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Search Engine Optimisation – the myth and the magic

Search engine optimisation has become big business, and sometimes it feels like there’s so much myth and misdirection surrounding it that it’s a wonder anyone can get a grip on the subject.

But SEO isn’t magic. There isn’t a secret formula. It’s really just about common sense, best practice, and legwork. That’s it.

SEO - no myth and misdirection

Consider your business goals

A lot of businesses approach SEO as ‘something we ought to do’, without really giving enough thought to exactly what business objectives the work is intended to meet. To make SEO worthwhile, and to have any idea of whether the time and/or money you spend on it is effective, it has to be tied to an objective. And those objectives have to well thought out. The aim of SEO is not ‘to get to the top of Google’, or even ‘to get more traffic’ – those are too wide and generic aims. Why do you want to be at the top of Google?  Are you looking to increase sales? To improve brand recognition? What kind of people are you looking to attract? In what market? And for what keywords?  SEO has to start from a realistic and achievable business goal.

Think from the outside in

When helping businesses with SEO, one thing we consistently see is difficulty in generating appropriate keyword lists. The problem is that people inside a business are so familiar with the business, its internal structure, its language and terminology, that they can’t see it from a customer’s point of view. But that’s exactly what you need to do in order to drive relevant traffic to your website. You might refer to your product as your automotive audio platform, but to your customers it’s just a car stereo.

Best practice always wins

Quite frankly, there’s a lot of rubbish talked about SEO, but the main thing to remember is this: in general, Google is trying to provide the best search results for real people. Therefore it follows that your best  (only) bet for being ranked well is market your website to people, not to search engine bots, and to provide content that is relevant to real people, for whatever search term you’re targeting.  This means that you can assess any SEO tactic by testing its relevance to people.

Q. Have I stuffed too many keywords into that copy?
A. Does it read badly because of it?

Q. Should I try to get a link from that site to my site?
A. Would you expect visitors to that site to find your site relevant and interesting?

Q. Should I put a list of keywords on the homepage?
A. Is that useful to your website visitors in any way?

The test in all cases is: is it useful, relevant, valid to people? If it’s not, then it’s spammy, and it won’t help you a great deal in the long run.

The bigger picture

The other thing to remember about SEO is that there are a lot of factors at play, some of which are completely out of your hands.  The amount and quality of competition,  the age of your domain, and changes to Google’s algorithm all impact on how well your site performs in Google’s rankings, and there’s nothing you can do about them. You have to see SEO in context – it’s not the be-all and end-all, it’s just another tool you can use in marketing your product or services to the world.

Meanwhile there are other factors which impact on the effectiveness of your SEO campaign, but which are beyond the scope of the campaign itself.  SEO goals which include increasing revenue  rely on the website converting traffic into either enquiries or sales.  It’s no good  your SEO campaign driving huge volumes of traffic to your website if visitors can’t find what they need when they get there, or can’t figure out how to get in touch.

No substitute for hard work

Lastly, whether you engage an agency to take care of your SEO or run your campaign in-house, remember that there’s no substitute for legwork. Whether it’s grinding through the site optimising it, number-crunching the performance of your site and your competitors’,  or hunting round the web trying to build relevant in-bound links, it takes time and effort – and there’s no way round that.

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