Today we’re going to talk Search Engine Optimisation with self-professed digital marketing geek extraordinaire, or to be more concise, SEO Samurai, Seamus Anthony, Head Honcho at Square-Eyes Marketing. He’s the person we call on when we need to get found on Google search pages. And when I mean search pages, I mean page 1. And when I mean page 1, I mean the first three or four results on page 1. It’s sad but true that very few searchers look past those results. Search Engine Optimisation is an algorithmic landscape of shifting sands in which what was so yesterday may not be so tomorrow. Hopefully, today will give us enough ground of knowledge and insight to take us well and truly into the future. In working with Seamus on SEOing this blogbsite you’re now reading or listening to, I found there needed to be more than keyword tricks and gymnastics. Seamus proved that what was needed above all else was a real commitment to collaborating on marketing objectives, strategy and website content. So you want to choose you SEOist carefully and Seamus is not the kind to use dirty tricks to game the results. The only real way to win at SEO is to win at website content marketing which takes time and commitment. So I invite you to take some time and commitment to read this illuminating interview on the Way of the SEO Samurai.
Audio Part 1
Audio Part 2
CWiA: Thanks for joining us here at Copywriting in Action Seamus.
SA: Totally cool to be here man.
CWiA: You found your way into digital marketing via your own music and meditation writings. Tell us how you went from singer/songwriter/meditator to SEO samurai?
SA: I was writing a bit of stuff about meditation and somebody rang me up one day, he was a meditation teacher, and he wanted to know how I got onto the first page of Google? I said I don’t know. So I reversed engineered what I did and made some assumptions and ten years later it’s paying the bills.
CWiA: What are some of the common techniques used to optimize a website?
SA: These days, there’s a new level of technical tweaking to set up your website. Not only to make it go faster but also make it technically more appealing to Google. It’s a bit geeky but once its done you don’t really need to touch it; just go ahead and drive your website so to speak. The other thing still important is back-linking. But the nature of that has changed; you need to have what’s called a “natural back-linking profile”. So it doesn’t want to look too obviously gamed to the search engines. You need to know where they’re coming from. Also, 20 back links from a low quality source wouldn’t be worth as much as one juicy-back link from a quality source. Like in your case for example, you have a couple of dot.edu.au websites that link to your website and these are really juicy links and really help a lot. That quality of back-linking and natural profile is often best achieved by great content but also, and this is not often talked about, real world relationships. They’re really important. Get out there, get to know people and ask them for a link.
CWIA: It has to be of a mutual benefit or can it be one way?
SA: There is this Law of Reciprocity, which is essentially the golden rule of if you do unto others they feel consciously or unconsciously obliged to reciprocate in some way or form. It sounds a bit manipulative but it’s the way the world works, isn’t it? Give to get.
CWiA : Do top-rating search returns require specialist software?
SA: There are certainly a bunch of software options that SEOs use, however most of them are sort of in competition with each other rather than complimentary. I prefer to use a combination of tools. For example, there a tools that count and list the back-links to your website right? Except they don’t all give the same back-links. One might give you 20 and another one gives you 30 and another one will give you 50. I would recommend semrush.com for showing you the competitive landscape, like who else is ranking well on Google for your keywords and what not. Another good option is Open Site Explorer, it gives you the most well balanced look at your bank-link profile. So if you want to knuckle down and get into a bit of the geeky stuff, these are my two recommendations.
CWiA : Say for example we’re writing a 350 word web page for Spain as a travel destination, what procedure do you recommend for writing the copy and filling in keywords? Is there more to SEO than keywords?
SA: Yes there is. However, keywords are important. “Spain” is a very broad keyword right? You’re not going to come in from nowhere and rank for Spain overnight. What I would do is get onto something like Google’s Keyword Planner or semrush.com and look for other keyword options that you might have a better chance of ranking but also have some traffic potential in the form of search volume. Say in the end you actually go for a keyword phrase like “Spain travel destination”, the first thing is to make sure it’s in the title of your page, like “three great Spain travel destinations”. Then make sure this phrase is in the first paragraph. I would repeat it again once or twice depending on how long the page is, however you shouldn’t get too hung up about keyword density. That’s something that’s gone out the window these days. Then I would be sure to fill in a meta description for the page. Now this isn’t necessarily a direct influence on the search engine ranking, however it does work to attract people to your website because of the snippet of text shown on Google.
CWIA: I thought that meta description actually contributed to the ranking.
SA: Nobody knows the definitive answer to these things because Google keeps it under its hat. However, its useful because it gives you an element of control over what people see in the search engine result page (SERP). One thing you definitely shouldn’t do is stuff your page with keywords over and over again because that will either be a waste of time or detrimental. One thing still worthwhile doing is to put an image on your page, tag it with an Alt Tag like “A great Spain Travel Destination”. That’s actually there for people who’ve got “images” turned off in their browser or who are visually impaired. That’s your really short version of how to optimise your page. It’s a lot simpler than it used to be.
CWIA: Is it true that the earlier the keywords appear in the first sentence of the copy the better?
SA: Again, that’s a bit fuzzy. Most people in the SEO game would say that’s best practice, however these incrementals may or may not have a little effect, and most likely don’t have a big effect.
CWIA: Is there a way to test the search engine results of these incremental tweaks on an individual page?
SA: There is a secret way to get your web page indexed very quickly by Google however it doesn’t re-cache the page, which takes anywhere between two to four weeks and there’s not a lot you can do about that. It’s a bit complicated to explain, but if you have a Webmaster Tools account, there’s a feature in there where you can basically push the new page to Google and it just pulls the new title and description so that you see something different on the SERPs. It’s good if you want to see what difference it makes to your click through but it won’t change your position in the rankings.
CWIA: So we’ve got two golden rule: quality content and quality back-links.
SA: Yeah and a site that is readable nicely by Google. For example, I was looking at a site the other day and they have loads of back-links because they’re very popular in there industry, but their website is technically horrible. They’re getting pretty good results in a very competitive market — hovering down around 7 or 8 for most of the major keywords. However I do believe that if their website was changed from Flash based thing that Google can’t really read properly to something that was either a more simple HTML website or WordPress, it would go up the rankings.
CWIA: Why are Flash and sliders not very readable?
SA: Google cant really read images and Flash stuff, which embeds all of the HTML content inside it and so can’t be read. There’s one thing to have a Flash element within a website, but it’s another thing to have a website almost entirely composed of Flash. The latter doesn’t bode well for good ranking unless you’ve got a lot of popularity and therefore back-links and social media signals.
CWiA: What are the distinct advantages of SEO over other forms on internet marketing like social media and email marketing?
SA: SEO, social media and email marketing are the end of the spokes and the website is the hub. They are channels to drive people back to your website. And your website should convince your target market that they want to do business with you. Obviously, email marketing is great once you’ve got their attention. SEO and Social Media are great ways for people to find you.
CWIA: In light of mobile advertising, change in Google’s algorithm and various reports within the industry of its demise, is SEO is really dead?
SA: Everybody still wants to get found and Google doesn’t want people to get good at SEO. If everybody gains the results then it ruins the quality of the results they can deliver because spammy stuff will get to the top. That was starting to happen and that’s why there were big changes in the last two years. The new rule is that if you do things that are really spammy, you’ll either get no results or get slapped and disappear from search engine results all together. The basic rules stay the same in that more back-links still win. Its just that they need to be from a good neighbourhood. In 9 out of 10 times I look at a competitor to see why they are doing better than my client, it’s almost always because they have more back-links. At the end of the day, the most powerful thing you can do to get SEO results is to get really popular. So, no it’s not dead, it’s just changed. “SEO is dead” just makes a great headline so its bandied around a lot.
CWiA : Has the term “SEO” morphed into “Content Marketing”?
SA: Another great headline that gets bandied about a lot too. On one level, yes it has because making great content can result in great popularity and therefore more back-links. However, at the same time, if you were really good at going around off-line and convincing people to willingly give you back-links, you would still do really well even without great content. So the answer is yes and no.
CWiA : Looking ahead, do you have any bold predictions for what is going to happen in the SEO industry?
SA: Unfortunately, this is a game that’s going to be consolidated, like most things do. So big companies are going to win because they have the resources. If you’ve got ten people in a room getting on it, you’re going to win over one person. People who are already established are going to maintain their lead because it’s easier to maintain a lead than it is to get one. In a way, new frontiers are going to open up. We’re going to look back in a few years and go “Oh yeah that was like the Google time”. The first people to win the SEO game were people in the SEO game who got there way before me. Chances of me winning SEO in SEO were always, and even more so now, ridiculously difficult. So I don’t actually try to get new clients myself using SEO and I know a lot of other SEO people don’t either. So when it becomes like that for everybody, then they’re going to do what I do which is to find different avenues. I use a mash up of off-line and on-line techniques, where SEO plays a tiny part.
So my predicition going forward is that its going to get harder and harder.
CWIA: That’s perhaps a bittersweet ending to the interview.
SA: Funnily enough, putting your attention onto other things like relationships in the real world will actually help your SEO.
CWIA: Now that’s a nice sweet ending. Thank you very much for a very insightful interview Seamus.
SA: No worries, thank you.