How not to do SEO

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is an unfortunately necessary part of driving traffic to discover a website. Good content is necessary but not sufficient.

Why SEO is necessary

A large percentage of web traffic is directed by search engines. After all, this is how Google has become the giant company that it is. I tried to track down some hard statistics on this, but they varied widely and didn’t seem all that credible. Nevertheless I think it is clear that this traffic is signficant.

Search engines use algorithms and automated scripts (“spiders”) to understand the importance, quality, relevance and popularity of content on the web. A radiographer takes xrays without being able to see directly the same picture as the xray will produce. A photographer taking black-and-white photographs needs to ignore the colour in the viewfinder and imagine the light and shadows and shapes of the final photograph.

If your website has excellent content, but structures it in a way that is not readily accessible to a search engine’s spiders, then the spider will pass on by without sending humans to visit your site. Two easy examples may help:

  1. Flash content – the content may look great and be ground-breaking and useful, but since most spiders don’t currently “understand” Flash content, it will be ignored.
  2. Login, registration and forms – if large parts of a website are accessible only after filling information in a form or registering and logging in, the spiders won’t get in the door.

There are other considerations that are postulated to be relevant:

  • Duplicate content “dilutes” the scores of any individual page
  • Many links to irrelevant, poorly rated pages can suggest that your site is not providing useful info to the user. This effect is stronger since search engines try to separate “link farms” and rings and other methods to make a collection of websites appear more connected than they are in reality.
  • Poor choice of keywords that searchers may often use, or targeting terms that are widely targeted by a range of other websites.

A typical SEO strategy is quite complex and takes times, effort and money

A typical SEO strategy would cover analysing the target audience of a site, understanding the site content, understanding the site structure, doing keyword analysis, checking out competitors, generating a few good quality inbound links if applicable, possibly generating some linkbait content, installing appropriate tools (e.g. Google Analytics) to monitor traffic and then repeating the cycle once the customer behaviour is better understood. Key metrics are site traffic generated, low bounce rates, long time on the site, repeat customers, higher sales (or more contacts if online sales aren’t part of your service) and higher search rankings.

All of this takes time (both from the SEO but also from the website owner). There are many fly-by-night organisations claiming to do SEO with neither the knowledge or the business ethics to get it right. It is probably because it is a poorly understood, sometimes arcane speciality, that these companies get into business with low starting capital costs.

How not to do SEO in ten easy steps

I received an unsolicited email from Zenteq recently. I’m not providing a link to their website as I have no reason to believe they can deliver anything useful.

  1. Sending unsolicited email (aka SPAM). This is typically a bad idea. Best case scenario you get a few new customers. Worst case scenario you irritate a huge block of potential customers, have your mail server and/or IP blocked as a source of spam, have your ISP close down your website for abuse and so on.
  2. Use bright (as in reflective safety wear) green text and truly ugly formatting. Not a professional image by far.
  3. Offer to “SEO” the website by submitting to 600,000 search engines monthly. This is irrelevant and a giant waste of money.
  4. Charge R350 per month. In the short-term, this is far too little. The work involved at the outset of optimising a website for search engines requires several full days of work. However, in the long-run, this may well be too much. Since there appears to be no reason for the client to stay with Zenteq, we have a familiar problem where the business model doesn’t make sense for a serious operator and thus it’s likely that it isn’t a serious operator. (on trawling their webpage I see there is a R1000 upfront fee as well. Nice not to include this in the email. It still isn’t enough for serious upfront work)
  5. No description of other components of SEO strategy, or examples of prior successful work.
  6. “From” email is marketing@fire-equipment.org, “Reply to” is newheights70@telkomsa.net but the content directs the reader to info@zenteq.co.za. So which is it?
  7. Structure your email so that it gets stopped by the spam filter built into both Thunderbird and Apple’s Mail application.
  8. Include icons on their site claiming valid XHTML code, but then fail the test when the button is clicked.
  9. Analysis of google results shows no links to zenteq.co.za.
  10. And my favourite – a search on google for “seo site:za” which searches for the top websites relating to “seo” within the “za” domain doesn’t have zenteq listed in the top ten pages. A first-page listing is almost an requirement if you expect any number of click-throughs.

So who guards the guards, and who optimises the optimisers?