If you’re confused by search engine optimisation and bewildered by some of the terms bandied about like keyword density and meta tags, then worry not, you’re not on your own.
Specialists in this field have striven to come up with the perfect, cast-iron formula for the ultimate search engine-friendly website for years now and still appear to be somewhat off the pace. This Yellow Brick road is littered with casualties who falsely believed they’d cracked this elusive formula, and sadly this collateral damage will only continue. So, will SEO’s ever crack the code be able to guarantee your business first page ranking?
The short answer to that is no. Any SEO adviser judges their success on the ability to get your business website to the top of the search engine rankings, but the problem is the search engines that determine who gets where and when, keep changing the position of the goalposts, much to the frustration of everyone involved. Initially, SEO’s believed that keyword placement, density and meta tags would unlock the doorway to Nirvana. Unfortunately Google changed the locks. In fairness to the search engine there was sufficient evidence to suggest that serious manipulation was taking place skewing the search results so that sites that didn’t merit in terms of content were appearing in positions that couldn’t be justified.
When Google changed its algorithm it didn’t take long for SEO’s to realise that the key to successful placement was more dependent on links.
Link building, in essence, is about exchanging good quality content with other websites in return for a link. Above all else, Google values high quality content, and appeared happy to accept the idea of back-linking, especially if that link came from a high quality, respected source. Unfortunately there has been a growing manipulation of this practice too with some advisers adopting black hat tactics, by paying for these links without providing the necessary content in exchange. This has skewed the results, so once again Google and the other search engines have changed the parameters to eliminate content farms and sort the ether-wheat out from the chaff.
So, what’s the position now? How do search engines determine ranking? During the last few years there has been a phenomenal growth in the popularity of social media. Both Facebook and Twitter are respected for their ability to promote both brands and websites as well as for the candour and truth when it comes to recommending websites. Users trust the views and opinions of their friends more than they necessarily trust the accuracy of ranking. The problem has been that search engines haven’t always reflected this, or not to the extent that you might expect. It’s only recently that the search engines have started to incorporate these recommendations, or people power, for want of a better phrase, into their search results. Even this though is far from the perfect solution as there is compelling evidence to suggest that manipulation is easy to achieve here too, with followers following accounts that follow theirs to increase their coverage and elevate their influence.
The final piece in the jigsaw has been the changes brought about by the extension to Google Chrome – or at least, the final piece for now.
Users can now block websites from within the search results themselves and report the matter back so that Google can investigate whether anything untoward is going on. If masses of users do block these suspicious sites, Google believes it can finally eradicate content farms and eliminate low quality content, so that search engine rankings will finally be a true reflection of a website’s worth.
If you believe everything you read, this would suggest that the job’s now done. However, that is too simplistic a view. Sharp practices in SEO only came about because some advisers were obliged to deliver the instant results their clients demanded. That will never change: human nature won’t allow it. Instant gratification, however, isn’t sustainable. The only way to sustain search engine ranking is by organic growth and that involves a combination of every method of optimisation from keyword research to linking and social media. To get to the top of the rankings requires hard work and serious endeavour: to stay at the top, you have to work even harder.