Each month, your credit card is charged by Google for all the AdWords clicks you’ve received.

Each month, you question yourself whether it’s worthwhile, yet there’s a good chance that you’re never able to come to a satisfying conclusion.

Google provide some tools for measuring success, such as conversion tracking. But realistically you know that it’s little more than an inaccurate indicator.

In an ideal world, you would be able to see that out of all the people who clicked on your ads, X purchased your product or service.

The problem is that conversion tracking doesn’t paint a complete picture. You don’t know if you are looking at 90% or 5% of tracked conversions. This can render conversion tracking more or less useless.

So how can you tell if you’re wasting money on AdWords?

Start by making sure the right people are clicking on your ads.

It’s pretty obvious that if the wrong people are clicking, you’ll be paying for traffic that isn’t interested in what you’re offering.

I would therefore recommend that you review the following areas within your AdWords account. These are often overlooked and can easily result in irrelevant traffic.

Review the location targeting

Begin with reviewing your location targeting to see where visitors are clicking from. When you setup your campaigns, you picked a location or a group of locations that you wanted to target. The problem is that you might be receiving clicks from locations that you never wanted. This means you might be wasting money.

If you’re interested in the detailed explanation as to why Google are showing your ads to people that you didn’t want to target, please read more about it here. I would recommend you monitor this closely, because even if the clicks appear to be coming from your targeted locations this may change over time.

Review device targeting

In the early days of AdWords, Google allowed advertisers the ability to control the types of devices they wished to target. This meant that an advertiser could turn on or off tablet or mobile according to their needs.

Nowadays you can disable mobile devices, but you can’t disable tablet devices from seeing your ads.

If your website is not mobile or tablet friendly, and you weren’t aware of the device settings, you’re probably presenting a poor experience to your AdWords visitors. This may waste money on clicks that can’t even view your website properly.

Review your keywords

Next, you’ll want to analyze your keywords and ask yourself how targeted they are.

For example, let’s say you’re selling laptop computers. Someone that searches for “low cost laptops”, “buy laptops” or “laptop deals” is probably looking to purchase one. It’s therefore a good idea to have your ads displayed on these types of searches.

If you were to bid on more general terms like “laptops” or “windows laptop”, you’ll probably receive some clicks from those who are interested in buying, but you’ll probably also receive clicks from people with other agendas. In this case it might not be a good idea to have your ads displayed.

Finding the right keywords is far from easy. If you’re too targeted, you tend to see less traffic. And if you’re too broad, you tend to see traffic that’s more off target.

This will be an ongoing struggle which brings me onto my next question: are you using negative keywords? If not, start doing so immediately. Negative keywords tell Google not to show your ads if someone searches with those keywords.

For example, if you’re selling laptops and you’re receiving clicks on searches such as “low cost laptop repair”, it might be a good idea to exclude the term “repair” since you are not offering a laptop repair service.

Negative keywords don’t only save you money, they also improve your performance by reducing your ad impressions. This will increase your CTR which will in turn lower costs.

Review your ads

Take a step back and perform a critical review of your ads, but within the context of your keywords and ad groups. This is something that is often overlooked.

Your ads need to make a direct connection with your keywords. Ad groups allow you to group keywords within common themes, so you can craft ads connected to their keywords.

If your ad groups each contain many different keywords and many different keyword themes, it will be difficult to write ads that communicate to the multitude of keywords and keyword themes.

Most importantly, people are less likely to click on your ads.

After you’ve reviewed your AdWords account for potential leaks or problems with your targeting, you then need to review what happens after the click.

Now make sure that your website is working

If your potential customer just clicked on one of your AdWords ads, do they immediately go back to Google to click on the next? If this is how most of your AdWords visitors behave, you’re almost certainly wasting money.

Now you’ve confirmed that only the right people are clicking on your ads, visitors to your website should be finding what they’re looking for. In other words most should be doing exactly what you wanted them to do after they arrived. That could include filling out a form, downloading your software or purchasing your product.

If they’re not doing what you wanted, there may be a problem with your website, product or service.

Solving these types of issues can be difficult. It can also require a great deal of effort as well as experimentation. I would recommend beginning the process by looking at your website through the eyes of your AdWords visitors.

Remember that when someone arrives on your website from an ad, it should have a clear connection to the page they landed on. You only have a few seconds to capture their attention.

Now you can make sure that your costs are reasonable and not out of control

You’ve just confirmed that the right people are clicking on your ads and they’re doing what you wanted them to do once they arrived on your website. You now need to consider your costs.

Are you paying more than you should, and are you wasting money?

This is one of those questions that’s difficult to answer and will depend on your particular business needs.

To try and answer it, I would recommend that you perform some experiments.

What happens when you decrease your bids or budgets? Do you receive more for less? Did it have a negative or a positive impact on performance?

What about the opposite? What happens when you increase your bids or budgets? Do you receive more targeted traffic that produces the results you were looking for?

These types of experiments will help you make more informed decisions.

Always remember that you’ll never have a complete picture of exactly how many sales AdWords produced. You might see that some sales are attributed to AdWords, but you’ll never be able to tell how representative that data is. Tracking the true ROI will always be problematic and may even be impossible.

In the end, it’s best to focus on what you know and not be bogged down by the unknown. Make sure you’re paying for the right people to click on your ads, that your website is producing the results you want, and experiment with the price you pay for AdWords.

Taking these steps will help produce better results.

Google have recently made mobile more important for SEO. Here’s what to do about it. Note: I’ve tried to keep this as brief as possible, but I recommend that you read the whole thing. Skimming may result in a less-than-optimal experience!

STEP 1: Don’t panic.

You may think that you have the only website that isn’t ready for mobile, but you’re wrong.

More importantly, Google’s announcements should never constitute an emergency.

For example we saw too many businesses drop everything and frantically apply HTTPS to their websites when Google announced the importance of this in August 2014. I don’t know of anyone who’s benefited from this so far – including our own company.

I’m not saying that you should ignore the issue of mobile, but there’s nothing to panic about.

STEP 2: Understand what Google actually said. (Not what people said Google said.)

Here’s a direct quote from Google’s announcement:

More mobile-friendly websites in search results

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

Google pick their words carefully, and there are a few semantic choices that the masses are missing.

When Google say “This change will affect mobile searches” they don’t necessarily mean searches on all devices.

Here’s the good part; the part that most panic-merchants are missing:

John Mueller from Google was recently asked whether the update would have any effect on desktop search, and his answer was “as far as I know – no“. You can see the Google Hangout here.

While I’m not disputing the impact that the update may have on mobile search results, Google’s use of “will have a significant impact in our search results” is deliberately vague. It’s also worth noting Google’s terrible history when predicting the impact of other updates in the past.

STEP 3: Understand what “mobile ready” means. 

A website isn’t mobile-ready if it merely loads onto your iphone.

If you have to zoom in and out, it isn’t mobile ready. And if you need a magnifying glass it definitely isn’t mobile ready.

Gary Illyes, another Google employee, defines mobile friendly as having three characteristics:

– available
– legible
– usable

I’m not going to dig any deeper into this, as I think all the information we need is right there. From a mobile perspective, if the pages on your website can tick all three boxes, then (broadly speaking) you’re good to go.

STEP 4: Understand whether you need to fix your whole website or just specific pages.

Eventually we’re all going to have to make sure that all of our website content works on all devices. But not today.

As confirmed by Google, the mobile-friendly test works on a page-by-page basis.

So the boost that you may get from having mobile-friendly content will be applied to individual pages that are being searched for from mobile devices.

And non-optimised pages?

John Mueller has made it clear that non-optimised content will not be removed from the search results; just that content that accommodates mobile users would be given an additional boost.

Most interesting is the fact that in the previously mentioned Hangout, John actually pointed out that websites that don’t offer a strong mobile experience could still rank highly on mobile devices if the content was deemed to be relevant enough.

Is this sounding a little familiar?

STEP 5: Taking a step back from the brink of madness.

Mobile matters. We know that.

On our own website we’re seeing around 14% of our visitors using a mobile device. That figure will only rise over time.

And for the record, we’re not set up for mobile either. We’re working on it, but it’s not ready just yet.

My prediction is that over the coming years we’re going to see the lines between different device types blur, and I think that Google realise that too.

So yes, mobile matters. And yes we all need to make sure our websites are mobile-friendly. But I recommend against emergency-meetings, knee-jerk responses or frantic emails to website designers.

STEP 6: All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.

Good SEO strategies involve putting the human visitor first. Always.

If you’re creating mobile-friendly content so that your visitors have a better experience on their mobile devices, then this is healthy. Doing so primarily for Google isn’t.

I suspect that within a few years “mobile friendly” will more or less become the norm, and therefore offer no real SEO advantage. The tail-chasing SEOs will move onto the next thing, and so the cycle continues.

The ramifications of a poorly thought-out or sloppily-executed mobile solution could be far more damaging than a slow and careful response. Work out the best solution for your website, and then how you’re going to apply it to your content.

If you’re interested in digging a little deeper:

Google Guide to Mobile Friendly Sites

Google’s Mobile Friendly Test

Google Webmaster Tools Mobile Usability Report

Be careful; be smart.

Why do Google keep updating Analytics on an ongoing basis?

It’s not just about keeping up with new technology, and it certainly goes a lot further than cosmetic changes.

So why do they invest an immense number of developer hours into something that is not only free, but has almost no competition?

It’s all about tiers.

Every market has different levels of competition, ranging from the “King of all they survey” all the way down to the “Why do they bother” at the bottom of the barrel.

Tier 1 – basic competition

In some markets this may be the most crowded level. Lots of products all jostling for space. To all intents and purposes they don’t really compete, they just exist.

Tier 2 – better

These are the products that compete with the others on one main factor. For example they may be cheaper, faster, smarter, lighter than the masses below them.

Tier 3 – better than most

The products that are better than their closest rivals on more than one level. They may, for example, be cheaper and easier to use, or lighter and stronger than the lower tier.

Tier 4 – significantly better than most

Products that are significantly better than almost all of their competition at almost everything. Products in this category may be cheaper, faster, better quality, more reliable and more desirable than their competitors.

Tier 5 – the best

This product (or occasionally products) will usually be much better than all of their competition in almost every way. In a sense they have no real competition.

Any products or services you can think of will fit this model – foods, text editors, power tools, electronic hardware, phones, accountants, paint, paper, wine, batteries and more. All of them have their earned and just place in their market.

To some extent, there is movement between the tiers, but the higher the tier, the more difficult it is to ascend. So jumping from the first to the second tier could be as simple as being cheaper, or more efficient for example. The other side of the coin is that there may be one single differentiator means that the tier two product could quickly find themselves sliding back down.

Make the transition from tier one to three, however, and not only will the product face less competition, but their place will be more secure.

It only really starts to get interesting at the highest levels. Many markets will see one single product or company in the top tier, and the chance of a tier 4 product taking their place is incredibly slim. Not impossible, but unlikely.

Yet in order to maintain their position at the top, the tier 5 company only needs to keep the gap between them and tier 4 wide enough so that no-one can cross it, and no more. In other words the company at the very top needs to make sure that they are massively better than any of their real competition. But there’s nothing to gain beyond a certain point. Far enough that they can’t make the leap is far enough.

Going back to Google Analytics, there are of course many alternatives, but how many of them are free, easy to use, scalable, reliable, require no expertise to install, work on all platforms and can be used by almost anyone anywhere?

So what would it take to compete with all of the above? More than any company can justify investing; for now.

As long as Google keep the gap between Analytics and their competition long and deep enough, and maintain it so that it just works, nothing will change anytime soon either.

If your business is healthy, you can always find plenty of reasons to leave SEO on your to-do-list for perpetuity. After all, SEO is technical, complicated, time-consuming and potentially dangerous. The SEO industry is full of self-proclaimed gurus whose lack of knowledge can be deadly. There’s the terrifying fact that even if you dabble in SEO in the most gentle and innocent way, you might actually end up in a worse state than you were to begin with.

To make matters worse, Google keep changing the rules on an ongoing basis. There have been a bewildering number of major updates, which despite their cuddly names have had a horrific impact on website owners worldwide.

Fear aside, there’s also the issue of time. It’s probably tricky enough to find the time to read this article. Setting up, planning and executing an SEO campaign might well seem like an insurmountable obstacle.

So why should you care enough about SEO to do it anyway?

The main reason is that you probably already see between 30-60% of your website traffic come from the search engines. That might make you think that you don’t need to bother, because you’re already doing so well. But you’re almost certainly wrong.

If you have a look through the keyword data in your Google Webmaster Tools account, you’ll probably see that around 30-50% of the keywords used to find your website are brand names – the names of your products or companies. These are searches carried out by people who already know about you. But the people who don’t know who you are but are searching for what you sell aren’t finding you right now. This is your opportunity.

If a person goes looking for a company or product by name, Google will steer them towards what they’re looking for. Their intelligence does have limits, however, and even though they know your name they won’t be completely clear about what you sell. That’s where SEO would come in.

Still need more convincing? How about the fact that the seeming complexities of SEO mean that your competition are almost certainly neglecting it too. They have the same reservations as you about complexity, time and danger, and hopefully aren’t reading this article, and so are none the wiser to the well-kept secret: That 70% of SEO is easy.

So I’m going to lead you through what you need to do to tap into that stream of people looking for what you sell right now.

What is Real SEO?

Real SEO is all about helping Google understand the content of your website. It’s about steering, guiding and assisting Google. Not manipulating them.

It’s easy to assume that they already understand the content and relevance of each and every page on your website, but the fact is that they need a fair amount of hand-holding. Fortunately, helping them along really isn’t very difficult at all.

Rest assured that Real SEO has nothing to do with keyword stuffing, keyword density, hacks, tricks or cunning techniques. If you hear any of these terms from your SEO advisor, run away from them as quickly as you can.

Understanding your current situation – Google Analytics

Before you can do anything to improve your SEO status, you need to get an idea of how you’re already doing. Below is a very quick and easy way of doing so.

Step 1: Open up your Google Analytics account.

Step 2: Click on the date range selector on the top right of the interface, and change the year of the first date to last year. So 12 Dec 2014 will become 12 Dec 2013. Then click on apply.

Step 3: Click on the All Sessions rectangle towards the top left, click once on Organic Traffic and click Apply.

Step 4: Click the little black-and-white squares icon that has now appeared under the date selector on the top right, and drag the slider all the way over to Higher Precision.

Step 5: Change the interval buttons on the top right of the graph to Week to make this easier to digest.

At this point your graph should look something like this:

Organic traffic levels

It’s worth noting the approximate proportion of your visitors that presently come from organic sources.

Step 6: Click the little downward arrow to the right of the All Sessions rectangle and choose remove, so that we’re only looking at the organic traffic on its own.

Step 7: Click on Select a metric next to the Sessions button above the graph and select Pages / Session. You should then see something like this:

image 02


In the example above we can see that the quantity of traffic has been increasing since the middle of August, but the quality of the traffic (as measured by the number of pages per session) has fallen significantly.

How you choose to view this is down to your own graph, recent history and interpretation of events, but this should give you an indication of how things stand at the present time. Trends are often much more revealing than a snapshot of a brief moment in time.

Your Google Webmaster Tools data

If you’re not overly familiar with your Google Webmaster Tools account, it’s really worth taking 10-15 minutes to see what’s on offer. I can’t recommend this enough. From the point of view of an SEO health-check, I’d recommend that you look into the HTML Improvements, Crawl Errors and Crawl Stats and most importantly the Search Queries.

From what you see here and the trends shown in your Analytics data, you should now have a good idea of your current status. If you want to explore further, I recommend Screaming Frog as a good diagnostics tool, or Botify if your website is large or unusually complex.

Combining the data into something useful

Your Google Analytics session will have shown you how you’re doing from an SEO point of view in terms of the quantity and to some extent the quality of your visitors. But it’s only showing you what is already working. In other words: the people that are finding you on the search engines, and clicking on your links.

The Google Webmaster Tools Search Query data, on the other hand, will give you a better idea of what isn’t working. It will show you the keyword searches that you are getting listed in the results for, but not necessarily getting clicked on. And it doesn’t take much by the way of expertise to see why.

If, for example, you see that “your targeted keyword” that you feel is extremely relevant has generated over 2,000 impressions in the last month, but produced only 2 clicks, you’ll probably find a very low average position. Bear in mind that an average position of 14 will mean being around half way down the second page of results. Think about how rarely you go beyond the first two or three listings, never mind to the second page of results, and you’ll understand why the CTR is so low.

So now you have an idea for what you’re being found for at the present time. But what about the other terms?

What would you like to be found for?

This is one of the more common SEO mistakes, on a number of different levels.

Many businesses assume that they don’t need to worry about keyword research. They think they know what terms people use to find what they sell, and they also assume that Google understand the content on their website. This is incorrect on all counts.

A better starting point is to brainstorm a small number of your most obvious keywords, then run them through Google’s Keyword Planner. Ignore the information in the Ad group ideas tab, and instead go straight to the Keyword ideas tab. Rather than wade through the very unfriendly interface, I recommend downloading the data into Excel, where not only is more detail included, but you can also slice, dice, sort and report the data as required.

From there you can delete all the irrelevant columns, and start working your way through the list, deleting any irrelevant keywords as you go along.

It’s around this stage that you may hit a problem in terms of where to focus your efforts. The number of reported searches for a given keyword is of course important, but so is the level of competition. Ideally you’d like keywords with plenty of searches but not too much competition.

I personally like to factor both together by adding a column that simply divides the number of searches squared by the level of competition. (number of searches x number of searches / competition.) There are plenty of alternatives to this basic formula, but I like it for ease of use and simplicity. Once I’ve added this column, I then sort the data by this value (largest to smallest) and I then only usually need 10-15 keywords at most to give me plenty of ideas to work with.

This is a slightly involved but effective methodology for keyword research, as what you’re left with is a list of keywords that both Google and you consider to be relevant to the content of your website. And relevance is an important concept in SEO.

So Real SEO keyword research is about making sure that your customers, website and Google are all in agreement and alignment over the content of your website. Other sources of inspiration and ideas include having a look at what terms your competition are targeting, Google Trends, and of course Google Suggest. If you’re not sure where to find these things, you can probably work out where to go to search for them!

If you want to dive further into understanding your current search engine status, go and search for some of the better keywords that you just discovered and see where you rank compared to your competition. Note that it’s vital to avoid Google serving up personalised results, so either use the privacy, incognito or anonymous mode of your browser for the searches, or use a browser that you don’t normally use. I hope this is Internet Explorer. If what you find isn’t great, don’t despair: everything in SEO is fixable. (Terms and conditions may apply).

Putting it all together

Assuming you’ve read this far and have been following my directions, you should now have a good idea of where things stand with your current search engine traffic, and a solid list of keywords that you’re not getting visitors for but very much want.

All that’s left now is to work out how to use these keywords. But before we do so, let’s take a quick step back.

If you’ve in any way kept up with what’s been happening in SEO over the last couple of years, you’ll have probably heard about Google updates with names like Panda, Hummingbird, Phantom, Pirate and more.

I won’t go into the technical details of what Google are doing, but it is important to understand why they’re trying to do so. At the most basic level, Google understand that there’s a very real problem with people who are trying manipulate their index. In response to this, they’re trying to clean up their results They don’t want people getting fed up with bad results and considering other options. (Have you even tried Bing?)

This is extremely important. Remember earlier when I said that 70% of SEO was easy? That rule still applies. So if, for example, you have a list of keywords that you know are relevant to what you sell, then all you need to do is create great content for them. Incredibly, that’s all there is to it. (Terms and conditions apply again unfortunately – see below.)

There is, however, one simple rule to be consistently followed without exception. That the content you create should not only be good quality and 100% original, but should also be written primarily for the human visitor, and not the search engine spider.

In other words if you are creating some fantastic content for a keyword like “choosing a small business HR service”, then the article should not only make perfect sense if read out loud (as opposed to the same phrase being repeated 15+ times), but should provide real value to the person reading it.

So the process is simple:

  1. Choose your keywords
  2. Create spectacular content

Wait, is it really that simple?

Unfortunately there’s a lot more to the other 30% of SEO than just creating great content and waiting for the visitors. There are issues like helping Google understand the content on your pages and website, incoming links, page authority, domain authority, usage patterns, spam factors, canonical issues and much more.

But again there’s the often overlooked fact about Google: they actually do a reasonable job of working out what’s on your website and (to some extent) understanding the gist of it. If you’ve never done any SEO on your website but still get some traffic from Google, this is why.

But even without dabbling in the other 30% of SEO, by creating the right content for the right visitors using the precise language and terminology that your potential customers are using, you’re significantly better off than your competition. And you can only gain from this.

When you’ve checked this off your to do list and made it an ingrained part of your content creation process, then you’re ready to delve into the other 30% of the SEO. The not-so-easy side.

Until then, work on understanding your current situation, exploring the opportunities, creating a list of good keywords, creating the right content for them, and starting 2015 with a little bit of smart, safe and real SEO.

If you’re spending on AdWords (or other online ads) then you’re probably paying close attention to conversion rates.

Doing so is understandable but flawed. And it may be hurting you and also Google.

At risk of oversimplifying how conversion tracking works, a person clicks on your ad, a cookie is placed in their browser, and when they buy your product, this registers as a conversion. Voilà.

The problem lies in disconnects – anything that breaks that beautiful chain.

Some examples:

- A person clicks on your ad, but someone else on a different computer pays for your product.

- A person clicks on your ad but doesn’t buy until the cookie has died.

- A person clicks on your ad on their phone, but purchases your product from their desktop computer.

The first scenario can be a big problem if you selling primarily to businesses.

The third scenario can be an even bigger problem for almost everyone.

The obvious reason for this is the growth in the number of multi-device users. A few nights ago I searched for a product on my phone, then bought it the next day from my desktop PC.

What this means is that the gap between the number of actual and recorded conversions is almost certain to widen with each passing month.

For Google this could be disastrous. AdWords customers might see that the number of reported conversions and even recorded sales in their account is slowly declining over time. Yet the actual conversions and conversions value could be increasing.

Google will of course already be aware of this problem, and the enormity of the threat it poses can’t be understated. But it’s not just Google’s problem; it’s yours too.

If, for example, you see that your AdWords ad spend remains the same but the number of conversions steadily declines, wouldn’t you be tempted to reduce your budgets?

My prediction is that this year will see Google rename AdWords conversions to something suitably vague and noncommittal like “recorded conversions” or even “conversion indicators“.

As it stands I suspect they’re caught between providing false information that can hurt both parties, and appearing to take data away from their customers.

Over to Google.

Have you ever got carried away with a bad or impractical idea?

In the cold light of day, vision and dreams are poor substitutes for facts. It can be painful.

Many times this is down to the massive gap that lies between a dream and a plan.

One simple and effective way to transform such ideas is to get rid of words and phrases like think, believe, are confident, and expect. Then substitute the beliefs and aspirations with facts. In other words replace hopes and expectations with real data.

You see data doesn’t lie.

Not only is it more honest and reliable than dreams, but it’s stronger and more resilient too.

Yet in spite of the logic, it can be too easy or tempting to ignore good data.

It’s too easy to judge a version of a page on our website by how we think it looks or communicates. Logically we know that we’re not selling to ourselves, and yet…

It’s too easy to run a split test that measures similar variations of what we’re already doing. It’s even surprisingly easy to run a split test but then ignore the results, because the version that wins doesn’t fit with what we like.

Yet it can also be dangerous to trust the data too much.

Data doesn’t lie, but deceit comes in many forms, including omission, misinterpretation and over-reliance. All of which can render your facts and consequent actions meaningless and even dangerous.

A common mistake, for example, might be to assume that your “best” market is where most of your existing sales come from. Despite having no/low visibility in other regions.

Another mistake may be to rely too heavily on what your existing customers say they like about your product. But what about the people who looked at it but didn’t buy it? Feeding your strengths is sensible in moderation, but some of your neglected weaknesses may offer greater opportunities.

I’m an ardent believer in listening to the data; to everything that it tells me. Listen with an open mind, but also a healthy degree of wariness. You might be amazed by what it tells you.

Most people have some expectations of what awaits them when they arrive on a website.

On our own site, for example, we primarily provide services related to AdWords and SEO. When I look at the keywords that bring people to our content, there are of course some words and phrases that are less targeted than others, but the majority are relevant to what we do.

So when we first arrive on a web page, we instinctively seek reassurance that we’re in the right place. If those signals aren’t there, we don’t persevere and look for more compelling evidence, we just leave.

For example when someone searches for “adwords cheat sheet” and arrives on the relevant page on our website, they see the following (without the highlighting):

landing on adwords cheat sheet

When they scan the content, they instantly understand that they’re in the right place to find what they’re looking for.

A picture of a golden retriever wearing a headset, although more charming, won’t really have the same effect.

Penny wearing a headset

So human visitors are heavily influenced by the text and images on a page. But what about the search engine spiders?

We already know that they are primarily interested in the words on a page, so in the same way that human visitors are reassured by the text, so too are search engine spiders.

But spiders are merely gatherers. They’re not particularly clever, and they’re certainly not as clever as (some of) the visitors to your website.

So they need a little guiding. The spiders that is. Actually the visitors too.

This is where Real SEO connects beautifully with common sense.

If Google can see that a significant number of other pages on your website are related to your content, this is significant.

If Google can see other websites that are related to your content linking to your website, that sends a good signal too.

If Google see that many or most of your visitors search for terms related to your content, and then stay on your website for some time (ideally engaging with it too) this is even better still.

Conversely, think of the signals sent if your other pages have no connection to the page’s content, links come from unrelated websites, and visitors bounce within a few seconds of arriving.

I do believe that SEO is becoming less dependent on keywords, but let’s not forget the obvious: that keywords are, after all, just words. And it’s going to be a long time before Google have any reliable alternative to analysing the words that you use on your website.

If you think of your language, words and content as the main criteria for Google to understand you, and the above factors as amplifiers, you can only be moving in the right direction.

If you like this idea and want to learn more, I will be holding a series of short webinars on how to apply Real SEO to your website starting on January 27th. You can sign up here.

Five years ago, the chance of getting hit by a real SEO penalty was incredibly small.

There was a lot of talk and fear about being “banned by Google”, but in the majority of cases this was completely unfounded.

And bear in mind that these were the days of black-hat SEO tactics being a lot more commonly used and accepted, as ultimately it boiled down to “what do we have to lose”.

“What do we have to lose” changed dramatically in February 2011 with Google’s first release of their Panda algorithm update, that hit so called thin content hard. And this approach has continued ever since.

So in the past, many businesses could justify leaving SEO on their to-do list. Probably not the wisest move, but it’s always hard to justify spending resources on opportunity cost, and most websites still get some traffic from Google anyway.

Today it’s a very different situation. With 17 significant updates in 2013, and 13 updates in 2014, the situation looks set to get worse before it gets better.

Why? Because there’s an ongoing cat-and-mouse battle running between Google and dodgy SEOs, and yet we’re all still seeing an awful lot of crappy websites in the search results.

You may be wondering: Why should I even care?

You need to care because this has the potential to hurt you. We’ve seen and worked with a lot of companies who never knowingly did anything wrong, but they’ve been hit by the updates.

We’ve even worked with companies that used techniques that Google accepted or even encouraged in the past, but have since decided that these are frowned upon or even outlawed.

So you may never have done anything wrong. But you could still be penalised, or even just hurt. (Pain is bad by the way).

Google’s Penguin update (originally in 2012) was all about over-optimisation. Some of the websites affected had done nothing more than try to optimise their content for Google. Eugh.

I believe that the Google of today punishes the lawless and rewards the law-abiding.

Even if you’re not hit by an algorithm update, your competition may be rewarded, pushing your site down in the rankings.

In other words you don’t even need to be hit to be knocked down.

So don’t wait for something unpleasant to happen. SEO can no longer remain on your to-do list.

Stay informed, keep up with the latest news and developments, and schedule resources to make sure that you don’t lose your Google traffic altogether.

Speaking from experience, a small investment in prevention can be dramatically more effective than a cure. Stay safe.

I recently asked for your help with an experiment to test how HTTP Referrer Information may not be passed on through SSL servers.

We’re almost there, but can I please ask for your help one last time?

All you have to do is click on the link below, then click on the link that’s on that page. That’s it.

Please only click on this link from the actual page on our server though. If you’re reading this elsewhere (for example in an RSS reader/service), please click on this link first to open this post in your browser, then click on the link below.

>>> PLEASE CLICK HERE from your web browser <<<

Let me guess. You’ve been meaning to get round to SEO for __ months, but [fill in your excuse here]. A few years ago that was questionable; today it may be deadly. Not convinced? Here are five reasons why you need to make SEO more of a priority.

Today’s technique may be tomorrow’s spam.

The rate of change in Google’s algorithms and rules has been incredible, and Google are redefining what is permissible, suspect and risky on an ongoing basis.

In the past, press releases, guest posts and even paid links were allowed; even encouraged. Today you don’t want to sit around and wait to see happens next. Staying on top of SEO current events may play an important role in your visitor counts and sales.

In SEO, movement is life

Your competition are coming for you.

With the exception of AdWords, SEO is about as competitive as it gets. You and your competition are going after the same people, in the same places, searching for the same keywords.

And you all want to outrank each other.

The status quo is dynamic and temporary. You need to actively maintain your rankings and traffic.

(Hint: the first step involves trying to do so.)

People are searching for what you sell right now.

If they’re not finding you, or you’re not making it easy for them to find you, who will they find instead? Where will they find what they’re looking for?

Now you’re competing with Google.

Google’s knowledge graph and increased top-heavy placement of AdWords ads mean that you’re not only competing with your direct competition any more. You’re also competing with Google themselves.

My screen resolution is a pretty healthy 1920 x 1080, but this is what I see when I search for sightseeing in London:

Competing with Google

I can only see three organic listings without scrolling. And why scroll? Most people will find what they’re looking for in the knowledge graph. In the above example, if you’re not in the top three, you probably won’t get clicked at all.

It’s not that difficult.

Fellow SEOs don’t like me saying this, but around 75% of SEO is pretty straightforward. And let’s face it, you’re probably not doing that much SEO at all right now. Doing anything (no matter how little) is much better than doing nothing.

Put SEO on your agenda – before a change in circumstances force you to do so.

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