Bringing the 80/20 rule to SEO
When something has been around for the best part of a century and it won’t go away, you know there must be something in it.
The Pareto Principle (also known as the 80-20 rule) is the simple idea that 20% of what we do has 80% of the outcome.
Or in other words for everything we do in business 20% will produce 80% of the profit.
So would it not be better to do something different with the 80% of what is wasted time?
The world’s largest marketing budget
No matter the company and their financial position, they will only command a finite amount of resources. In short, there will always be more to do then you have either time or money available.
So no matter if you are a large or small company you face the same limitations. The only real difference is with a larger company and budget, you have more room to do more of it. (Both the 80 and 20)
Making a start
Before we can talk about harnessing 80/20 we need to understand what we are doing at the moment. How close are we to the 80/20 rule? Perhaps we are ahead of the curve or behind, but without understanding where we are, we can’t possibly make a sensible change.
For a traditional company, we might look at our marketing budget, and see how each type of advert performs. How can we do this? The simplest solution is to tie in an offer code.
In other words, each time someone claims an offer, we know that form of advertising has been successful.
By comparing the results with different types of advertising, we can craft, test and change our outcomes.
The online world
With the online world, the platform may be different, but we can use the same methodology, but instead of using an offer code, we can tie different forms of advertising into different landing pages on our website.
In short, if we run a promotion on Facebook, for instance, we will get click-through statistics from Facebook and from looking at Analytics we can see how many people have made the journey from the ‘landing page’ to conversion.
For this to be successful it’s worth setting up a new page for each offer. Without this, it becomes harder to track which method has actually generated our sales.
SEO and 80/20
With SEO the execution changes, but not the methodology. In short, we want to concentrate our SEO on the 20% of pages generating 80% of our sales…
Or in plain language, we might want landing pages for every location or product we cover, but because we only have a finite budget and time, it makes sense to prioritise the pages that create the largest wealth.
Wealth is the important factor here. If our grab was purely for customers, we might end up having to serve more customers for less turnover. This means not only are we making less money, but the cost for us to support that larger customer base is higher.
You just need to look at the recent chaos at Ryanair to see what happens when you don’t make enough money per customer and something goes wrong.
Picking your fights
With SEO it’s about finding the key phrases that have enough traffic to justify the work and also don’t have a massively amount of competition.
Or in other words, if you are a Sole Trader with no real budget to build a substantial amount of links, pay for SEO professionals and write lots of creative content, trying to promote a page which is already being marketed by companies like Amazon and eBay, means you’re never going to win.
Local SEO tends to work well for companies who can identify a few phrases and locations which describe what they do or the services they provide.
John is a plumber who lives in a small village near a larger town just outside a large city.
John’s website has only been going for a few months and has no real track record with Google.
Although the small village won’t really provide any work, he will find it easy to rank on the first page.
If John tries to target the town, there is more competition, but more searches, maybe he gets on the second page
If John tried to target the city, it’s worse still and if he hits the top 50 he will be lucky.
John knows that Google does not like multiple pages with the same content and he has heard the fewer phrase he optimises for, the more success he will have.
So for John at the moment, his ambitions should stay at the village level. As he becomes more established and can afford to spend more on marketing he can then think of marketing at the town and city level.
In this example, the village won’t bring in enough work, so some of his marketing budgets need to go on other forms of marketing.
For Tom who owns a larger company which has been going for years and is turning a good profit, he will look to target the locations where he can get the most work from… (Methodology will be the same, but he will have more factors to consider.)
The 80/20 rule can be a useful tool to allow us to think in terms of what we can do to get the biggest effect with the smallest effort.
It won’t fix everything but will allow us breathing space to understand the journey we are all on.
Quickly ranking on search engines like Google
So you just created the best website on the planet, not only featuring a cutting edge visual design, but also penned by the modern equivalent of Shakespeare.
You followed all the rules and it interesting and relevant. Two month on you still have no traffic and worse still Google wont index it.
How search engines work
With the terms world wide web, spiders, crawlers and bots, it’s easy to think the internet was created by oversized geeks, who’s fixation with science fiction and fantasy trumps the need for something practical.
But the truth is really the opposite and really theses jargon names mealy mirror the function of these terms.
Although we could use more jargon, World Wide Web (or the web) is a term that expresses the idea of interlinked items (or pages) and a spider or crawler follows these links to find its prey (the website pages)
So in short a spider/crawler is a piece of code which follows links on websites to find other pages.
Google then takes all this information, organises, sorts and then display this information depending on your personal search requirements.
That’s great but I’m still not ranked
So for a new website the challenge is to lay the threads to allow the spiders and crawlers to find us.
So the first way is to use Google Webmaster service to ‘tell’ Google any time your website changes.
And to be honest regardless if you’re ranking or not, the ability to tell Google anytime something has changed is a great idea. So no matter what the spiders and crawlers are doing, you are on their lists of sites to crawl.
The second way which in some ways more important is to make sure you have inbound links coming to your website.
The more sites which link to you, the more times a spider will come and visit.
Getting banned (when backlinks go wrong)
Before you spend thousands on buying building links, there is a caveat. In short link building is against Google’s T+C’s. Google are constantly looking for ways to detect unnatural ranking techniques and as inbound links are a major ranking factor, this will always be an area of abuse.
So the rule of thumb is that if all the inbound links have the same anchor, or you suddenly get more links then you would normally do, you could become under Google Spotlight. In addition Google considers the reputation of your website, so if you have always played by the rules, dodgy links will not be treated the same as if your domain has only just been registered.
Fantastic, but I’m still not ranking
In short Google does not have to take account of inbound links, it chooses to do so, so many places where you build links, Google will just ignore out of hand.
There are a few places where links will help with ranking and in short its social media.
All the major social networking sites will help with link building. The only caveat is that for a link to be seen its needs to be in a ‘public place’.
So for Facebook this means if you’re posting to your timeline and privacy is rigged so only your friends can see your posts, this means Google won’t see you either.
Facebook business pages do not have the same issue, but Google needs to be aware of your page, so if you are thinking of this route, some Facebook marketing could be the way to go.
Platforms like Twitter and YouTube also are public facing, so Google will pick up any links posted.
Remember these links are not going to help raise your rank, but are a method to help Google index you site.
How many links?
In short you need two inbound links Google trusts for your website to be indexed.
Although more links, means quicker indexing as we have already discussed, if you overcook it too quickly it can go massively wrong.
How quickly should I see myself indexed on Google?
For most sites, expect a page to be indexed within a month. For sites with a good reputation and lots of backlinks, the indexing process can be less than a day.
I have personally seen pages indexed in ten minutes before.
Nothing is still working
For people in this situation it can be incredibly frustrating, with the feeling that everyone is doing betting that yourself.
In truth, there may be reasons why things are not working and if you have worked through the above with little success, it’s time to call in the professionals.
It does not need to be expensive and if you’re running a business, it can save you a fortune in lost sales.
Html5 and the considerations for SEO
With the event of HTML5 we have all been promised that semantic mark-up is the way forward and for those who ignore this idea will be rewarded with lower rankings.
SEO in a HTML4 world
With HTML4 life was simpler, every page should have a single h1 tag and in source, the higher for your SEO text the better.
In fact HTML4 spawned a trend in bending the order of html mark-up to help with improvement in ranking.
This lead to two big problems…
The first is you are re-ordering source code simply to service the perceived needs of Google. This lead to the second issue which affect the usability of the site for some users. Explicitly blind users who use screen readers, or users who don’t have CSS turned on, would see a completely different running order.
HTML5 the game changer (well sometime maybe in the future.)
With HTML5 we have new elements and tags which inject meaning to our source code.
Unfortunately with this new format, there can be a lot of confusion with not only the standard, but also how it relates to SEO.
So as an example one of the new tags is one called <header>, most people assume (wrongly) this this related to the area at the top of the screen (Sometimes called a masthead) and will often be associated with the logo and strap line.
In fact <header> has a much more generic meaning, it simply means a heading area for part areas our content.
So yes it could be the masthead, but equally in each ‘section’ each could have its own header etc.…
Google’s view of HTML5
Google view of indexing webpages has not really changed massively since it started.
It first considers how many quality sources link to your webpages and then looks at each page to see how relevant it is for each search term.
And to be brutal, it uses the methodology that higher up in the source code something is, the more important it is.
So if you have a <header> or <h> in the masthead, Google will see this as the most important part of the page.
Now for a homepage, where we are promoting ‘brand’ this is OK, but for internal and landing pages should this be the case?
When the top of your page is not the most important part
For most websites there will be a masthead, followed by navigation, then content followed by a footer.
Even if we add a header and h1 into the content area, if there is a header or h tag in the masthead, then Google will consider the masthead header as our most important area of the page.
Worse still because there is a gap in mark-up between this and our content, Google may depress the importance of the actual content area.
For most websites, they want traffic from Google. And often our SEO copy will be in the main body of the page and not the masthead.
If the page is coded as HTML5 and uses <header> and <h> tags in the masthead, we may end up confusing Google as to where our most important content is.
In addition because we now have tags like <main> <article> and <section> it means how we use these will impact how Google understands our webpage.
How to help Google (and yourself)
The simplest way to make sure your mark-up works well for Google, is simply to disable the css and JS from showing and check how your page ‘looks’.
If it still makes sense, you are on the right track.
Next look at the generated source and check the document outline, does it naturally work or does it look ‘awkward’.
Although Google does do some visual check these day to prevent ‘hacks’, treat Google as a blind web user and you won’t go far wrong.
Although it’s tempting to construct source code and use CSS to bend SERP’s, to future proofs your sites you are now better to make sure you sites still work, even if the CSS is turned off.
After all this is how Google really sees your page.