SEO and how Dexter just tried to kill my career

1st January, 2015

It was the night that Dexter attacked SEO. Let me set the scene for you…

It’s Wednesday night. I sit down on my couch in front of the TV, cup of tea in one hand, toast with peanut butter in the other, and set myself in for the next episode of one of my favorite TV shows, Dexter. If you’ve no idea what Dexter is, it’s a show about a police blood-splatter analyst who is also a serial killer and it’s a great show (except for last season, but that’s a whole other blog post).

About 20 minutes in Dexter and one of this seasons ‘blow-in’ characters are using a search engine to try and find some information on a serial killer currently causing chaos in Miami. And then it happened. The conversation started like this:

“You know Google was so five minutes ago. Here, try Eliot”

The characters then type in a URL to

“This search engine uses an algorithm that aggregates content without getting tripped up by SEO bull$#!*”!

To most people, this would’ve just been another throw-away line but to me this was an attack. As MYOB’s ‘search guy’, I was mortified that Dexter, or at least Dexter’s writers, were attacking what I do!

I’m exaggerating of course, but it did present me with the perfect intro to a post about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). If you or your business has a website, then it is definitely something you should know about.

SEO is the practice of promoting, enhancing and building your sites content to rank well in search engine results. It requires work on both internal (content, links, infrastructure etc.) and external (link sharing, social, etc.) aspects of a website. Find more about the basics here.

Why does MY business/site need SEO?

There are three ‘big guys’ in the search engine space – Google, Bing and Yahoo (though Google is definitely the most dominant). If your site can’t be found on any of these three, then you’ve got a pretty big problem. No matter what your site has to offer, search engines are the number one way that people find you online.

Search queries are the core of search engines. Queries are what you type into the search box – user-generated questions that are sent into the search engines database looking for the best answer. SEO moulds your site/content with the sole purpose of making search engine ‘crawlers’ find your site and rank your content as the most relevant for particular terms. The more relevant your content is to the term being searched, the higher your SERP (Search Engine Results Page) position. The higher your SERP position, the more likely your website will be visited.

My content is awesome. Shouldn’t I be number one anyway?

Ultimately, this is the number one goal search engines are trying to achieve. (Arguably, though, their number one goal is actually getting you to click on paid ads that make search engines obscene amounts of money involving many, many zeros).

Search engines try their very best to deliver the most relevant content as possible to the user. But there is a limit to what their algorithms are able to achieve. This is where SEO comes into it. SEO ensures that the signals that search engines are looking for exist within or alongside your website. Content is most important – after all, if your content is rubbish then there’s no reason for people to come back.

So what are these magical aspects that SEO provides that don’t exist on my site already?

In most cases, a lot of these ranking factors already exist within a website – SEO will just enhance and add to them. The list of ‘ranking factors’ are many and highly debated.

The internet is full of opinions, advice and experiments about exactly what they are, but in the end the only definitive answers lie behind the well guarded closed doors at Google, Bing and Yahoo. But there are tried and tested factors that remain a constant in this ranking business.

Here’s a list of a few of them:

Some easy ones:

  • External links to your page/site – Get other sites to link to your site. Quality and relevance of sites being linked from is also very important.
  • Anchor text used in links – Anchor text is the word(s) used in a link. Eg. The anchor text of this link: Online Accounting Software is Online Accounting Software.
  • Search volume of domain/brand – The number of searches are occurring for your name/brand/domain that result in a click to your site.
  • Keywords used in title tag – Is the keyword you hope to rank for being used in the title tag (discussed above)?
  • Social metrics (Facebook, Twitter, + etc) Shares/links to both site and individual pages
  • Find more easy SEO tips here: 9 easy SEO tasks you can do for $0

A few of the nerdier ones:

  • A site/page’s perceived value to the user – The higher the better.
  • Usage data – Search clickthrough rate, back button usage from search.
  • Site usability/design/readability – Is your site user friendly?
  • Presence/Prominence of advertising – The more ads on your site, the more likely your content will be seen as ‘spammy’. You’ll achieve a better ranking if your site is not swamped with ads.
  • Topic Modeling – I love this aspect purely because of how incredibly hardcore it is. Even its technical name sounds scary: ‘Latent Dirichlet Allocation’.  Topic Modeling is a search engine’s way of figuring out what you are talking about eg. A search for ‘Clarke Kent’ would ultimately know to show you content about Superman, even though the word Superman was never mentioned.

The list goes on and on, and the factors and tactics are constantly changing. What were the most important aspects 10 years, five years, one year, even as few as three weeks ago, have changed dramatically.

How am I meant to know all of that stuff?

In short, you’re not meant to know all the details. It’s like buying a car. You just need to know enough to keep the engine running.  If it breaks down or you want it to be the fastest car it can be, you get a mechanic.

It’s exactly the same with SEO – if you always stick to these basic principles, your site will be better positioned than most other websites on the internet.

  1. Make sure your site is user friendly and well built
  2. Ensure your content is relevant, current and not ‘spammy’
  3. Get relevant and quality sites to link to your site
  4. Promote and share your site’s content on social channels

But if you do decide you need the ‘Ferrari’ of websites for search, then seek out an SEO professional – that is unless Dexter happens to get to us all first.

Happy searching.