When it comes to SEO, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing

  1. Magnifying glasses on a blue background
    Ray Newman

    Ray Newman UKBF Regular

    147 31
    19 |

    Note: at UKBF, we're going back and republishing our articles on digital marketing, flexible working and more, to offer advice to businesses that are changing the way they work during the coronavirus lockdown. This article was originally published in February 2019. 

    There’s nothing quite as dangerous as someone who learned a bit about SEO a while ago but hasn’t kept their knowledge up to date.

    When Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed Google’s PageRank algorithm as researchers at Stanford University, they originally called it ‘BackRub’ – a reference to the idea that links between websites were ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ in practice.

    In the simplest terms, sites that were linked to by other sites were considered to have greater value, and the more incoming links, the better.

    When Google launched in 1998, what put it light years ahead of its competitors was the relatively comprehensive nature of its index (only possible through automated crawling and ranking, as opposed to directory-based curation) and the accuracy of its results. The famous “I’m feeling lucky” button was an expression of confidence, and a statement of intent.

    It didn’t take long, however, for people to start exploiting that clever but simple system, and for search-engine optimisation (SEO) to become a buzzword, a discipline, and even a career for many.

    Often, it was quite obvious and innocent: if your website sold tents, you'd make sure to mention tents as often as possible, so that the indexing system would recognise the main subject of your site. You might sign up to a third-party network connecting pages on similar topics.

    But second-guessing Google's algorithm also drove some sneakier behaviour. Website owners might agree to exchange links with each other, for example, purely to boost rankings – frowned upon, but relatively hard to detect.

    Those keen to boost traffic at any cost might set up entire networks of junk websites populated with generic or nonsensical content but all linking to the page or pages whose ranking they wanted to inflate.

    Or, if you had money but no time, you could simply pay someone else to add links to your website from their networks of spam pages.

    Spam commenting became common – drive-by responses to earnest articles or blog posts, usually meaningless or utterly vague, and stuffed with links. More often than not, there were no humans behind these comments at all – just automated bots.

    At the very darkest end of the spectrum there was SEO-focused hacking. I remember the horror of discovering that a website I was running had been infected with links to a range of websites selling illicit products, concealed in white text on a white background in the no man’s land at the bottom of every single page.

    All of this meant that Google, which had once seemed almost miraculous in its ability to surface the most valuable content, became frustrating, with the first page or two of results for popular terms consistently polluted with junk results.

    So, Google evolved. An additional algorithm called Panda was launched in 2011, with the intention of weeding out low-value pages from search results.

    The impact was less than subtle: all kinds of websites found themselves disappearing from first-page search results overnight. At the same time, quality content (properly edited and substantial) from providers less adept at playing the Google game leapt to the surface.

    For most searchers, it was a great relief – suddenly, all those ‘how to’ websites that didn’t really tell you how to do anything were bumped, for one thing.

    But for many search-engine optimisers, and those who had built entire business models around the way Google worked, it was little short of apocalyptic.

    Since then, Google has continued to tinker, improving algorithms and introducing new components, while merging or retiring others.

    It maintains a deliberate air of mystery around all this to prevent gaming of the system, sometimes denying particular rules are in place even as professional Google-watchers detect overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    And Google can seem capricious. In 2017, it announced that publishers could now display meta descriptions of up to 320 characters. The entire SEO industry scrambled to bring pages up to spec, only for the rule to be reverted a few months later.

    Google’s position seems fairly clear: don’t try to second guess the algorithms, don’t try to take shortcuts – just deliver good quality content that is trustworthy and useful, and you’ll be fine.

    For SEO specialists, though, that’s superficial stuff. What they’re bogged down in is, say, whether one type of page redirect is better than another, or whether the character length of the H1 tag is a help, a hindrance, or of no relevance whatsoever.

    If your business, or a client you’re representing, is operating in a competitive market, these small differences can decide whether your website gets found or not. They’re not trying to pull a fast one, they just want to streamline everything as far as possible, and be found by customers who want to find them.

    What all of this means in practice is that keeping on top of the latest thinking about what Google does and does not rank is a full-time job in its own right.

    If you’re taking advice from someone who got on top of it all in 2015 but hasn’t checked in since, you could find yourself in trouble.

    And if you’re talking to someone who is promising page-one rankings or declaring SEO a quick fix, the chances are they’re wrong.

  2. Calvin Crane

    Calvin Crane UKBF Regular

    245 36
    All good advice Ray.
    A good SEO does his own testing and knows what works. Unfortunately just having good content is not enough. Time and time again a poor content page outranks a better one because Google can't seem to rank on the quality of content alone of course. Links being one of the most important factors. Oh by the way the right kind of link really matters so yes you'd better hire a pro. And why would you not? It's time consuming stuff better left to a professional.
    Posted: Feb 22, 2019 By: Calvin Crane Member since: Jun 8, 2018
  3. Clodbuster

    Clodbuster UKBF Legend

    1,079 223
    Unfortunately - by personal experience - there are experts and "experts", how is the basic person meant to know?
    Posted: Feb 25, 2019 By: Clodbuster Member since: Apr 24, 2008
  4. Barry12345

    Barry12345 Full Member

    22 2
    I was using two company's experts. After one year, no results at all, so how find real expert?
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 19, 2019
    Posted: Mar 1, 2019 By: Barry12345 Member since: Jul 3, 2018
    Aleksander_Gramm likes this.
  5. FD Capital

    FD Capital Full Member

    53 8
    There are tools like alexa which show traffic levels so I guess you can see before and after and ask for customers names and web addresses to contact and check out what you are being told.
    Posted: Mar 12, 2019 By: FD Capital Member since: Mar 4, 2019
  6. FD Capital

    FD Capital Full Member

    53 8
    So many sharks in this area very hard to work out if you are being taken for a ride.
    Posted: Mar 19, 2019 By: FD Capital Member since: Mar 4, 2019
  7. Chris Ashdown

    Chris Ashdown UKBF Legend

    12,464 2,618
    in the 1990's you sold to locals in your area, by opening a shop or some sort of outlet with maybe a 100,000 market or far less, you sold what you had in stock and had few local compeditors

    Nowdays you want to sell to the world along with millions of other people on web sites and google rates you in the top 1000 you have done well, you may even get on page 2 or 3 on local searches, but even that has reduced your market substantially from the 1990 size

    SEO has always been to identify your market and make your site stand out in that market by good design and following googles own advice they offer freely on there own site. No magic but hard work and good marketing/ copywriting skills needed ;plus watch your positions and keywords and learn from experience of what you changed to make the position change or what others above you have done

    PPC is a great tool if you are wise enough to set a reasonable budget and monitor the results and cut the wastage out, start very low and monitor cost over profit all the time for each item sold that way

    Many SEO experts in my opinion overstate there capabilities and charge a months salary for maybe half a days work
    Posted: Apr 11, 2019 By: Chris Ashdown Member since: Dec 7, 2003
    Digital-Marketeer likes this.
  8. NV8v

    NV8v Guest

    0 0
    Mostly right Chris, especially on PPC, but you seem to have missed out on Local SEO (GMB)
    It might help you. If you want some advice free PM me
    Posted: May 10, 2019 By: NV8v Member since: Jan 1, 1970
    activew and Digital-Marketeer like this.
  9. Clinton

    Clinton UKBF Legend

    5,245 2,413
    I don't know. I got on top of it a long time ago, long before 2015, and have hardly read much SEO stuff since then, but I do more than okay in Google and that's for some very competitive terms.

    "Up-to-date knowledge" in SEO is ...overrated.
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2019
    Posted: Jul 23, 2019 By: Clinton Member since: Jan 17, 2010
  10. mekondelta

    mekondelta UKBF Newcomer

    17 1
    I'm a web developer but have a client who some time back came to me with the problem 'years ago I used to be at the top of the listings, can you help me get back up...' I'm not an expert in these things but I knew what to implement technically to give his site the best chance - decent meta descriptions, H1 tags, well structured sitemap, relevant content and enough of it, responsive, implementing the keywords. My client is a one man band, craftsmen. Basically he's got no chance because he has no budget but his market is relatively niche and some terms he ranks on page 1 but he generally hits page 2 or 3. In terms of search engine ranking, what Ive learnt is that you've got to keep updating the content. My client is not very technical and always struggles to add content so I add a few bits occassionally, write some text around one of his product images or a short blog post. This basically has the effect of him holding his own because without it I notice he drops. He's no hope against some sites like 'not in the high street' who always rank above. He does have a couple of similarly sized competitors who generally do slightly better than him. One has quite a lot of good content but the other one is really an awful looking website, badly structured. I ran it through an SEO tool and it performs really badly. After a bit of digging I worked out why it was doing well - junk backlinks.
    Posted: Sep 14, 2019 By: mekondelta Member since: Sep 3, 2019
  11. sqwibble

    sqwibble UKBF Newcomer

    1 0
    I've worked with people who have come into this industry "since 2015" and (I assume) will be "keeping up with" what's written and will take on board what they read to be "best practice".

    And yet in the past 4 years, I've scoffed at some of the "advice" that I've seen floating around, much of which people new to the industry in this time will forward and share with me as if this is some amazing new insight.

    This isn't helped by the fact that this industry is chock full of websites proclaiming to be the font of all knowledge who are simply re-hashing some old advice that never stood up to scrutiny years ago and still doesn't today. But they're simply using clickbait type articles to fuel their own agenda.

    Whether that be to get page impressions for their CPM ads or to try and convince clients they're all knowledgeable and try and grab a few page one rankings for their half baked "SEO advice".

    You could say the same with plumbers, builders, accountants, car mechanics, driving instructors... ad infinitum...

    From personal experience, I've done the freelance thing too. This isn't a dig at past clients, but I've often been left carrying the can like the example on here already about clients not helping themselves. It often comes down to "well you're the expert and I'm paying you to do the website updates and improve my rankings", so they do nothing, sit back and wait for the "magic" to happen and if it doesn't, they blame the guy or girl doing the work.

    They're often small clients with limited budgets and after months of trying to help them and getting as far as I could with the money they'd pay me. I'd often start to take on more and more unpaid work for them that I'd witnessed my old MD happily bill hundreds of pounds a month for.

    So I'd go from earning a decent side-income, to earning close to minimum wage with the amount of additional unpaid hours I would find myself putting in trying to be helpful. Of course, not everybody would bother doing that... Maybe I'm just too nice!

    So, how do you find somebody proficient enough to help your business? That's a difficult one to answer as I've worked at agencies and in-house, where they've hired new "SEOs" to work alongside me and within days I've been left scratching my head wondering why they were hired!

    I've worked with people and come into contact with people who profess themselves to be "SEOs". But like in any industry, it isn't a case of being the "best" or "most proficient" at what you doing. It's simply a case of knowing more than the person you're talking to and everybody will believe you're an "expert".

    But then I suppose it comes down to re-evaluating what an "SEO" is. For many, they come into this industry by chance. I've worked with copywriters and others who have made the "switch". From looking at their Linkedin profiles, they often have an abrupt switch in direction of their job roles in recent years.

    Then there are other people at a loose end after leaving school, college or university, or maybe just changing direction in their career, who take on "junior" or "trainee" SEO roles because it sounds like something "fun" to be working online doing "Google stuff".

    Maybe it's simply down to the jobs market, not enough of the truly knowledgeable people are looking to switch jobs or go into freelancing. So maybe like me, they may have gotten to the point where they've decided to use their knowledge to start their own business (hence why I'm here).

    I have no agenda to sell my own time and services as an SEO or PPC freelancer, because I'm done with any notion of making my millions scaling that into a business, running my own agency!

    I now spend some of my free time on Reddit helping people out with advice, which I find to be far more (morally) rewarding and less stressful. Luckily, I get paid well enough in my day job anyway, so time to kickstart my own business journey I figure after putting it off for years...
    Posted: Sep 29, 2019 By: sqwibble Member since: Sep 29, 2019
  12. Solly

    Solly UKBF Contributor

    107 14
    Website speed also seems to be currently playing and important role in rankings. Make sure you are on a good server.
    Posted: Jan 27, 2020 By: Solly Member since: Jan 13, 2020
  13. ValenDigital

    ValenDigital Full Member

    54 3
    It still surprises us how many so called 'SEOs' still use vanity metrics to wow potential clients. They completely miss search console and GA which has the most data about the visibility of a site in search.

    That should always be a starting point.

    Then use the data from external tools to help compare with competitors which will allow you to craft a good strategy.

    The SC and GA data will help hugely with the technical on-page side of things so that your website can provide the right relevance.

    That data will also help you to address issues such as website speed amongst other things.

    Implementing schema can help a site provide relevancy to search engines too. Local search plays a huge role too. think GMB. We have an in depth guide on our site that can help you get going with GMB if you haven't already.

    Really there are so many little things that need to be looked at to grow a site in search. Sure you can go down the PPC route but it will never beat the benefits of SEO on a long term basis.

    A lot of 'talk the talk' but no 'walk the walk' companies out there. If they cannot do the same for there own websites (forgot they are too busy with clients to do that) what makes you think that they can do it for yours?
    Posted: May 8, 2020 By: ValenDigital Member since: Jan 14, 2019
  14. Catherine88

    Catherine88 UKBF Newcomer

    0 1
    From a site owner's perspective, rather than an SEO expert, I'd offer the following advice:

    - try to learn a bit about it yourself (but beware there's a fair bit of unsubstantiated info out there)
    - use a reputable agency and take up references
    - ignore all of those emails that you get offering to make you #1
    - use common sense. Does it make sense for your site visitor?
    - focus on quality
    Posted: May 9, 2020 By: Catherine88 Member since: Apr 29, 2020
    Flower Shop likes this.
  15. Barry_M

    Barry_M UKBF Newcomer

    72 4
    i tell my clients NOT to read SEO forums. If they need advice about SEO, ASK ME. Ill tell them what is good and what is bad and if I dont know I will tell them. SEO Forums are full of people who have less clue than they make out and proclaim to be experts (mostly).
    Posted: May 27, 2020 By: Barry_M Member since: May 12, 2008
    activew likes this.
  16. Karimbo

    Karimbo UKBF Legend

    2,088 215
    just get 100K gsa links to the homepage and you're good for 12 months.
    Posted: May 31, 2020 By: Karimbo Member since: Nov 5, 2011
  17. Forseti

    Forseti UKBF Newcomer

    10 2
    The whole problem is that people want to get more by spending less amount of effort. Creating something valuable takes a lot of time and effort. And when someone finds a loophole with which you can earn money faster and with less effort, the vast majority of people will do the same. Even at Maslow's pyramid, self-realization is far above the need for money.
    Posted: Jun 2, 2020 By: Forseti Member since: May 15, 2020
  18. Flower Shop

    Flower Shop UKBF Newcomer

    0 0
    I think making well established content backlinks that are in a website with great traffic and a lot of readers is the main links an SEO should do.
    Posted: Nov 20, 2020 By: Flower Shop Member since: Nov 3, 2020
  19. SEO Developer

    SEO Developer UKBF Regular

    266 38
    This isn't a business pitch and I've turned off private messages

    I develop Wordpress websites for small and medium UK businesses

    While developing these sites I apply the standard principles of Google's Webmaster Guidelines which I reference only from the Google-operated websites

    My work isn't complicated at all, it's just following guidelines and you don't need to be an expert in Wordpress or SEO

    When clients ask what the marketing strategy is? I tell them: "There is no marketing strategy. We are following the standard guidelines for website development and SEO. If we do this it's highly likely that once your website gets indexed in Google and other search engines it will start to receive visitors looking for your services. As Google's Webmaster Guidelines change we will make the necessary changes. If you want to guarantee customers we can run a paid ads campaign on search engines or social media."

    I don't promise traffic or rankings ever, just the completion of agreed tasks within a pre-agreed timeframe and weekly progress reports

    My flat rate is £100 per day and I'm fully booked and cannot take on any new clients until 2022
    Posted: Jun 9, 2021 By: SEO Developer Member since: Jun 8, 2021
    activew and ctrlbrk like this.