To understand the relevance of search engine optimisation, it’s important to appreciate how search engines have evolved. These essential tools for modern life weren’t always able to deliver thousands of ranked results within a couple of seconds. Indeed, early search engines were almost unrecognisable from 2018-era Google and Bing. In the 1990s, dozens of competing engines served up radically different results for the same search terms, with unique ways of indexing and ordering results.
A real page-turner
You can think of a search engine as a librarian in charge of online content. Ask for a particular piece of information, and it will identify locations where relevant data might be found. Like librarians, search engines rely on an indexing system that records the contents found at each location. Yet primitive engines like Veronica and Jughead based their results purely on titles and file names, rather than thoroughly scanning page content and weblinks.
The first search engine with a contemporary approach to page rankings was 1994’s Yahoo!, where users paid to have a man-made description of the site added beneath the uniform resource locator (or URL) identifying an individual web page. A year later, Lycos began ranking websites based on relevance to specific search terms. For the first time, it was possible to achieve higher positions by optimising content. The same year Lycos launched, another new engine called AltaVista introduced natural language queries for the first time. Filtering out stop words like “my” and “it” simplified searches for the general public.
In 1996 a search engine called BackRub was in development. Uniquely, it scored websites according to their authority – the number of other sites linking to a particular URL, and how trustworthy those sites were. Within two years, BackRub had changed its name to Google, and the concept of search engine optimisation entered the mainstream. Many SEO principles have remained unchanged ever since, although the precise algorithms used to calculate site rankings have evolved almost beyond recognition.
Google rose to prominence despite the fact that Ask Jeeves had a larger advertising budget, Lycos had trawled more web pages and Overture was the first engine to introduce pay-per-click advertising. Quite simply, Google’s algorithm provided more accurate results than its rivals. Rankings were calculated based on everything from inbound links to the frequency of keywords, attempting to predict which results would be most helpful for audiences.
Although the exact composition of the algorithm used to scan and rank web pages is shrouded in secrecy (to prevent disreputable agencies finding workarounds), Google has consistently drip-fed key information into the public domain. Its algorithm is believed to change every few weeks, increasing or decreasing the importance attached to specific attributes. Arch-rival Bing doesn’t amend its algorithm quite as frequently, but regular changes are still introduced to maintain its position as the English-speaking world’s second-biggest search engine.
Because of these shifting sands, a website can’t rest on its laurels. Not only are SEO best practices constantly evolving, so are competitor websites. If you and a rival company had websites with identical ranking scores, but their site was updated twice as frequently as yours, this single point of difference would see the competitor site ranking higher. The need for regular content updates has spawned an entire industry of digital marketing professionals and bloggers, churning out web copy on a daily basis.
Words are very necessary
There are numerous factors used to calculate a website’s overall ranking. These include:
- How long the site has been in existence
- When it was last updated
- Traffic volumes and the time visitors spend on the site overall
- The quantity and quality of third-party websites linking to it
- The quantity and quality of outbound links
- Page loading speeds on mobile devices
- Missing pages, broken hyperlinks or other signs of neglect.
Yet arching above all these criteria is the prevalence of keywords and long tails. The latter is a phrase containing three or more words which someone might use in their search. For instance, a consumer wanting to buy an estate car in West Yorkshire might search for “new Volvo Leeds”. Yet a long-established franchised dealer in the centre of Leeds may not rank as highly as a local garage whose website contains numerous references to the marque and its location. While the bullet points above all affect a site’s reputation, it’s the presence of keywords that drive specific searches to a particular location. And although stuffing a website with keywords is inadvisable (the search engine algorithms now recognise readability), knowing which terms to focus on is equally important for SEO gurus and enthusiastic amateurs alike.
Search and ye shall find
The challenge for a small business or entrepreneur is how to ensure a new website is optimised as soon as it’s launched, rather than six months later. A florist or baker can’t be expected to understand why a CSS minifier improves server response times, or how nofollow links reduce blog comment spam. What they need is a platform to identify areas where improvements should be made, guiding them through the process one step at a time.
This is where SEO Guru comes in. It’s an optional software package offered to UK2 customers, a cloud-hosted online marketing tool that audits individual websites, identifying areas where optimisation could be achieved. Each jargon-free recommendation is backed up with practical advice on how to achieve it. Everything from keyword rankings to page loading speeds will be analysed on a daily basis, evaluating whether existing changes have been successful and advising if further improvements should be made.
UK2’s SEO Guru service is far more cost-effective than using a digital marketing agency or employing a real SEO guru on a full-time basis. In fact, our Business Package costs less than £10 a month (excluding VAT), while a 30-day free trial enables you to get a feel for the platform. For SEO beginners, this is the perfect way to optimise a website without spending weeks learning how to code and edit software.