2017 is here and it is time to make sure your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) practices are up to scratch, and also say goodbye to those “shady SEO dealers” that promise miraculous Google busting formulae.

As a website owner, you need understand what equates to good SEO practice, and what equates to bad practice. If you make a bad move it could land you in “Google Jail”. In this article we will try and give you some practical tips that will aid the usability of your website and keep you on the right side of Google.

Some people believe that SEO is akin to a mysterious and black art practiced only by a shadowy cadre of elite proto-hackers. It isn’t, it’s the application of common sense and good customer service. Google’s number one tenet, and it is one that we support voraciously, is that if your website provides the best and most authoritative user experience for someone seeking the subject matter you publish on, you will rank highly. In other words, write good content, and the rest will take care of itself.

As a general Internet rule of thumb, if anyone ever offers to put you at the top spot of Google, you should run a virtual mile! Nobody can guarantee such fortune. We had a client who decided to try one of these agencies out and paid for some “SEO work”. Initially he was pleased with the results. About 3 days later the client discovered Google had moved his website from the first page to the 18th.

A different client had engaged a number of “black hat” agencies to improve his ranking. We spoke with one of them over the phone, and they told us they had devised a formula that defeated Google’s latest algorithms. So lets get this straight. A small 20 person-ish agency claimed it had found a way to beat several hundred man years of development and hundreds of millions in investment in Google on their own. Either they are utter geniuses and will end up writing the next internet or they were stretching the truth just a little…

1. Content is King

Your content should be interesting, useful, unique or in some-way important to users looking for information on a particular subject. It should change regularly and it should be well written so it provides a first class user experience. It is that simple. Are you planning on filling your content with generously scattered keywords so Google will think you are the best site on the ‘Net? Think again. For some time now, the big G has been using “natural language” algorithms that automatically read content to make sure that it is not just filler and gobbledegook filled with keywords. Keywords are still important – you can’t write a good article about a subject without referencing it – but you really shouldn’t concern yourself any more with trying to stuff keywords into your articles.

2. Be Secure

Google has been using a site’s security rating as a signal in it’s search algorithms since at least 2014, and it has recently once again emphasised that sites that don’t support Secure Sockets Layer / HTTPS will be marked down. SSL is simple to setup – we’ve written about it here previously. There is no penalty in performance associated with running your site via SSL so we recommend everybody implements it.

3. Meta Tags do still have a role to play

Google has been eradicating the importance of the Meta Keywords and Meta Description Tag from its search results since about 2009. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore them though. Meta Tags are key for helping present snippets and descriptors for your website which in turn help improve your clickthrough rate. Meta Keywords and descriptions should be relevant, concise, and sparingly used.

4. Structure your markup

HTML is not just the language of the web for browsers to display, it also helps search engine spiders understand what is going on. It is important therefore to use the right tags to describe the right areas and none are more important then the Header tag in this context. Header tags (H1, H2 etc) tell the spider what is an important headline and what isn’t. Traditionally many agencies have focussed just on the use of the H1 tag. H1’s should sit at the top for sure, but structured use of all heading levels will assist a spider in composing a clearer picture of your content structure and thus determining what your page is really about.

5. Optimise for Mobile

Google released the rather ominously named “Mobilegeddon” update in 2015. This update decrees that websites that are not Mobile friendly will get marked down in Google’s Algorithms. If your website was built before 2009, you might want to look at how it reacts on a mobile device – chances are it won’t scale pleasingly. Mobile friendly sites should be easy to read on a ‘phone or tablet, and also preferably use a responsive layout that adjusts it’s layout to best serve the host device. If your site doesn’t meet these basic criteria it is subject to being penalised. Statistics suggest that all but the most optimised of websites have suffered a decrease of up to 5% in website traffic since the launch of the update.

6. Location, location, location!

Google is trying to make sure that local search is an almost seamless user experience. If you search for a plumber you will be shown the most relevant local tradesmen in your area because Google truly wants to be useful. It is important to make sure your geographic details are prominent on your website. It is also highly advisable to register your business with the Google “My Business” service to ensure you have given your site the correct details for a local placing.

7. Low Quality back-links are worse then none at all

Your footprint on the internet includes all websites that are linked back to you. In the past, various shady dealers would sell you links on websites to improve your Google ranking. These worked for a bit, but as ever, Big G noticed the strategy being employed and rightly took offence. It now looks at the quality of content for referring websites and analyses its purpose. If your link is published on a directory of nothing more than random links, you will get marked down for poor quality backlinks. High quality backlinks are gold dust, poor quality ones are very much not.

Dodgy SEO salesman want your money !

We hope you have found these tips useful – let us know by leaving us a comment or suggestions below. Remember, when choosing an SEO agency, if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is!

Focus your efforts on creating interesting and fresh content and Google (and all the others) will reward you with a decent search engine ranking.