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January 17, 2007

Explaining what SEO’s do

Link: Explaining what SEO’s do

by Brian Turner

All this week I’ve been reading confusion on blogs and forums about what SEO’s actually do.

It seems a common perception is that SEO is simply the following:

i. Title tags
ii. meta tags
iii. h tags
iv. alt tags

And once done, any site can rank for a keyword such as “mortgages”.

Firstly, unless you have a very authoritative site in the first place, on-site SEO isn’t going to leverage major keyword rankings. Most people who come to me are SME’s who have websites that have no authority in their market.

Secondly, modifying the four elements above may seem simple, but it rarely is. Because the sites that most need them are often large and badly developed.

I’ve seen this recently on sites with hundreds or even thousands of pages. Static pages, not template driven ones.

And even where templates are used on large sites, you need to be able to develop custom rules for generating dynamic elements to cover your keywords and keep the pages unique - and enticing clickthroughs.

Basic on-page SEO is about creating that first platform for an internet presence that can be developed further. It can pull in a whole range of less competitive keywords focused around the business, as well as longtail and local targeted keywords.

This is important for businesses that have no internet presence to start with. And that’s surprisingly common.

One SME approached me yesterday with no presence. I showed them Google’s cache. It was a blank page. On-page SEO doesn’t look so trivial in such instances.

Anyway, I’m a specialist link developer, but recently I’ve found myself more active with on-page SEO. So here’s a few examples of the added requirements to the above list of on-page SEO that I commonly encounter, that can make any “simple on-page SEO” much more complicated:

1. URL rewriting

Developers commonly shunt out database-driven URLs simply because it suits them. True, search engines are getting better at indexing them, but let’s compare a couple of URLs:

a)example.com/cms_name/filetype.php?id=123&cat=456&search=789
&item=101112&noid=1&style=2&sessionid=213456&go=true

b) example.com/great-widgets/

Killing session IDs for guests and writing a URL to place a couple of descriptive keywords doesn’t simply offer potential search engine benefits - it also helps human visitors better use your site.

Additionally, re-writing URLs usually requires a re-evaluation of the site architecture, to ensure that the URL re-writing works in a logical and user-friendly manner.

Of course, if the URLs are rewritten for an established site, that also means ensuring the previous URLs are redirected as required - again, can be quite a challenge or simply laborious for some types of website.

2. Recoding for visibility

Search engines traditionally have problems reading Javascript - yet webdevelopers frequently employ menus built only in Javascript for navigation.

This is a clear example where “build for users, not search engines” falls down.

The solution usually involves rewriting to provide CSS solutions, not least CSS-driven navigation menus, where layers can be used to effect.

Again, this isn’t always a simple job, especially when applied to websites where CSS has either never been used, or else CSS stylesheets have been concurrently added by different developments, all leading to general mess that requires cleaning up.

3. Flash

Flash has to be one of the most abused developer tools out there. Sure, limited use can enhance a website - but too much can kill it’s accessibility.

Flash has multiple issues - content and navigation are not search engine friendly in a Flash site. Plus there are no unique URLs to link develop around or for human visitors to bookmark.

A simple solution is to simply create a noscript tag and place relevant text and links in there - but a warning is that links in a noscript tag may not parse PR.

A more complicated solution approach requires a redevelopment of the site architecture to provide useful pages in HTML format, either in the form of a non-Flash site, or else utilising links beneath the flash to provide alternative browsing for search engines and users, as required.

4. Frames

We know that search engines traditionally dislike frames at the best of times, though have gotten better at indexing.

How about sites built with frames within frames? I’ve seen that, and the result is zero indexing.

Either way, a problem with frames has always been that individual pages can be indexed, they are indexed without the frameset.

Although Javscript can be used to correct this to some degree, the bottom line is that there is no excuse for any serious business to have a second-rate frames-built site for customers.

Small sites can be easily rebuilt using PHP includes, or even a CMS, though things again can be more complicated with larger sites.

Again, it’s not as simple as placing tags in Flash-built site pages.

5. Conversions

SEO’s are primarily involved in pushing for rankings on search engines - but there’s little point ranking if the traffic is untargeted and doesn’t convert.

I once saw an angling site republishing Alexa pages on marketing companies. I have no idea why an angling site may think people searching for marketing companies therefore qualifies as good leads, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t convert well.

I’ve also seen another recent site which tried to drive it’s visitors to keyworded pages - which didn’t even link to the main products on the site. That’s like running a high street shop, inviting people in, but leaving the door locked. Not a great business strategy.

So in such instances not only do ranking pages generally need a call to action (CTA), but it also helps to ensure that call to action is clearly visible for converting visitors.

6. ROI

Even with the above, you have the traffic and call to action and you do convert. But - what’s the Return On Investment (ROI) from doing so?

Again, this is where better targeting keywords and rankings becomes a key issue.

I’ve monitored link development for clients and I know exactly how much they make, from both the longtail and targeted keyword phrases.

The conclusion - I never charge enough. :)

More seriously, it shows which keywords are converting best so that these can be further leveraged. Additionally, it shows weak areas that either need to be cast aside, or else invest in further development to strengthen them.

It’s also worth noting that no matter what keyword research tools you use before a campaign, you’ll likely find from your own tracking you snare some really niche keywords you were not aware of - that don’t simply have little competition, but also convert really well.

7. Content development

There’s an old mantra that “Content is king”, and for established sites they can really leverage this for traffic advantage.

However, even newer and less established sites can leverage content in more aggressive ways, such as installing a blog, news section, and even a forum, to really push on content generation.

The advatange being these can draw in traffic on the longtail for newer sites, and as these sites mature, so you then have content in spades to leverage the content further for rankings and traffic.

8. Link development

In my opinion there are only two significant areas in SEO:

i) On-site SEO
ii) Link development

Link development is my favourite past-time, and the challenges from Google grow ever more interesting. Although most links have some value, the ideal links is on-topic and on a strongly linked to page. This is even more a priority now that Google is obviously applying clustering ttechnology in its results.

However, linkdevelopment in itself shouldn’t be regarded as completely divorced from on-site SEO. A good link development campaign really should work with the content on the site and use it as a platform to work with, not simply for attacking major keywords, but also for targeting the longtail.

A Landing Page strategy is an obvious method for marrying the two concepts well.

For more information on link development strategies, Andy Hagans worked on an excellent list, and also bear in mind Eric Ward’s comments about link profiles for a site.

Overall

Is that all that on-page SEO can be involved with? Probably not.

But hopefully this should illustrate that on-page SEO development can be time-consuming and require a range of different skillsets to address a range of different problems.

The bottom line - on-page SEO requires a specialist box of skills, and most SME’s in particular will not be well equipped to address such issues on their sites - especially as general webdevelopment companies continue to be ignorant of even basic SEO issues.

Another point to highlight is that having a search-engine friendly site in itself is usually not enough for competitive marketplaces - so expectations that there exists a single one-off fix to address all SEO issues for all-time can be very misplaced indeed.

Overall, SEO is focused on developing and maintaining a competitive advantage in a very dynamic internet landscape. Those who think they can stop doing SEO on their business sites risk losing out on a key strategy for sales generation.





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2 Comments »
  1. […] I’ve written up a more extended report explaining what SEO’s do for on-site optimisation, but here are some of the commonest problem areas: […]

    Pingback by Brian’s Business Blog » Why on-page SEO is a service in demand — January 19, 2007 @ 2:35 pm

  2. Nice write up Brian.

    My take on SEO is that the #1 priority is keyword research. All the on page website optimisation and link building in the world is worthless if the wrong phrases are targetted.

    The next 2 points may cause some debate amongst purists who go along with the “content is king” mantra, but I have ranked #1 for a competitive term for a page with nothing but a picture on it (no keywords in the file name and no ALT tags) purely of the back of a couple of good links. So at #2 is inbound links and #3 content.

    Comment by DaveO — May 24, 2007 @ 10:04 am

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