Beginners Guide to SEO

When a client approaches us about SEO, we often times have to clear up common misconceptions regarding how it all works.

The neverending updates and changes are the biggest reason for this. Google updates it’s algorithm hundreds of times per year! What worked last year doesn’t work today. What works tomorrow may not work 6 months from now. To better understand how some of the changes could have affected your web presence, we have outlined the biggest updates below:

Humming Bird: The biggest change in Google’s algorithm since 2001. Humming Bird is the engine that drives Googles Search. While there are other updates they all feed into Hummingbird. The Hummingbird update started in September 2013.

Penguin: Launched in April 2012, this update punished websites engaging in illegal link networks. Links are one of the most important ranking signals. Other websites backlink to you if you create good content.

Panda: Panda launched in February 2011. The purpose is to lower the rank of websites that keyword stuff and/or create thin content. Everything starts with content. Without content, your website can’t exist.

Payday: Designed to penalize website using spammy queries related to payday loans.

Pigeon: Designed to provide more accurate and relevant local search results.

Top Heavy: Downgrades a web page with too many ads that distract users from content.

Mobile Friendly: With the popularity of smartphones, relevant mobile results are important. If you have a mobile optimized site you’ll get a bump over a website that doesn’t.

Pirate: Prevents websites that have several copyright infringement reports from ranking well in Google.

Rankbrain: A machine learning algorithm change that adjusts on the fly without human interference.

These updates play into the 200 main signals that Google uses to determine how to rank your website. With all of these changes and ranking signals, how does a small or even large scale business not only keep up but also thrive in Google’s search engine? While there are an endless amount of SEO strategies it all starts with one thing: Content! Without content, your website and SEO doesn’t exist.

This guide will help you better understand how SEO works so you can ultimately position yourself better in search and also choose the right company to manage your online presence. It will get you up to speed on how SEO works today while also staying ahead of all the changes to Google’s algorithm. It will also help you stop dishonest SEO companies from taking advantage of you.

How does SEO work?

Because Google is a text-based search engine, Google relies on content. Content helps Google determine how and where to index you. If you write useful and informative content it spills over to all the other relevant ranking signals.

So will simply writing great content help you outrank your competitors?

Yes and No. Content doesn’t just mean a blog post or article. It can also include titles, meta description, alt tags, header tags or image alt text. These are signals you leave on the backend of your website that let Google know how to index you. Stuffing the back end of your website with keywords also isn’t advised. They should be carefully selected and positioned to ensure maximum exposure in search engines.

As mentioned above, there are 200 ranking signals that Google looks for in your content to determine how and where to rank you. Some of the other ranking signals include but are not limited to location, social signals, user experience and freshness of content.

A Quick History of SEO

When Google first started, their search engine was extremely exploitable. Black Hat SEO emerged and created an all around poor experience for legitimate businesses trying to rank organically. It also costs Google a fortune in ad revenue. Google’s aim is to organize the world’s data which also generates revenue for their ad words platform.

Since that point, Google has updated their algorithm to favor good content creating a more level playing field for small businesses to thrive. The updated algorithm is designed to prevent internet spam and exploitation. It’s also designed to bring useful, informative content to the top of rankings. A big part of Google’s algorithm is about relevancy and proximity.

If you live in Denver and search for “Best Sandwich Shop” it will show you results in and around your immediate area. It won’t show you a sandwich shop in Spain or Africa unless you specify.

When black hat SEO ruled, you could rank anywhere in the world for whatever keyword. The user experience was ruined and it was difficult for legitimate businesses to thrive online without using these tactics.

Think of it this way. What if you were searching for “Men’s Running Shoes” and instead you found a bunch of search results for Viagra, Payday loans or 24-hour weight loss pills? During this time is what you could expect to run into when using Google search.

If a website has no content, is it really a website?

With content, you can communicate with Google. You can leave clues on your website that tell Google what you want to rank for. The more good content you create the more SEO opportunities that you have. Without content, you can’t optimize your website or get indexed in Google. A website doesn’t exist unless there is content.

What are the biggest factors in SEO?

The three biggest factors in SEO are content, links and RankBrain.

What’s RankBrain?

Rankbrain is a machine learning system that filters through billions of search queries. It does this without any human interference to determine the most relevant search terms. It’s artificial intelligence and is now used in 100% of Google’s search queries. Machine learning/AI is still a relatively new concept in search. The effects of Rankbrain are still mysterious and no one is sure how this will affect everyday search.

How do links play into SEO?

Links are like Google’s own voting system for websites. When SEO first started, the more links you had, the more reputable of a website you were in Google’s eyes. Websites will only link to you if you create good and relevant content. Google looks at quality over quantity when looking at your backlink profile. While you cannot directly control which websites link to you, Google understands that a strong backlink profile has a mix of both good and bad links. Because of this, you won’t get a penalty if lower quality websites link back to you.

For example, if you’re a blogger just starting out and get a backlink from the food network, that is a huge vote of confidence in Google’s eyes which will result in a boost in rankings.

So how do RankBrain, content, and links fit together?

You can’t have links unless you have content.

Google filters through queries to makes sense of all the words on your website. It then decides which queries are the most relevant for the person searching at that point in time.

The best thing to do is to aim for content first and links second. If you write good, relevant content then RankBrain will handle the rest. Google has placed the future of its company on machine-learning artificial intelligence. Instead of having to teach a computer to do something, machine learning can teach itself. While RankBrain is only one of hundreds of signals, it’s among the three most important and is now used in 100% of search queries.

What about Google Penalties?

If you stay within Google’s guidelines and create good content, you’ll never get penalized!

Google will only penalize a website that tries to game its algorithm. A complete blacklist is rare and only reserved for the worst offenders. If you do by chance receive a penalty, whether it’s on purpose or by accident, you’ll have a chance to fix the issue and allow Google to re-index you. If you are a habitual offender you can get permanently blacklisted or “sandboxed” which Google makes extremely difficult to come back from.

If you post duplicate content on your website by mistake, you won’t necessarily get a penalty. It just means that the original website will most likely outrank you as they already rank for the same content.

Remember, Google’s goal is to organize the internet. An organized internet means they can create a better user experience and sell ad space. Disrupting this organization will hurt Google’s bottom line.

So what next?

There are a lot of moving parts in the SEO world. The right SEO team can not only boost your Google ranking, they can also dodge the landmines that go with search engine optimization. They can give you a long-term content strategy that helps your website rank for new keywords and create a lasting impression on people who land on our website. They can also anticipate and adjust to any Google algorithm changes on the fly.

If you’re interested in a full Competitor SEO analysis give us a call. Our team will go over all the keywords your competition is ranking for and devise a strong ongoing strategy moving forwards. (303) 860-6050