Latest insights from an indepth interview with Randal Glick, Digital Marketing lecturer at the Digital Skills Academy about the future of SEO.

SEO – how would you explain to a newbie what this means?

SEO (search engine optimisation) is about making sure your site is found in search engines, organically not through purchasing ads, for services and products you provide.

Why is SEO still important for 2016?

Search is still strong and still the leading referrer to most websites. Getting people to the right pages straight off the bat is going to be important as long the internet is used to search.

What do you think about the evolution of the semantic web, are we close to having one?

It’s grown leaps and bounds over the last 18 years, we talk about Google now. Google emerged in 1998, and achieved pre-eminence in 2002. Since then they have dominated search. We talk about ‘google’ but really we mean ‘search’, it’s just that Google have been leading the way for a while. Three to four years ago Google released a video about the knowledge graph.

This showed how we are moving to a more semantic tool, this is what Google are aiming for. They want to make it more interactive, with the goal to build knowledge based relationships, so that you get better searches. A lot of content has been written now using thematic content rather than simply using key words repetitively. People have forgotten what SEO should be about. In the early days search engines just understood keywords, but they have evolved and are much more sophisticated now.

What makes good SEO?

Caring more for the searcher than the site. If you concentrate in providing a good, useful experience to your visitors, you will start seeing an improvement in Google with far less effort than if you tried to constantly find new loopholes to exploit in Google’s algorithms while they constantly close them. Now it is about better content and is it relevant content in relation to what the searcher was looking for. It used to be that you would double up on keywords, but now and going forward you have to care for your searcher more than your site. If not you might get a sale but not repeat experience.

It is important to make a good UX (user experience) for your site, to design the site for success. While keeping in mind what you want people to do, what your end goal is. Now included in the Google search algorithm is an assessment of whether if people succeed on the site. This a good sign of whether the site is relevant. Google measures whether you completed goals on the website. If you bought shoes on a shoe selling website, Google sees this as sign that it’s a good site. You need a good website, UX is important, make sure you clean up the technical hiccups, and have good page-load times, but overall make sure you have a clear understanding of what you want visitors to your site to do. Top Tip: Use the Web Page Test Tool to measure your websites load time.

Top Tip: Use the Web Page Test Tool to measure your websites load time.

The Google search algorithm is constantly evolving. Why this is something to be aware of and how it has changed?

The all-consuming mantra of most SEO practitioners “watch out what Google changes” … for 98-99% of websites that concern themselves with being the best they can be, ethically and morally, they won’t have to worry overmuch about what Google does. Google is plugging loopholes and improving its search results so that its user base will get the best quality search results possible, and that is an ever evolving process. However, being aware of the updates and changes will let website owners know what is going on in the search world, and provide them with knowledge about stuff they shouldn’t be doing Websites need to be the best they can be ethically and morally. If you can stand over your SEO strategy and feel comfortable explaining it to members of your family then it’s probably a good approach. If not, you may achieve short term gains but you are risking longer term negative consequences.

Are Bing and the other search engines still important to consider when planning SEO campaigns?

Absolutely, it’s Search Engine Optimisation, not Google optimisation, but for the most part, if you get things right with Google, you will get it right with the rest of the engines as they tend to follow Google’s lead (which is why Google will remain in dominant position until a challenger comes out).

Also, there’s a lot of local SEO that helps businesses of all sizes be found within their community (community can refer to local neighbourhood or country) and it’s important to understand which search engine your target audience is using and following the guidelines that engine provides to optimise accordingly. Bing/Yahoo are still used by about 20% of the search audience in the US. Baidu has about 74% of China’s searches (Google only 2.5%) so knowing your audience is of huge importance with any marketing campaign you run.

Google talk about how they want to reward good content rather than encourage keyword stuffing in articles – what implications will this have for SEO moving forwards?

The same implications we’ve been seeing over the last 17 years. Better search results happen, due to providing better websites. SEO started off as a practice to inflate the importance of websites. Google has been implementing changes to bring search results back to the important end user. SEO is about ensuring search engines know what content you have and making them realise why you should be treated as a valued resource, therefore showing up highly in related SERPs. Good, quality, unique, well written content will always be of benefit to searchers, so it makes sense to reward those who provide it. Keywords should be used to give you an idea, because they are used in ranking reports, but they are a primitive tool. You need to know what people are looking for, but don’t concentrate on the word itself, write about content relevant to this. The H1 to H6 hierarchy are important, if you can understand how it all relates because this is now used by Google to see if the content follows this structure.

What aspects of SEO do you teach at Digital Skills Academy?

An understanding of SEO strategy and common SEO tactics such as use of title elements, meta description tags and other coding issues. Speed of page and site load, link building and content generation are also covered. There is a unit specifically devoted to writing for the web and content marketing, which is an evolutionary byproduct of SEO. Both the International Honours and Ordinary Degree offer different levels of content, but SEO is covered in them all. There is no SEO only module, as it is covered within the various different Digital Marketing modules. It’s important to have a good overview as different sectors will require specific strategies. We cover SEO strategy, how it works, the importance of thinking about the searcher, and technical components including content generation, titles, page load and site load speeds. There are some units specifically for content marketing, h tags, thematic content, and units covering search, link building.

What resources would you recommend to people looking to learn more?

For SEO specific I always suggest people look at the ‘Do you need an SEO’ article by Google , It has a link to their SEO starter guide. I also recommend for keeping touch with the Search world It’s good if you know some basic principles about digital marketing, and growth hacking related to digital marketing, looking at growth strategies and testing.

Who are good thought leaders would you recommend to follow?

Matt Cutts is a great start and Rand Fishkin. Someone not as famous in the Search world is Dr Andy Williams,  not to be confused with Andy Williams SEO I know, two Andy Williams! The other one may be good too, but I can only recommend the ‘Dr’ Andy Williams. Andy’s written several books on the subject and has good SEO thoughts and insights.

Tell us about a successful SEO campaign and what they did well?

I tend to deal with organisations that need SEO firefighting, to find out what is wrong with their current strategy (or lack of) and correct it. A painful example of a single mistake having a big impact was for an Irish chain of hotels. They were changing all of their sites to new domains with clear instructions to implement 301 redirects from the old site to the new one. They forgot to implement this for one of the sites. The result was the new site was not indexed for 3 months and the existing site was removed because all links to it generated error pages since the old domain no longer existed.

This had a seriously negative impact on their search ranking when potential customers looked for their service. It took a lot of unnecessary time and money to correct this simple mistake! There was also a Russian site who intentionally annoyed their customers. It was an ecommerce website, with poor customer service. They aimed to intentionally annoy the customers, to get people to complain on social media. At the time Google ranked sites based on the number of links to it, regardless of whether they said good or bad things. This built lots of links regardless of the negative comments, and in the short term goal they made money, due to Google’s error. This forced Google to rethink it’s linking strategy. For a short time the site achieved world wide exposure but it undermined their longer term reputation.

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