Pushing your web portfolio up Google’s rankings needn’t be as difficult as the professionals would like to make out. Source: Shutterstock

Free SEO: The truth behind The Dark Arts

THE DARK ARTS of search engine optimization(SEO) can easily cost any business as many thousands of dollars as much as it feels it has to waste. In an online world where anyone can claim to be an expert, finding an SEO consultancy which offers very little for a great deal of cash is simple.

Before entering naively into a relationship with an SEO agency that may not prove effective, it will pay dividends if some of the basics of SEO are understood, and some simple questions are asked and answered.

Do I need SEO?

The nature of the Internet is changing. People, especially the young, are using the web less. Instead, millennials are using apps, rather than browsers to consume content online.

How products and services are sourced depends on their nature, the people looking for them, and how, typically those searches take place. Looking for the best deal on an Xbox game is quite different from looking for corporate legal advice, which is different again from looking for an emergency plumber. Likewise, the people undertaking those searches are different, as are the search methods they employ.

So, the first question to ask is, do you actually need your website optimized for search? Or can you reach your audience more effectively through other channels?

What do Google* do?

*Other search engines do exist. For the purposes of this article, Google is used as a catchall term for all search engines.

Google is in the business of providing information. It earns its money, and lots of it, from supplying accurate and relevant information to people searching for answers.


Both Google and many SEO experts will soon part the unwary from their cash. Source: Shutterstock

Your web portfolio, therefore, needs to provide relevant, accurate information to Google’s customers and users. In the past, websites have tried to hoodwink Google in a variety of ways. No good comes of this “black hat” approach. It simply isn’t worth it: getting blacklisted or demoted in Google’s rankings just isn’t a good idea.

How does Google’s search work?

Despite many opinions online to the contrary, no-one outside of Google’s team knows how its search algorithms work. The entire SEO community is involved in a giant guessing game as to how websites are ranked.

There do appear to be some general rules to website content, however, that seem to produce good results. These are pretty simple and easy to follow.

Do I need to pay to rank higher on Google?

There are lots of ways to pay for better Google ranking, and also, of course, many ways in which fools can be separated from their money.

[Anyone claiming to be able to rank any site at #1 on Google is lying.]

In brief, businesses can pay Google directly to appear in audience’s online experiences, or they can pay experts to help them achieve the same goals by using various methods.

Paying Google usually means getting involved in display advertising, sponsored search results, advertisement syndication, and so on. Rule number one for the wary here is that Google will make it very easy for you to spend a lot of money. Whether or not that money gets results, is quite another matter.

Paying an expert will involve them undertaking some combination of the methods listed below, plus, possibly, paying Google for sponsored advertising, as above – albeit in a more educated fashion than the naive newcomer.

Can I rank higher on Google, for free?

Yes, but:

As any businessperson will tell you, spending time on any activity bears a cost. And working on a web portfolio’s search engine ranking takes time.

How do I rank higher on Google, for “free”?

“Produce content online that is accurately curated, relevant, freely accessible, up-to-date and well regarded by influential others.”

This statement may be strikingly obvious, but it is surprising how much published web content is not all, or indeed, many of those things. For instance, some website owners do the following:

  • Do not describe the content on offer in ways “helpful” to computers – such as those that run Google.
  • Do not publish much content, and what they do publish rarely changes.
  • Place content behind barriers such as sign-ups, or paywalls.
  • Place content behind barriers of vernacular: that is, use jargon or vocabulary that people searching for their goods or services would not know, nor necessarily use.
  • Offer information that is not regarded highly by other Internet users.

Avoiding each of those pitfalls is not easy, nor will skirting them come quickly. But for the sake of brevity, here are some guidelines.

  1. Work out what your audience is looking for. Not necessarily what you offer, in terms of your organization’s language, but what people might, for instance, type into a search engine. Make a list of those key phrases, and start to refer to them (oddly) as “keywords” – this is SEO jargon. There are plenty of software tools out there which can help. If your audience knows the specialist vocabulary your organization uses, then use it in keywords. If not, don’t. Try and avoid blindingly obvious keywords (“Jobs in Singapore”), as all your competitors will be using them too. If you have a niche, exploit it (“Marine Engineer jobs in Singapore”).
  2. When you create content, make sure you use the keywords. Place them, (fluently, as part of the content’s flow) in web page titles, headings, body text and meta descriptions (in metadata). Make sure internal links to other pages are well labeled, and images & media have descriptions or alternatives (also in metadata).
  3. Ensure content is informative, relevant and useful. Create lots of content, which is interesting to people seeking information. A good rule of thumb is to attempt to become the place where people will go in order to be informed about a subject or area of commerce, which will be, in all likelihood, more than a series of brochure-like sales messages.
  4. Content that changes is considered to be more relevant than static content. Therefore, keep content fresh. Google’s judge of relevance to its audience is (probably, we are led to believe) contingent on the freshness of data: the newer information is, the more likely it is to be of interest to others. News posts are often thought to be helpful, as are blogs, social media feeds, discussion forums and items such as white-papers in PDF format (but make sure these are accessible without barriers, at least to Google’s search “spiders”).
  5. Being judged to be of worth by other sources on the Internet is usually expressed by links back to your web property. While providing first-rate content will naturally create incoming links, they can be encouraged. Becoming active right across the Internet will encourage this. Posting on specialist forums, presenting and/or commissioning surveys, pushing social media profiles: al will help. By becoming the “go-to” source of information about a specific subject area, type of product, or service, a site can improve its rankings, and others will promoting it, too!

Final note

A single piece like this cannot hope to inform anyone to the extent of them being able to achieve wonders overnight. However, a modicum of understanding will, hopefully, help the astute business or technology reader to navigate the jargon-rife arena of search engine optimization and its (expensive) exponents.