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How To Know Your SEO Is Working 

How To Know Your SEO Is Working 

SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is a multi-billion pound industry with a seemingly endless supply of “experts” vying for your business. Whether you’ve signed on the dotted line and engaged one of the many companies offering this service or are attempting to go down the DIY route, how do you know your SEO is working? 

White Hat vs Black Hat 

Before moving on, it’s worth explaining the two different types of SEO available to you today. The high quality, reputable practice of search engine optimisation is known as White Hat SEO. The questionable and downright dodgy methods of search engine optimisation are known as Black Hat SEO. 

Believe it or not, both ways can initially have positive and sometimes excellent results on both your search engine rankings (the position of your site within a search engines index) and the number of visitors to your website. However with SEO, and indeed your website in general, it pays to play the long-game, and at some point, if you or your SEO team rely on black hat techniques, you will pay the price and wish you’d taken a more wholesale white-hat approach to SEO. 

Spotting Black Hat SEO Techniques 

So you’ve engaged the services of an SEO company to manage your SEO efforts… Great! But how would you know if they were taking shortcuts by dipping into the black hat spellbook when it comes to your websites SEO? 

Luckily, Actuate are here to help, and with a little practice you can usually spot things aren’t right quite quickly, and without blowing our own trumpet, this is when you should cease all work with them and call Actuate on 01244 911360 instead. 

Below is a typical list of items you should look out for when it comes to your SEO. If you find any of these techniques deployed for your SEO, it should raise serious concerns about the reputability of the company you have hired. 

Keyword Stuffing 

The act of repeating the keywords you want to rank for with search engines. Keyword stuffing is easy to spot because it doesn’t read like a natural sentence. For example, “Our pork shoulder was voted the best pork shoulder by pork shoulder connoisseurs nationally. Not only did they love our pork shoulder, but they also said our pork shoulder was better than other pork shoulders based on the great pork shoulder taste it has.” 

Plagiarism  

Your website’s number one asset is unique content, take this away, and search engines know you have nothing of relevancy to offer potential visitors. So if you outsource your copywriting to another company, make sure it’s written just for you and not plagiarised from other sites. There are many tools to help you check if your content is unique or not; one of them is https://plagiarismdetector.net/

Hidden Text 

Hiding text full of keywords designed to manipulate search engines but irrelevant to users is an ancient and poor SEO technique. This one is harder to spot unless you know what you’re looking for, but some methods are easier to spot than others. If someone has hidden text by changing its colour to match your site’s background, you can usually find it by dragging your mouse over your site’s content and looking for highlighted information you didn’t see previously. 

Link Farms 

Link farms are websites built with the primary purpose of linking to other sites. Some less than reputable web firms use them as a way to gain backlinks to your website quickly. These link farms  usually have little to no unique content and are seen as spammy by search engines. The links surrounding yours may also be spammy (we’ve seen links to buy cheap tobacco, Viagra and more next to links for children’s teddy bears) which means your site gets tarnished by hanging out in the wrong neighbourhood! 

“Old McSpammer had a farm, e-i-e-i-oh, 

And on that farm he built some links, e-i-e-i-oh 

With a backlink here, and a backlink there, 

Here a link, there a link, 

Everywhere a link, link…” 

Credit Scott Willoughby 

Location Spam 

Local search is big business, and with many people wanting products quickly, the popularity of local search and click and collect is growing. To gain more visitors to clients websites, some un-reputable agencies add several new geo-targeted pages to their clients’ sites each targeting a specific location.  

You’ll often see links towards the bottom of the site or in the website footer for these pages which often look like this, “Chester Plumber, Cheshire Plumber, Manchester Plumber” and so forth. Each linked to a different page with more keyword spam. 

There are many other types of Black Hat SEO and if you’re concerned that you may have unwittingly been affected by Black Hat techniques, get in touch with the team here at Actuate who will be more than happy to take a look on your behalf. 

Don’t Be Fooled By Fancy Reporting 

SEO companies operate in many ways; some offer glossy reports to show you what they have achieved; others prefer a verbal catch-up over coffee and cake. Whatever happens, make sure fancy reporting doesn’t fool you.

Just what do we mean when we talk about fancy reporting? Well, imagine you receive a report like  this: 

Google Ranking (August 2021) 

Keyword(s) Rank Last Month Rank This Month Pink Apples Chester 104 1 

Red Apples Cheshire – 2 

Crunchy Green Apples Chester 57 1 

Impressive! And that’s just an example with three sets of keywords, but imagine it scaled up with forty or fifty keywords, now we’re talking. But if you stop and think we’re missing one huge and vitally important piece of the puzzle, any guesses? If you said the number of people searching for those keywords, you win a gold star. Anyone can rank highly on search engines for obscure keywords that don’t receive any searches; the real trick is ranking for high-quality search terms with hundreds if not thousands of searches per month. You have been warned! 

Don’t Chase Unrelated High Intent Traffic 

Firstly what’s high intent traffic I hear you shout. High intent traffic usually relates to traffic generated from a search engine that uses keywords indicating that the user is highly motivated to place an order. A great example could be something along the lines of “McDonald’s Delivery Birmingham”. 

Now we know what high intent traffic is why shouldn’t you chase unrelated terms? Looking at our previous example, if we were a burger bar in Birmingham, we may think raising our position in search engines for the phrase “McDonald’s Delivery Birmingham” could be an ideal way to siphon more business our way. You could be right, but there is also a high probability that a user has already made up their mind they want a McDonald’s branded burger and whatever you do will fall upon deaf ears. Concentrating on other, more generic terms may be a better strategy, for instance, “Burger Delivery Birmingham”. 

Always concentrate on keywords and phrases that are more likely to convert, only after thoroughly exhausting these possibilities should you look at longer “unrelated high intent” shots with a high probability of bouncing. 

Avoid Ranking Guarantees 

As a website owner, you’ve probably had an email or three promising to get you to the number one spot on Google. Be warned that no company can make this guarantee and Google itself warns against such companies.

“No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google. Beware of SEOs that claim to  guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a  “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.” 

Google (link to https://developers.google.com/search/docs/beginner/do-i-need-seo ) 

Don’t be put off by genuine companies who can show actual real-world results for their clients and offer estimations of what you should expect. But do steer clear of anyone promising or guaranteeing positions, they are just lying! 

Don’t Confuse SEO with CRO 

By now we know that SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, but the chances are that the anacronym CRO may have you baffled. CRO stands for Conversion Rate Optimisation which means optimising your website’s content to help increase the number of conversions (often sales). Whatever you do, don’t confuse these two objectives, whilst they often overlap if you have hired someone purely for SEO their goal is to get people to your website, nothing more. If you hire someone for CRO their goal is to get your current visitors to convert more, and not attract new visitors to your site. If you want to achieve both goals, then make this clear from the start of your relationship with whoever you chose to engage. 

Partner With Companies Willing To Work 

So we’ve concentrated on a lot of the do-nots, but what about the dos? When it comes to SEO, the first thing any genuine and high-quality agency will often do is audit your site as well as those of your direct competitors. By doing this, you get to see the whole picture, including what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. Without this initial work at the beginning of your relationship, there is no way for an SEO agency to come up with an exact blueprint of what your requirements are. Never be tempted to skip these steps to save money. If you ask a legitimate agency to do so, the answer will usually be no, mainly because it could hamper their efforts and affect your relationship with them negatively. 

Have A Little Patiences 

White Hat SEO can have a tremendous effect on the number of organic visitors to your site in the long-term, but it’s never a quick-fix (which is why Google invented Pay Per Click)! A reputable SEO firm should manage your expectations which usually can take a good twelve months to pay dividends. 

Again be wary of the Black Hat sellers who often promise results within weeks, which may sound appealing, but when your house of cards comes tumbling down in the longer term, it will take much longer to rebuild.

Analyse Results Yourself 

It’s great leaving everything in the hands of your SEO guru’s, but it’s also worth learning the basics of  SEO analysis yourself. It’s quite simple to keep your finger on the pulse of your sites SEO, and with tools such as Google Analytics, it can take just a few minutes out of your busy schedule per month to stay up to date. 

But why bother with this added work when you don’t have to? The reason is simple, so you know you’re not having the wool pulled over your eyes. If you’re looking at the numbers yourself and are told that “Last month you had 67,000 visitors”, it’s easy to see someone isn’t telling the whole truth when it turns out that you only had 3,400 visitors and 67,000 page views (the number of pages with  your site that your actual visitors viewed). 

Learn to use the tools available to you to keep a broad check on what you are told; you’ll soon learn if you can trust the company you have chosen to work with this way. 

Pro Tip: Learn to locate these three items each month in your Google Analytics dashboard, which is enough for basic analysis. 

1) Number of unique visitors to your site for the month. You want these to increase. 

2) Top sources of traffic to your website (i.e. Search engines, social media etc.). SEO should focus on organic search engine traffic and inbound links from other websites.  

3) Your sites bounce rate as a percentage of traffic. You’ll be looking for this to decrease if possible or stay steady; however, an increase in bounce rates can indicate a problem with your on site content and not necessarily the SEO work undertaken. 

Conclusion 

As the number of sites added to the internet expands exponentially, many businesses are desperate to be seen. That desperation can often lead to bad decisions, especially when faced with the many  snake oil peddlers rife in today’s SEO industry. Learn to take a step back, evaluate your goals and make an informed decision on who you work with based on knowledge gleaned from articles such as  this. Good luck with your SEO and remember Actuate are always here if you’d like a no-obligation chat about your website strategy.

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Mat O'Connor
7 Min Read

Published: 1 March 2021

Mat is the founder here at Actuate. His role focuses on strategy, culture, looking after our clients and every now and then getting stuck in with coding.

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