When working at a digital marketing agency, as we do here at Kanuka Digital, you spend a lot of time talking to a wide range of clients to help them realise their online marketing goals.
During these conversations we often face a flurry of questions when we take on new projects, refresh existing websites or just in general when answering day-to-day queries.
Invariably, most of these questions centre around search engine optimisation (otherwise known as SEO) and the positions our clients and their competitors rank in search engine results pages (or SERPs).
The intrigue is always intensified by how shrouded Google and other search engine providers are about the algorithms and techniques used for selecting which pages rank above others.
Whilst SEO has come a long way since the black hat, link farming days which focused on quick wins and short term planning, some misconceptions still survive and cause concern for website owners when we advise against them.
So here are 5 of the most common questions, misconceptions and general missteps we come across, with some fixes and solutions for how to deal with them.
#1 Underestimating the importance of keywords
When we carry out our research into keywords and phrases which drive traffic to websites, we take into consideration a raft of variables to make sure we’re setting our sights on the right targets.
These variables could assess the number of monthly searches, whether that keyword is likely to lead to a sale or just general browsing or even slight changes in parlance between geographical locations.
A common request is to use industry jargon or colloquial terminology as a primary keyword on landing pages. Whilst this might be fine when dealing with suppliers on the shop floor, it doesn’t always translate well to search.
To combat this, we tend to have to go with where the data lies and avoid anecdotal research. This means optimising pages for the best keywords and phrases which are driving high quality traffic and other key metrics.
As we don’t want to alienate visitors in the know, we’ll still incorporate colloquial phrases in product descriptions, meta data or other lower priority copy, just not with the same emphasis as our primary keywords.
#2 Link building: quantity over quality
When talking about the importance of backlinks, it’s very easy to get carried away thinking that more links lead to higher rankings and therefore more traffic.
Whilst this is essentially true, this can lead to an abundance of poor quality backlinks if the referring domains are not properly vetted beforehand and websites with poor domain authority or high spam scores are selected.
This was pretty commonplace 10 or 15 years ago when link farming and other Black Hat SEO techniques were used for quick wins and short term successes, but would ultimately lead to more issues further down the line.
So to avoid undoing all your good work from content creation, social networking and developing your UX, we make sure to only target backlinks from websites with a high domain authority and a low spam score using a tool such as Moz or SEMRush.
#3 Spending big on PPC to tackle a competitor
While Google has attempted over the years to ensure that paid and organic search results are easily distinguishable from each other, anecdotally there is still confusion between the two.
It’s understandable to be concerned when you think you’ve lost ground to a competitor if they’re ranking ahead of you, even if it’s only as a result of a heavy spending PPC campaign.
These days hundreds of factors can now affect search results at any given time, and throwing yourself into a retaliatory PPC campaign might capture some additional traffic and clicks, but costs can wildly spiral without proper foresight and planning.
While organic rankings may fluctuate, the best thing you can do to retain your position is not to panic. Just ensure your website is optimised, mobile friendly and serving your customers well.
Targeting achievable and realistically attainable keywords with content, on-page and off-page SEO is a good, long term plan which can provide better return on investment further down the line when your competitor has blown their budget.
However, if you do decide that you want an additional boost through a paid campaign, make sure there’s a clear plan, budget and goals or you could get roped into a bidding war just to save face.
#4 My website’s gone live… so why isn’t it on Google?
For existing sites that are being optimised or re-skinned, the SEO work mainly consists of improving current rankings and smaller tweaks around optimisation.
For brand new builds, starting from nothing can seem like a daunting task. So when we’re asked why a website doesn’t appear in Google straight away, the can of worms really opens up when we unravel how many different metrics and variables are involved.
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to hitting the coveted page 1 of Google, as much as you want to beat your competition for the top spot.
First of all, We can start by submitting your website to Google and directories with high domain authority and low spam scores. Setting up Google My Business also helps for businesses with a physical location.
What then follows is days of crucial technical tasks, weeks of planning outreach, months of link building and domain authority and then a continuous stream of tweaks, optimisation and keeping on top of algorithm changes to help you rank highly.
#5 Suddenly pausing SEO activity
We always carry out a full SEO audit when starting on a new project or build a new website. This highlights key tasks that need to be prioritised, suggestions for future campaigns and long term goals to work towards
After this initial period of optimisation, keyword targeting and outreach there may be a sudden lift in traffic and this busy period feels full of gains and activity.
However, 6 months down the line and the tweaks become smaller, gains more marginal and bigger tasks fewer and farther between.
When it seems like there’s not much going on on your website, it can be tempting for some to pull the plug on their marketing activity and suddenly stop.
It’s so important to understand that ‘doing SEO’ is not a one off task. It’s an ongoing project to meet new algorithm changes, serve your visitors better and adhere to trends. Suddenly pausing activity can derail progress and may result in you having to invest heavily further down the line to recover.
While this is hardly an exhaustive list of common SEO complaints, it’s hopefully provided some insight into some of the most common obstacles website owners come up against, particularly with niche businesses or those that are starting out online for the first time.
The main takeaways when working in SEO are, essentially, quite simple: set realistic and achievable goals, plan ahead, commit to budgets and be patient.