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50 Shades of SEO

No more Mr Grey(hat)

Even though working in SEO may feel like the being in some of the lesser-known scenes from “Of Human Bondage,” with Big G as the cold and unfeeling waitress, not all is without hope.  Despite the fickle and capricious changes of algorithm, there is some flickering, guttering, glimmering light showing the way ahead for the unrequited search engine optimist.

Brandon Gaille has put together the “Top 50 SEO Ranking Factors for 2015” based on analysis of the top 30 Google results for over 10,000 informational keywords.  The presence and extent of 50 ranking factors were examined and correlated against the actual Google results.  Whilst two things correlating do not always imply a causative link – in these examples, I suspect at least half of the perceived causation is, in fact, effect – the implication is that one might achieve similar results by using similar techniques and technologies.

This might appear to be some modern-day form of Cargo Cultism (or post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, as we call it over breakfast) but for one thing: Content is (still) King.

Salve Rex!

Mr Gaille’s five main findings are not necessarily surprising, but worth repeating as they do seem to underpin successful content creation, website design and management, plus social media and linking strategies.

In descending order of overall importance, and of degree of personal control, the following survival tips should help maintain if not improve one’s search engine standing:

  1. Focus more on relevant, timely, high quality content.  Without compelling content, visitors may come but very quickly leave, possibly never to return.  Whilst many sites have acceptable, competent text and stock graphics, a truly inspiring site gives the visitors well-written, original, material that shows not only the care, effort, and passion involved, but engages them and adds value to their experience of the site, making them all the more likely to return, recommend, engage, interact and even buy from you.
  2. Robust site architecture is of paramount importance, enabling visitors and search engines to navigate the site in real time with intelligent links, appropriate menus, logical content placement, meaningful URLs, and functions that are actually functional. Nothing is more distressing than a site that doesn’t work.
  3. High quality backlinks will drive traffic to your site if appropriately placed on relevant sites that have some perceived measure of authority. National and international news sites, which tend to be highly rated, may link to content that you have put on-site or shared in a suitable place, giving extra credence to your site as well as raising awareness of your contribution to world knowledge and happiness. Likewise, links or shares from other reputable, authorative outlets will have a trickle down effect, boosting your ranking and ratings.
  4. Social signals help your cause by increasing and extending personal and automatic knowledge of your matchless prose and tip-top content.  Like backlinks, they can help drive visitors as well as to improve the perception and recognition of your site and brand.  Social media has the potential of most widely spreading the word about your site; once again, the content must make it worth someone actually clicking ‘share’ and telling their personal or professional networks about something that they found helpful.
  5. User signals: Click-through rate (CTR), Time on site, and Bounce rate seem optimal for sites that do well on search engines.  These, surely, are at least a result of your site being stable and loading quickly, having up-to-date and engaging content, plus manageable navigation along with the recommendations of friends and influencers.

As we head down the top five tips list, we also seem to be further tunnelling into Google Analytics territory – other analytics programmes do exist – and that will be the subject of another post.  The bottom line measure of success will vary for differing sites: perceived topical authority, number of shares & likes, amount of User-Generated Content, interactions, queries, referrals, or – hope beyond hope! – actual sales.

What are these ranking factors anyway?

The four highest-listed factors are:

  1. Click-through rate, which is rather more the effect of having a robust and engaging site.
  2. Relevant terms in the content of your pages to retain your visitor’s interest as well as demonstrating to search engines that the site has a purpose beyond merely attracting those in search of stuffed keywords.
  3. Google +1 which enables sharing and recommendation via the world’s (current) biggest search engine, providing them with peer-reviewed quality pages.
  4. Number of backlinks giving a measure of the degree of authority conferred upon your site and content by other sites that are held in high regard.

Grouping the factors together by topic, Social signals appear to have the highest influence on a site’s ranking.  In part, this is an auto-feedback situation whereby the greater the perception of the interest or value of your content, the more it will be shared, visited, re-shared, re-visited and so on.

Likewise, the value of good backlinks cannot be underestimated as they will drive traffic and search engines to your content.  Even no-follow links have their merits in helping raise brand awareness for humans reading others’ content.  This is so vitally important as, ultimately, we are writing and producing content to inform, educate and delight other human beings – hence the prime value of awe-inspiring content in the first place.

Relevant on-page content fills the middle of the list.  This really is the central strut of any half-decent SEO strategy: make outstanding content, on a stable platform, share appropriately and wait for the magic to happen. Failing that, rinse and repeat.

On-page technical factors support the bottom third of the table; without these, we would never find or navigate the sites in the first place

All these measures will – or at least should – lead to improved User signals, joy, rapture, and hearty back slapping all round.

Things that make you go “Ooh!”

So, what inspiring content shall we out online?  Well-written, original research would be a start – great for search engines and humans alike – but we also need to add value to our visitors’ experience by giving them something that will engage them in a way that they will not find elsewhere.  A tall order, maybe, but not beyond the bounds of possibility given that most sites offer so little added value.

Think along the lines of “if I were visiting this site, what would I want to know, find, and take away with me?”

Videos: demonstrations, lessons, showcases, presentations, and interviews all give the viewer addition information unique to your site that will improve their appreciation of your work

Images: infographics, maps, graphs, charts, even cartoons can often explain complex concepts in a comprehensible manner, eliminating the need for too much analysis on the visitor’s part, thus more readily cutting to the chase or sale.

Text: imagine that you are coming to the site for the first time: what would you want to know that isn’t already on Wikipedia or an industry-standard site?  How does your product or service work?  How does it help?  Why is it different?  What is the experience of a first-time buyer or user?

Games and Apps: even if these are given away for free, possibly especially so, they give your visitor something entertaining and helpful that they will not find elsewhere and so increase the likelihood of repeat visits, greater interaction, shares, recommendations, and – once again – the chance of sales.

Stone me! How much?

Or, more correctly, “how often?”

Online, we seem rather like the Athenians in Acts 17:21: “For all the Athenians, and strangers which were there, spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.”

We need to keep our visitors engaged and informed.  To this end, I am using the following plan of action:

Post to Google+ Daily
Social media updates Daily
Free content Weekly
Update blogs Weekly
LinkedIn posts Weekly
Social excerpts Weekly
Affiliate marketing Weekly
Affiliate acquisition Weekly
Find agents Weekly
Keep testing Weekly
Update CTAs Monthly
Press releases Monthly
Newsletters Monthly
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Last day at South West London Recovery College

As it says on the tin, 31 December 2013 was my last day working as a Peer Trainer at South West London Recovery College. I joined, as a student, in 2009 and took the “Taking Back Control: Planning Your Own Recovery” and “Telling Your Story” courses. The recovery process seemed to work for me and, my teaching and training talents being noted, the College offered me work as a sessional trainer. By 2010, I had undertaken the “Train The Trainer” training and let loose in my new guise on an unsuspecting world; or at least to that part of it in Southwest London mental health services.  I have also undertaken the Knowledge & Understanding Framework (KUF) for working with Personality Disorder, and have been delivering that training to staff at South West London & St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust. A path of mentoring and tutoring that restarted through IT courses at Croydon College and Merton Adult Education’s art classes took pace and there was no stopping me. I blossomed through art and Imagine Mental Health eventually invited me to run their art sessions. This was the outwardly visible start of rebuilding my life, as I found I could use my previously untapped empathy and experiences to help others. Classes and exhibitions of artwork followed, giving confidence in both mine and others’ recovery. Later the MACS drug & alcohol project further extended belief in my artistic and mentoring skills, and lead to me volunteering for the online forum that Rethink Mental Illness provides. I put longstanding IT skills and online experience developed as coping mechanisms, to better and wider use. RethinkTalk is an online community for everyone affected by severe mental illness to exchange ideas, opinions, artwork, and support. My roles there as moderator, guide, advocate, activist, friend, mordant artist, and occasional wit, have hopefully also helped others explore their situations in a safer, more supportive environment. Other artistic adventures through The Green Canteen and – lately – Expressive Salon 57  CIC have allowed me to run art groups and curate exhibitions to fill gaps in service provision for people with more challenging life experiences, who tend to feel excluded from the mainstream.  Having moved to Lambeth from Merton, I also got involved in my local Mental Health Trust, helping SLaM in co-developing and co-delivering two courses or their Recovery College. 2013 started with me stepping down from a number of voluntary and community positions to focus  on another passion: English Language Teaching.  I finally took the CertTESOL course at St George International for which I had registered some years previously, achieving a B and 4 As.   This qualification allows me to teach English to Speakers of Other Languages.  At Easter, we went to Malta – the hub of English Language Teaching in the Mediterranean – to explore places to work; Tunisia’s political stability ruling that out as an alternate location.  Having sought out potential employers, I returned to the UK and took up a part-time role teaching with EC English in London.  A further visit to Malta for interviews led to work offers teaching there; which is to where I am heading in January 2014. The moving boxes are almost all packed, the cats are awaiting their fitness to fly certification, homes are being found for art equipment, I’m building a bonfire of the old diaries, and plans for Malta are all in place … … so this should be another interesting year!