What Makes SEO Work?

December 15, 2014

We often have clients coming to us and knowing what SEO is, but not really understanding it. Some of them have been burned by poor SEO management and are sceptical. We wrote this little breakdown to help them along and post it here for the world to benefit!


SEO incorporates a variety of elements in a web page of varying importance. Among these are;


  • Page titles and relevance to search terms.
  • Meta descriptions and relevance to search terms.
  • Image tags and nearby content.
  • Page content.
  • Social media interaction.


It’s a bit difficult to put down in a single post, but the essence is as follows. Google (and other search engines) try to rank a website according to the most relevance it has to a search queries. This is gauged by generally trying to interpret the site and page content and its intent. The most recent updates (the newest being Panda) to the search algorithms focus around content generation and social media – if a site is constantly creating more content and people are sharing via social media, this indicates that the site is more relevant than other potential search results. In addition a strong focus is placed on geographical results – if Google knows that your business is located in Sandton, search results in the area are more likely to turn up your site.


There are a number of ways to improve SEO. Firstly, the site MUST be built in a search engine friendly way, with SEO friendly content. This would include tagging of images, writing keyword based URLs (so instead of having www.dragonflymarketing.co.za/index.php?75crv67vv, you would have www.dragonflymarketing.co.za/branding_project), optimising content, writing title tags correctly, writing meta descriptions correctly, etc. The second step is to continuously improve – because the algorithms are always changing and there is constantly changing competition, your site needs to be improved incrementally in order to remain at the top or move ever closer. Thirdly, creating content such as blog posts and revising content on pages is crucial to informing Google that you are still relevant. Finally, creating content and building the site in such a way that it encourages social sharing will help inform Google that people consider your site important.


One of the most important things to understand is that there is no way to trick Google. They spend a lot of time analysing huge amounts of data and writing fancy code to kill misleading results. In the past, one could easily write keyword heavy sites and just appear on the top, but the search updates are continually focused on removing this sort of trickery and serving up the most relevant sites no matter what. Recently, employing such manipulations will have your site negatively marked and will therefore drop you in search results.


If you Google important terms for us (such as marketing company or digital marketing company), you will find us on or near the top despite stiff competition. This is because we implement all of these principals for our sites successfully.


One very important point to note is that SEO is not an exact science. Although we know some information on how Google ranks a page, their algorithms change all the time, and it is often an organised system of trial and error to incrementally improve the results. For example, we can do 20 hours of SEO development on a site and within a week it will rank highly on Google. But if you were to check again a month later, it would slowly begin to slip down. This is the main reason that one needs to continuously improve and manage SEO.


The breakdown of the amount of work that goes into SEO is more or less as follows;

  1. URLs need to be written correctly. This is usually once off, but needs to be checked periodically. For example, if the URL is dragonflymarketing.co.za/branding_project, we may find that SEO is improved by changing the URL to www.dragonflymarketing.co.za/brandingandgraphicdesignproject. This can only be discovered by testing the first option and reviewing the results.
  2. Keyword analysis is the research taken to find the best keywords for your company. For example, we know that the search term “marketing companies” receives an average of 260 searches per month. This, however, may not be the most optimal search term for us to focus on. Further research shows that the term “marketing company” will be easier to rank for and the search term “marketing company Johannesburg” provides very high returns because there is not much competition for this (this is known as long-tail SEO). This needs to be done properly once and then reviewed regularly.
  3. A sitemap is generated every month and submitted to Google. Although Google will organically find all the URLs in a site, it may not necessarily interpret which pages are new or more important than others. The sitemap informs Google of this and other information, helping it rank your site correctly.
  4. Social media integration is important. As with all parts of SEO, we may find that placing buttons on the top left has an improved result over placing them bottom right. Perhaps we find that sharing buttons have more interaction than like and follow buttons. All of this needs to be checked and tried.
  5. The main chunk of the content on the site will be written once, but as we discover better keywords to rank for (or higher ROI keywords), we may shift focus to these and need to amend content slightly.
  6. The code itself may need to be improved. For example I have attached Google’s interpretation of our home page – it looks like a mass of rubbish, but I can immediately see that links to our Twitter and newsletter signup appear first and therefore more relevantly to Google. In addition, Google is not seeing our content as highly as it should and therefore structural changes to the code should be made to improve this.


Generally, the process that needs to be followed is this;

  1. Build the site well for SEO, with all content and such based on the research and assumptions made.
  2. Allow Google a few weeks to interpret the site.
  3. Review the site performance, keywords and ranking.
  4. Make changes accordingly. Some of these changes may be large and some small.
  5. Allow Google to interpret the changes, review, adjust, and repeat.


In short, it takes considerably time to develop for SEO and this time must be spent over an extended period to get the ROI and benefits. It is worth it, however, as SEO has the highest ROI of any marketing activity for a company.