Croud

Why SEO hasn’t fundamentally changed in 15 years – it’s just gotten more interesting

Croud’s Head of SEO Ben Tullett, discusses how little the basic fundamentals of SEO haven’t changed during his fifteen years of online marketing.

Back in 1998, when dialup was the main way people accessed the internet, Netscape was the browser of choice and Altavista Digital was the biggest search engine available, attracting visitors via search was pretty much the same as it is now.  The landscape has changed and competition has grown massively in almost every niche, but the key to organic search revolves around a small number of core principles:

Technical accessibility

A website needs to be configured in a way that allows search engines to explore its pages.  Websites used to be hand coded in good old HTML, page by page, and relied less on content management systems that now have the potential to block search engines or create a myriad of other issues, however these are basically just alternate methods of publishing to the web.  The majority of content management systems are much more search engine friendly these days and just need to be tweaked to make the most of their architecture.  Search engines provide more valuable background data on how they perceive indexed sites via tools such as Webmaster Tools than ever before.  The key these days is to “bake in” best practice SEO as sites are being built – from wire framing, page design, CMS configuration.  For best practice that can’t be built in, technical SEO changes should roll into a long term roadmap with developers to get key issues fixed.
Taking advantage of all of the modern tools available, such as XML sitemaps, rich snippets, authorship markup and responsive design for mobile devices (and mobile search) are all key to pushing the boundaries of technical optimisation.  Ensuring that no roadblocks are put in place that might prevent basic access is the first step in attracting visitors via organic search.

 

Content

The range of content available online has literally exploded over the last 15 years.  What used to be limited to news groups and a few forward thinking news sites has grown massively, to the point where there is an overload of information that’s difficult to keep up with.  For the average website, the key opportunities revolve around describing products and services using text, images and video and it still amazes me how many sites miss this basic opportunity.  Product pages with no description or at best the same few words provided by the manufacturer just don’t cut it anymore.   Competitors with more information, reviews and videos of their products and services are just a few short clicks away, so it’s important to talk about what you do or sell.

If your product catalogue runs to thousands of products, prioritise the best sellers or most profitable and start on those.  If this seems like too much like hard work, then basic opportunities are being missed and your site might not deserve to get the levels of organic traffic you’d like.

If your business is a service or isn’t a tangible product, describe that service in ways that target your different audiences, from a top level overview right down to the nitty gritty technical details for visitors that need or demand them.  Beyond the basics, create a blog to demonstrate your depth of knowledge about your services.

The web in 1998 was populated by enthusiasts who loved what they did and getting content online was substantially more difficult, yet they wrote at length about their interests and it came across in their writing.  With the technology and platforms available (such as WordPress), creating engaging, interesting content about your business, product range or services is easier than it has ever been before.

 

Reputation

Business reputations existed before Google began using back links as a ranking factor and will continue long into the future.  Users perceive whether they want to visit a website in the same way as they would with a bricks and mortar store and although the methods online are a little more complicated with a global competitor set, the basics are the same.  Before the internet, marketing and PR was undertaken in local, national or international publications depending on the target market.  These channels still exist online with local business listings, newspapers, national news channels and specialist publications (blogs and news sites) and the same approaches should be used to gain coverage.  Combined with a well built website, detailed, considered content that is updated regularly, reputations can be built and developed over time, enhanced via social media and the social signals also used by Google to gauge a sites’ authority.

One of the key advantages of search is that it has created a multitude of micro-niches in which reputations can be built and as with any marketing and reputation building activity, it should be well researched and implemented sincerely.  The coverage and links gained through on-going promotion with relevant channels will always be beneficial and are generally immune to even the most severe of algorithm updates from Google.

Final Note: 

There are many other considerations, like having a solid business model to begin with and whilst there are always exceptions to this rule, such as Facebook and Twitter that became popular then monetised afterwards, most online businesses have an offline equivalent and looking to these for inspiration is a good way to think about search.  If you have a messy, badly maintained store with disorganised shelves filled with mislabelled (or even worse, unlabelled) products and services, this will affect how visitors (and search engines) find and perceive your business.  Missing these important basics make building a good reputation very difficult, which is why it’s important to maximise the opportunities and be consistent with all three aspects of your site.  The potential rewards of organic search traffic are great and the power of the search engines will only grow as the web gets more competitive and harder to navigate.