve parabolic growth if you strategy is sound. Be smart and make the right decisions.