When I heard that 14,000 government workers in Queensland would be losing their jobs, and that others across the nation may be facing the same fate, it really hit home. When I realised that many of them were in marketing and IT, I had an epiphany!
Old Skills Become New Skills
I was one of many government workers staring down the barrel of unemployment. The scary thing is that many of the skills required in government roles don't seem immediately transferable to private industry. Coming from a mixed marketing/IT background I was wondering what to do when I came across a great opportunity in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). I was lucky enough to land my current role as SEO Co-ordinator at VroomVroomVroom.
Great! So how do I do it?
The thing is, SEO is not something that is really taught at university, nor are there any widely recognised qualifications for it. This creates a real opportunity for anyone looking to up-skill or anyone looking for a career change. VroomVroomVroom went from being a $0 startup to a company worth $20 million, and the main driver for our business is search traffic. In fact, about 80% of our customers come from Google search results! In this day and age, Google is the first place most people go to find anything. SEO (the process of trying to get your website at the top of search results) is something that smart businesses are focussing on. With more and more businesses realising the potential, SEO is becoming an in-demand skill. The best part is, it's not hard to learn and can be a great addition to your resume (particularly if you have a marketing, communications or IT background).
When our director, Richard heard about all the government job cuts he wanted to do something about it. Obviously we can't hire everyone, but what we can do is help people to up-skill or re-skill and take advantage of the huge potential of SEO. So on this page we've put together some great resources and tutorials to help you learn SEO. You can also come and chat to us in our weekly SEO hangouts.
Search Engine Optimisation is used to improve the rankings of a website on various search engines. Search engines like Google display sites they believe are authoritative and relevant, higher up in the search results. They measure relevance by analysing page content, and they measure authority (mostly) based on the number and quality of other pages linking to the pages they show, links are like votes.
SEO is important because there is a massive impact on the number of visitors that click through to your website depending on where it appears on the search engine results page. Studies have shown that the website appearing in the number one position on Google's search results can attract anywhere between 20% and 40% of the clicks. The top three positions on the search results page attract almost 60% of the total clicks!
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In the early days of SEO, search engines placed heavy weighting on the technical side of SEO. In the code behind websites, webmasters could put tags listing keywords they wanted their website to show up in searches for. These days the algorithms used by search engines are much more complex, and they keywords aren't taken from these tags anymore. Nevertheless, there are still many technical errors that can be made which may stop your website from being indexed or ranking highly by search engines.
Some items, especially media rich files like images, flash files and videos cannot be read by search engines, so any information in them will not be indexed. There are certain ways around this (such as using ALT tags), but it is important to ensure that keywords and content are in plain text on the website so that they can be read by the search engines. Instead of using the old keywords tags in the code of websites, search engines send out “crawlers” (also known as “spiders” or “robots”) that read the content on web pages, and scour the content of each page for keywords. Search engines like Google actually use machine learning, and these crawlers can even tell the difference between content that is relevant and has been written by a human, and a page simply created full of keywords to try and rank higher in search results. They also pay attention to the layout of the page, and will rank keywords depending on where they appear on the page, and certain things like number of links can also affect results.
Whilst the technical side of SEO is very important (after all, if the search engines can't read your site, then nothing else matters), content is king when it comes to search engine rankings. Search engines these days are geared towards the end user and what they want, rather than just organising websites by keywords.
Content needs to be well written and contain keywords and phrases that users will search for. However, due to recent Google updates (Panda and Penguin), rankings are penalised for anything that looks like it was written specifically to improve search rankings (i.e. link spamming).
At the end of the day, content should be useful and relevant, and something that keeps users coming back. Regular updates are important for SEO as well. Search algorithms like “FreshRank” test to see how recent/up-to-date the contents of the page are, and will rank more recently updated pages higher (depending on the topic). Blog posts are a good way to keep content updated on a regular basis.
In addition to content (which provides the keywords for search), the ranking of pages can be affected by links to and from external websites. Google terms this “PageRank”. Each time your website is linked to by an external site, your PageRank increases. The more trust or respect a website has, the more weight their links will hold (e.g. if your website is linked to by Wikipedia or the New York Times, those links will increase your PageRank a lot more than a link from someone's personal blog). Building links is an important part of SEO, however building the wrong links can be detrimental to your website's ranking. If the links coming to or from your website are low-ranking or untrustworthy sites (e.g. known for spam) then your ranking on the search results will decrease.
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Relevant – Content needs to be relevant to what people are looking for.
Reputation – Develop a reputation for good content. This will attract links from others. Reviews/recommendations are recognised by Google!
Remarkable – Stand out from the crowd. People will talk about you and link to you if you provide something that's different to everyone else.
Readability – Make it easy to digest the content (both for customers and crawlers).
Research – Google won't let you in on their secrets, so you need to be constantly researching and learning what's going on in the SEO industry.
In order to provide the best search results for its users, Google is constantly tweaking and changing their algorithms. This means that what you're doing today to get top search results may not work tomorrow. Apart from its regular updates, Google has released a couple of whoppers.
"Panda" and "Penguin" were the codenames for two big updates from Google. They were targeting low quality websites, and websites that had large numbers of unnatural links pointing to them (in the past it's been very easy to pay for thousands of links). The moral here is to create a website that has useful content for users, and get links to it from authoritative, relevant websites.
The best way to keep up with what's going on, and therefore doing a good job with SEO, is to constantly read industry websites and join in discussions with other SEOs. Here are some great resources to get you started.
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Beginners Guide to SEO - this is a great place to start. You can even download the guide in PDF format.
n00b Guide to Online Marketing - another great resource, including a checklist that you can print out and stick on the wall.
- This Post on Reddit - it will take you some time, but have a read through this great list of resources. You'll be an expert in no time!
Here are some great websites to read regularly to keep up on the latest happenings. This list is by no means exhaustive, but will give you a good start.
- SEO Tools
- SEO Book
- Search Engine Land
- Search Engine Watch
- Matt Cutts
- Blind Five Year Old
- Dejan SEO
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Google+ Hangouts are video web chats where up to 10 people can come together and talk about anything. They can also be live-streamed and recorded on YouTube. We've started holding them ourselves every Thursday. You'll need a Google account to join in, otherwise you can just watch on YouTube. Here are some other Hangouts that are worth joining in.
- VroomVroomVroom SEO/Content Hangouts
- Dejan SEO Hangouts
- Dumb SEO Questions
- Max Impact Hangouts
- Google Webmaster Central - Office Hours
- Helpdesk Hangouts