Search Engine Optimization: What? Why? When? How?

This is a knowledge base article. It would answer your questions on search engine optimization (SEO) and it supplements other SEO posts on this website.

In the area of search engine optimization, you will find the same set of tips, with one less here and one more there, on most expert websites (and thousands of websites that copy-paste them). In Top Blogs itself, we keep publishing and updating SEO tips. I would advise that you go through the present post in full before you look for actual tips. Why? Because we find that reading tips does not lead to success unless we know the 'why' and 'how' behind the tips. [With that in mind, I will keep publishing such long posts now and then on different subjects. If you like the present one, don't forget to subscribe to future posts by filling the subscription box on the right sidebar.]

Let me break the subject into questions. Since this blog already has a number of posts on SEO, I am not repeating them here but would give links to those posts. 

Here we go!


What actually is SEO and how to improve search engine ranking?


SEO or search engine optimization is the sum of all the actions you take so that your website appears high on search engines when someone searches on the web for something related to the website.

So, SEO has two important aspects:

1. Content's relevance is very important.

Search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, DuckDuckGo, etc) must be able to relate your website with the search query. If someone searches for 'yoga', your site will be shown by search engines only if it has content on yoga. 

Take care that your website/ blog has enough content, and of good quality, on the subject on which you want the site to come up in search pages.

2. Website's authority is equally important.

For deciding which website to give a higher position on the search pages, Search engines must rank the websites according to their authority. Authority comes from quality of content and how other authoritative sites talk about this site.

For getting a high ranking of your website in search engine's index, you must ensure high-quality content and also have links (=backlinks) and recommendations from other good websites, and it must be talked about favorably on social media. 

Thus, search engine optimization or SEO is mostly the actions we take for improving relevance of a website and its authority. 

You can visit this list of best SEO practices that work in 2019. The post also tells what actions you should not take.


What is new in SEO in 2019? Is it still relevant?


The link given above lists actions that are relevant in 2019 and beyond.

Yes, SEO is still relevant, but not old-type SEO techniques. There have been massive improvements in the way search engines find the intent of a query and serve the most relevant results in response to queries, whether on computers or smartphones. This has made some of the earlier top SEO techniques useless. In fact, if we apply some of these techniques in 2019, it hurts the websites. Some professionals in the field of SEO keep discovering new ways to fool search engines, but that does not last much. 

All major search engines advise web publishers to focus on quality of content and updating the content regularly. At the same time, some techniques are important, because in the enormous crowd of websites, a website cannot come on top only on the strength of quality - it must apply some techniques to show to the search engines that it is a website worth being shown on top of search results.

In fact, Google and Bing themselves suggest some technical actions that website owners ignore, e.g. relevant URL, title and description; proper site structure; use of ALT attribute with images; linking with authoritative references; and so on.  


Does search optimization matter, now that most website traffic comes through social media?


Social media is now important for getting traffic to a website. However, search remains one of the top sources of traffic. What actually happens is that if the content is relevant and of high value, SEO and social media work in synergy: people share the content on social media, which gives authority signals to search engines, website starts coming high on search pages, and the virtuous cycle moves on and on.

We hear of frequent Google algorithm updates. What are the latest developments in this field?


What new developments the search engines, especially Google, carry out is anybody's guess unless they themselves announce a major update. However, there are some companies that spend hours in analyzing search data of different websites and then deciphering what Google might have secretly done. Based on both these, I have some updates as of March 2019:
  • Google keeps updating its algorithms (=formulae) now and then. Such small changes can sometimes be done on daily basis! Once in a while, Google comes with 'broadcore' updates, which are important and may upset a website's search ranking. Google advises that website owners need not worry if their search volume suddenly goes down due to such updates, unless the webmaster himself has taken undesirable SEO actions. Google's latest broadcore algorithm change occurred on March 12. It is believed that other search engines follow Google and carry out their own algorithm changes now and then.
  • Search engines now use machine learning and other artificial intelligence techniques for finding the exact intent of a search query (e.g whether it is for data, finding location, buying, comparing...) and serving the most relevant results. 
  • Mobile search has gained priority. Google now tags its indexed pages for mobile so that pages with mobile optimization are served when somebody searches on his mobile phone.
  • Video and image are getting importance as web content, and search engines are finding ways to rank them high. Google has started showing videos on top of search pages.
  • Search pages are now full of content that is not organic or naturally obtained. Advertisements or paid search results often come on top of search pages, and thus even the top search results show up below paid content.

    Do unethical, black-hat SEO techniques work?


    Frankly, they work. But only some of them work and they work for a short time. They badly harm the website in the long run.

    Not all artificial actions are 'black-hat'. For example, if you discover that a particular type of headlines or keywords work better, apply them. Following the top websites in your niche and then improving upon what they are doing is not wrong. What should be avoided is tricks that would fool and mislead search engines or real visitors. 

    Google is known to slap penalties on websites when it finds them using black-hat techniques of SEO. For details on Google penalties, you can visit the linked post.


    Should I go for an SEO expert's services? Will it quickly multiply my search traffic? expert


    You might consider taking help of an expert when you do not know  the tricks of the trade, or you find some actions too technical and confusing, or you fear that a small wrong step might hurt your website. If you run the website for earning purposes and need a stream of traffic, perhaps you need someone to help you deal with this area.

    Otherwise, you can learn the basics from the web, and can take a course too if you have time and are ready to spend time on SEO yourself. You can make use of free and paid tools and can become an expert yourself. As said earlier, applying the best SEO techniques yourself keeps sending you good traffic, in most cases.

    If you have a personal blog or one that does not depend too much on search traffic, forget hiring an SEO expert.

    When choosing an expert, be sure he is not a fake expert or one who believes in black-hat techniques. Avoid one who promises fast rise in traffic in a short time; even Google has itself said that this does not work and can be very bad for the site in long term. There are numerous fake SEO experts all around. In fact the Australian ombudsman on small businesses has very recently called SEO 'a minefield of dodgy practitioners' and cautioned businesses against hiring SEO experts mindlessly.


    What top SEO tips would you give for a blogger who is not too tech-savvy?


    I advise bloggers and website owners to take the minimal SEO actions, which include regularly posting great content, being focused on their area of activity, proper use of keywords that matter, and some small technical actions. In most cases, that is all you need to do for Google and other search engines to index your website/ blog and serve it to searchers.

    You will find the following three posts useful for basic technical SEO: 
    * Do you need HTML tweaking for SEO?
    * Links and backlinks: using them for best search optimization
    * Website name and keywords help in improving SEO
     
    However, if you feel that you need a regular stream of search traffic, you can go for an SEO expert.  As mentioned above, be careful when choosing one.


    Why is my blog not coming high in Google search results? Google


    Many bloggers get frustrated when they find that their blog is not coming at all or high in Google search results despite all their SEO efforts. If you are one of them, you might be missing some point. For example, your content might be of poor quality, or it may be good but not useful. Your content may be of top quality but not relevant to what people are looking for.

    best SEO techniques

    The linked post on why SEO tactics do not give results would help you find the weak points in your SEO strategy.


    How good are Google and Bing webmaster tools, from SEO point of view?  


    Both Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools are good as they give data on which keywords rank high, from where your site gets traffic, technical issues that might be hurting your website's SEO, etc. There are some good inbuilt tools for analytics as well optimization, and they give genuine and practical technical SEO tips. 

    Go for either of the two. Do not get bogged down with technicalities. Just see if your website has some serious issue and if your search graph is progressing positively. Take the actions that they suggest.



    If you are attracted towards SEO tools available on the web, start with free and trail versions of one or two top SEO companies. Only after that should you take a final decision whether to buy one.

    In general, you should not go for such tools, if
    • You are a hobby blogger.
    • You find that available free SEO tools are complicated and useless.
    • You do not have much technical expertise and you dislike technology.
    You can think of buying SEO tools, if
    • You have time for technical actions that SEO tools require.
    • You do not dislike doing technical work yourself.
    • You do not want to spend money on hiring an SEO expert but would like SEO strongly implemented on your website.
    • You find the available free tools useful and think that you would have more options in the paid versions.

    3 huge benefits of blogging for businesses


    Businesses can benefit from blogging in many ways. In all cases, blogging indirectly improves customer relations and loyalty and in most cases, blogging leads to a better return on investment (RoI). If you have a small business, you must write a blog to promote your business - and it will pay handsomely in the long run.

    Having a blog shows you are a serious player.


    Look at the competition. Those who run their business as old style shop will not have bothered to make a blog if at all they have a website. So when you have a blog (and it MUST be maintained well), you are on a higher pedestal, other things being equal.

    Blog helps in building reputation. Blog helps the business in acquiring the status of industry leader. A well-maintained, information rich, blog makes you a thought leader in your industry.

    Blog means regular updation, and your website and brand get a better ranking from search engines, and better traffic from social media.


    Unlike a regular website, the blog is regularly updated. This sends a much bigger positive ranking signal to Google and other search engines. This, in turn, leads to a better placement of your blog on search pages. I need not tell the enormous advantages you get when your website/ blog is placed on the first page of Google. In short, it means huge traffic and improved reputation - and these can convert into dollars.

    Blogging helps in improving SEO in other ways too. You can optimize blog posts for search ranking much better than the information on a static website or portal. Blogs are also likely to be talked about among people who are related to your industry, much more than your website.

    Blog posts are shared on social media and thus get distributed organically without almost no effort and spending on your part.

    A well-maintained blog connects to customers and helps in building brand loyalty.


    You should use social networks such as Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for social discovery and engagements, and I am not suggesting that you use blog for these actions. But having a blog takes engagement with strangers as well as existing customers to a different level: you can showcase developments, discuss technology and industry, explain things in detail if they go wrong, and so on - things that cannot be done effectively in the fleeting social networking space. 

    In fact, blogs have a natural synergy with other social media. You can make posts on the blog and share them on the social media - this model has many advantages for businesses than just having social networking accounts. 

    Blogging is great for your business whether you are in a very competitive niche or when you need to create a market for yourself, because it gives you the customized exposure that the website, social media and even advertisement do not give. 

    I will not make more points for the sake of adding to this list. Let me share some empirical data to support what I said above, from Hubspot (https://blog.hubspot.com):

    • Companies that blog are reported to receive 97% more links to their website than those who don’t. 
    • A recent study that firms that blogs got 55% more visitors to their websites.
    • A content marketing survey found that over 55% said that blog was their most critical content marketing action. 
    • Blogs have been found to be the fifth most trusted source for online information.

    blogging for business

    Before closing, let me conclude by saying that blogging gives many benefits to businesses. Allow me to add that the benefits accrue only when you maintain the blog properly and use it for genuine engagement with visitors.

    Visit here if you are interested in learning how to create a professional blog in 2019.

    Social media faces control by authorities and indiscretion by users: recent examples

    In this edition of social media updates, there are stories from around the world about control of the medium - sometimes with clearly good intent and sometimes not so good, even nefarious - and misuse of the medium. It was not intended this way, but so many such happenings have occurred that we have made it a post exclusively on these aspects, leaving blogging and other types of social media happenings for the next edition.


    Nepal government to enact harsh social media law.


    The Nepalese government has proposed a new law with harsh punishment for posting improper contents on social networking sites. 

    Under the proposed law, authorities will now be able to book if they find that the content is meant for character assassination or attacking national sovereignty. The penalty includes a hefty fine of up to Rs 1.5 million and/or five years imprisonment.

    As expected, national and international media has criticized the government for trying to gag social media.

    Azerbaijan is contemplating to close global social networks after creating its own.

     
    A report in OC-media says,  the ruling party is thinking of creating a native social media platform so as to protect the country against 'moral terrorism' from global social networks. A leader is reported having explained thus: ...They try to discredit the state and the authorities on social networks. They do this for deliberate political purposes.

    An earlier similar attempt yielded no result, the report says.

    Bangladesh's popular blogging platform shut down by authorities.


    In a crackdown meant to control pornography and gambling,  Bangladesh government has ordered ISPs to shut down
    about 20,000 websites. The list includes a popular blogging platform, somewhereinblog, which has denied that it was fostering any such content. This platform, in Bangla language, hosts over 2,50,000 blogs.

    Interestingly, the Bengali version of Google Books has also been closed down!

    India warns social media giants to behave during elections.


    With general elections for the country's parliament round the corner, Facebook and Twitter have seen efforts by interested groups to manipulate the platforms. Trolling, fake news, advertisements in the garb of news and other inappropriate ways to influence voters have muddied the social media space very badly. WhatsApp, the instant messaging platform, is reported being used for spreading misinformation and for intrusive advertising.

    Though the Election Commission is reported to be working closely with social giants and also is monitoring social messages closely, Indian parliamentarians have taken note. A committee first called Twitter bosses and gave them a deadline to answer questions that it has raised, and that would follow demanding answers from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
     

    When Facebook is called a 'digital gangster'


    A UK parliamentary committee has come down severely on Facebook for making indiscreet use of user data - and breaking privacy and competition laws - for making profit.

    The committee held an 18-month investigation into the working of the social media giant and even said that it was behaving like a 'digital gangster'.

    Facebook out of control

    What seems to have specially peeved the committee is that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook boss, refused to meet the committee.
     

    Indian media website exposes how celebrities are prone to making favorable recommendations and comments for a fee.


    Cobrapost, a website known for exposes, has come out with a report that exposes about 3 dozen Indian celebrities for accepting offers to promote a political party. In the website's sting operation, Operation Karaoke, its reporters posed as public relations guys and offered different sums; the celebrities - mostly known Bollywood actors - accepted the offers and wanted their fee to be paid mostly in cash to avoid any banking trails!

     Social media in times of war


    In the face of an attack by terrorists camping and being trained by Pakistani forces, India entered into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and damaged terrorist bunkers.  It later led to a short (so far, at least) dogfight of aircrafts. 

    While the action occurred at the border, Indian and Pakistani mainstream media and social media played their role in flaring up emotions. As expected, rumors and photo-shopped images made rounds, and people on the two sides used the worst type of language against each other. Even some government sites were hacked.

    In many cases, the 'breaking news' on social media spread far and wide and even attracted comments from knowledgeable persons before it was trashed as rumor.