Is SEO Dead?

We've seen a lot of articles in the last few months with titles like this:

"Yes, SEO Really is Dead!"

"Stop Doing SEO - It Doesn't Work Anymore"

"SEO is over. Here's the new way to get your site seen!"

Invariably, these pieces will talk about the supposed demise of search engine optimisation as a worthwhile practice. They use the following arguments to convince readers that SEO is, indeed, a thing of the past:

  • Link-building doesn't work anymore. Seeking out links from external websites used to be a huge part of SEO, but inbound links are no longer an automatic guarantee of high rankings - these days, quality is far more important than quantity, and it can be very difficult to manufacture a really good link to your own site. Also, Google are getting much better at spotting unnatural and/or manipulative links and punishing the sites on the receiving end; this has put an end to linkbuilding as an effective means of boosting rankings, or so some bloggers would have you believe.

  • Keywords are more complicated than ever before. Once upon a time, you could achieve high rankings for a search term like 'cheap sofas' by simply mentioning 'cheap sofas' a hundred times in your site copy. Nowadays, the system is a lot more complex - search engines are aware of things like synonyms, closely related topics, and a whole variety of other ranking factors that don't have anything to do with keyword density. Also, Google and their competitors have learned to spot keyword-stuffed content from a mile away, and the penalties for this can be just as severe as the slap you'll get for dodgy link-building.

  • Sites should be optimised for users, not search engine bots. The problem with a lot of old SEO practices (particularly keyword stuffing) was their tendency to make things unpleasant for the user. You can write a 500 word essay that uses the phrase 'best mobile phones' in every other sentence if you so desire, but even if it ranks highly, it's not going to make especially riveting reading; in fact, all of that keyword stuffing might well make it harder for your customers to find the information they need. Nowadays, a good user experience is valued above high rankings, and since aggressive SEOing can quite easily get in the way of a strong UE, those practices no longer have a place on most websites.

Now, these are some good points - keyword stuffing and link farming do more harm than good, and we would certainly advise any webmaster to stay well away from these practices if they value their site traffic. But SEO isn't just the black hat stuff; those three letters may have picked up some negative connotations over the years, but search engine optimisation is still alive and well, and if you want your website to have any kind of presence on Google, Yahoo! and Bing, you absolutely must take it into consideration.

First of all, you need to stop viewing SEO as a shady effort to fraudulently boost a site's rankings. SEO is actually a very important part of website design, and it starts with the code itself - our developers have spent the last decade building sites in a way that's easy for Google and other search engines to digest. We also work hard to create lightning-fast pages, user-friendly functionality, and so much more; all of this is as much a part of SEO as strategic keyword placement.

But we won't bore you with an in-depth dissection of good quality code. Instead, allow us to address the points above, and demonstrate why SEO remains very much alive:

  • Links are still important. Building a lot of low-quality links to your site is unlikely to do much for your rankings nowadays, but remember what we said about quality and quantity? That's an important thing to bear in mind - Google themselves have stated that inbound links are still a major part of their algorithm, it's just that they're now more interested in the value of your links than in how many you've amassed. Of course, since artificial links can land a site in very hot water, it's better to focus your SEO efforts on creating a site that encourages people to link unsolicited - make it easy to link, and make sure you provide something that's worth linking to. This is what really impresses search engines at the moment.

  • Keywords still have their place. Modern SEO demands a rather less ham-fisted approach to keyword placement, but that doesn't mean you should forget about keywords altogether. When creating your website, think about the search terms you would like each page to show up for, and then tailor your copy and any other content to those keywords. Make sure you're providing potential users with the clear information and the useful resources that they are likely to be looking for, and this will make each page's purpose clear to search engines as well.

  • User optimisation and SEO are, in many ways, the same thing. User optimisation makes your site more appealing to humans. Search engine optimisation makes your site more appealing to search engines. These two practices are very closely related, especially as search engines get smarter and more capable of thinking like humans. The articles we've read always tell you to forget about SEO and concentrate on the user experience, but this is misleading - they are two equally important undertakings that will yield sizeable rewards if done properly in tandem.

To answer that million dollar question, then: no, SEO isn't dead, it's just different to what it was a few years ago. Mind you, this shouldn't surprise anyone (least of all the type of people who are liable to write 'SEO is Dead!' aritcles) - SEO has been an ever-changing entity since day one, but none of its transformations have ever negated its usefulness as a practice. In fact, as web designers, optimising for search engines is one of our most important jobs!

 

Cooker Spare Parts site preview

Your website should be as user-friendly as possible no matter what field you're in, but that user-friendliness becomes even more crucial when you work with something as technical and as complicated as cooker parts. Cooker Spare Parts is a Cardiff-based enterprise specialising - as the name suggests - in replacement cooker parts, and we have just completed a brand new website design for them.

Now, there are literally thousands of different items that you can purchase through Cooker Spare Parts; in all our years developing ecommerce websites, this may well be the largest product database we've ever worked with. Factor in the very real possibility that the average CSP customer may not know exactly what they are looking for, and things start to get very complex indeed - even if you know your cooker's brand (e.g. Belling, Zanussi), you won't necessarily know the specific model number, and this is the information that companies like CSP need to give you the correct part.

Clearly, this project would be a big challenge, but we're pleased to say that we have well and truly conquered it. Upon arriving at the new Cooker Spare Parts home page, users are prompted to enter their appliance's manufacturer and model number right away, therefore eliminating as much ambiguity as possible right off the bat. Once this is done, the site ONLY displays parts that are suitable for that specific cooker, ensuring that the customer purchases exactly the right item.

Aside from the improved user interface, we also gave Cooker Spare Parts a sleek new design. The site is now fully responsive, allowing people to order replacement parts with ease on any device at all. The crisp, clear page layout ensures that the user knows exactly what (s)he is seeing at any given stage of the buying process, and we feel the red and white colour scheme looks very sharp and modern. Visit cookerspareparts.com now to see our work for yourself!

Mobile Ecommerce

More and more people are using smartphones - instead of desktop computers - to browse the web, and as mobile internet usage increases, so too does the amount of money spent online via mobile. In fact, shopping is one of the most common things that people do with their phones nowadays; this Econsultancy report suggests that 24% of mobile internet users have made purchases using their phones, and since that figure was just 20% back in 2013, it's probably safe to assume that smartphone shopping will continue to get more and more popular as time goes by.

If you have an ecommerce website, these statistics are not to be ignored. You have probably already noticed a swing towards mobile traffic on your site, and all the facts suggest that this trend is going to continue, so it's very much in your best interests to take a good look at your site and ask yourself how well-optimised it is for smartphone users.

If you want to turn your mobile visitors into mobile customers, here are three tips for giving them a better experience and boosting your mobile conversions:

It's a small screen - don't clutter it up!

The most obvious difference between mobile phones and desktop PCs is the screen size. When you're thinking about how your website should look on a mobile phone, be sure to make the most important elements instantly and clearly visible - this may mean stripping back the less essential parts of each page (such as promotional banners and unnecessary text) so as to fit everything in without making it hard to read. If users are having to scroll back and forth and squint at their screens just to find what they're looking for, there's a pretty strong chance that they'll give up before they reach the checkout.

Speed is everything!

This mantra doesn't just apply to loading times (although these are obviously critical on any device); it also applies to the user's journey through your site. Bear in mind that mobile users often have limited time to spend on your site, particularly if they're on a train or in the loo (you may laugh - 75% of people admit to doing it!)

If you want users to be able to fit a transaction into this short window of time, you need to make the whole process as quick as possible. If your site doesn't already use PayPal, consider adding it, as this will save a lot of users from having to painstakingly enter their payment details. An 'express checkout' option can also help - is it really worth forcing new users to register for an account before purchasing? Some will do it, but many will simply go elsewhere.

More generally, it's a good idea to go through each step of your site's buying journey and note down any steps that could be streamlined or removed - remember, each step is another opportunity for your customer to change their mind and leave the site!

Keep payment simple

We've already mentioned PayPal, but that's not the only way to make payment that little bit less painful for your customers. Another important difference between smartphones and PCs is the lack of a mouse or keyboard, and this can make entering one's details on a mobile extremely fiddly. Make sure that the data entry boxes (card number, customer name, etc.) are of an easily-clickable size, and try not to include too many of them (do you really need their address, their telephone number AND their email address?)

Some more quick tips for the checkout page:

  • Instead of forcing everyone to enter their addresses manually, use an address lookup system that allows users to enter a postcode and select the correct address from a drop-down list. This cuts down on the amount of typing required to complete a purchase.

  • Make your delivery options as clear as possible. If, at a glance, people don't know a) how soon their items will arrive and b) how much it will cost, they'll be reluctant to go through with the purchase.

  • Are there boxes to tick? If users have to tick a 'Terms and Conditions' box at the checkout, make sure it's nice and big - that way, they won't miss it, and it'll be easy to click on!

 Want to make your site more mobile-friendly? Why not consider upgrading to a responsive design?