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by Stephen Logan on 15th October 2010
In SEO there aren’t any magical mathematical formulas that will guarantee success. A + B will very rarely = C. It’s just not that simple or logical.
SEO is in a constant evolutionary cycle. Built on the core principles of decent content and strong inbound links (more on which later), all other theories, methodologies and elements are subject to change. As optimisation is dictated by the search engines, who are also notoriously secretive, sites are largely at their mercy when it comes to algorithm updates and shifts in ranking factors.
You can build a great site and get no visibility whatsoever. That’s a quirk of search engines. You can also build a bad site, break every rule and rank quite happily in the top 5 for a competitive term. Again, that’s beyond the control and comprehension of most people.
This of course rubbishes any suggestion that you will get out what you put into a website. It’s not quite that black and white – not always at least.
However, the one thing that we can safely say about it is that SEO isn’t static. Quite the opposite in fact.
Rankings fluctuate from day to day. This can be caused by an algorithm update, competitors out-muscling each other or just another of those search engine tests (‘we’ll put Site X up into position two and see if searchers find it relevant’). But if you want yours to fluctuate in a largely positive fashion, then you have to be positive yourself.
So you’ve built a great site that has no rankings. What’s wrong with it? Whilst it might have a great design and some cutting edge imagery, something is holding it back. Maybe it’s lacking content, perhaps people just aren’t linking to you. In order to get traction in SEO, you have to be prepared to give it a push start.
Getting the SEO Basics Right
Make sure you’ve taken the time to write unique, keyword optimised content for each of your primary pages. This will at least tell Google what it is that you’re hoping to rank for [see: SEO Copywriting Made Easy].
Build up some links too. Without these you are restricting the entry points for the spiders and will lack authority. As links are seen as a vote of confidence, the more you receive, the stronger your site will appear – particularly if they come from established sources of some renown.
These are the two struts on which all else should be built. Get these right and you’ll at least be heading in the right direction.
But a good start isn’t going to guarantee you long-term success. You need to build momentum, and keep building it too.
Building From the Bottom Up
Unless you have a huge brand behind you or a significant offline marketing campaign in progress, you can’t assume that consumers will simply gravitate towards your site. Natural links will come, but only when people are aware of you. Until this happens, you have to be pro-active.
This means getting out there to build awareness and links (both socially and literally). If you’re not writing a blog already, could you? If you haven’t developed a social presence on sites like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, is this something you might consider?
You don’t want to become a jack of all trades and allow your site to suffer as a consequence; but if you’ve reached an impasse with your SEO efforts, don’t stand still and simply hope for improvements.
Returning to the idea of developing a blog briefly, this isn’t just a great way of generating interest, it will also expand your site. Any page within a site has the potential to rank for a target keyword. The stronger the page is, the higher it will rank. So a blog is essentially your chance to appear in SERPs for more terms related to your wider business – particularly in the long-tail. This increases visibility and access points to your site.
More pages also offer greater opportunities for natural links. If somebody likes what you have to say, they are more likely to share it. There are no guarantees of course, but it’s a positive action (designed to encourage an equally positive reaction). This can also be achieved by introducing FAQs or any other useful ‘help’ area [see: How to Include More Useful Content on Your Website].
Explore, Expand and Test
Essentially the ball is your court with SEO. Whilst you can’t do anything to control search engine updates, you can at least be getting the fundamentals right [see: Google Updates: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Carry on Optimising]. There’s no finishing post where optimisation is concerned, a top ranking can’t be guaranteed for life. You have to work hard and keep working hard to achieve your goals.
Slippages will happen, efforts might occasionally go unrewarded, but that’s no reason to abandon SEO in its entirety. It’s not static, things change. As a site owner, it’s your job to keep up with the changes and stay ahead of the competition.
When there’s advice being given on how to improve your site, take it. If you spot a potential issue, fix it. If something’s clearly not working for you, ditch it.
SEO conventions shift in line with the rules laid down by Google. But you can only optimise in the here and now. Worrying about how future updates might affect your site will blind you to its current deficiencies. Whatever the algorithm updates may bring, search engines will always be looking for two simple things: 1) relevance and 2) authority. If you can prove these (better than your competitors at least), then you can succeed.