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SEO: how it all adds up

I had an interesting conversation recently, with someone who knows a lot more about SEO than I do, in which they suggested that SEO is now so complex that it’s almost impossible to define a narrow set of specific tactics. Instead, I was told, it’s almost a question of making sure you’ve got lots of content, use lots of different online media, associate your brand with what you do, explain everything and just improve the user experience on your site. Google understands the topics which are related to generic search terms, and if those related topics don’t feature heavily within the page, the site and the domains which link to it, your page is unlikely to be considered the ultimate authority. So just make yourself a big name in the industry and provide a useful website. The rest should follow.

I thought about this and it’s true: if you take a look at the search results for competitive consumer products and services, the top results in Google are pretty much what you’d hope they’d be, as an unbiased search engine user. Try searching for ‘sofa beds‘, ‘health clubs‘ or ‘parcel delivery companies‘. Try searching for ‘how do I renew my passport‘ or ‘where can I give blood‘. You get the best results, straight off the bat.

And yet…

It’s taken 20 years of data collection in unprecedented quantities for Google to be able to provide such good results for queries which are made thousands of times a day. It’ll be several years yet before we get to that sort of level with queries which are made a few dozen times a day, which is more likely to be the case in your field of activity. How many of you sell products or services where the Google results for your most basic generic searches can truly be said to be perfect? Try searching for ‘pneumatic cylinders‘ or ‘pressure sensors‘ or ‘spectrophotometer calibration‘ and the results are disappointingly patchy. There’ll be stuff that doesn’t deserve to be in the top 10, and what is there won’t be in the order it ought to be. So there’s still all to play for. Keep tidying up those titles and descriptions so your results look better than everyone else’s. Keep adding content to your site and to existing pages which are ranking well but could do better. Keep getting links from great sites whenever you get the opportunity. Keep posing questions and answering them. Keep associating your brand name, across the web, with the products and services you provide. It all adds up.