SEO, Web Design, and the Deep Blue Ocean: Why Your Website is Getting Eaten by Sharks

Trying to get your website found on the internet is like swimming in the ocean. You’re a tiny speck in a massive environment that is always in motion. You think you’ve explored SEO and web design – or the ocean – but the majority of it is unexplained.

There are dangers lurking under the surface.  If you’re not actively working to get somewhere, you’re going to be lost. And if you get lost, you’re going to be eaten up by sharks.

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There’s an easy way to avoid the dangers of the open waters: stay out of the ocean! Barring any Sharknados, you’re not going to have to worry about Jaws. But if you’re a modern business, you don’t have the luxury of pretending the Internet doesn’t exist.

You have to be in the digital ocean of information if you want to be found by new and existing clients.

Here’s what you need to understand about the search engine environment so you – and your website – can survive and thrive.

It’s Constantly Growing

The Internet is growing faster now than it was two years ago. There are 150,000 new URLS (website names) registered every day.*  If even a quarter of them become active websites, that’s more than a million additional websites each month competing for the attention of web users.

Your “internet footprint” is shrinking every single day because the online ocean is getting deeper by the moment.

The Rules are Changing

If you’ve done even a little work on your site to get it to rank, you know that if feels like the rules are always changing. That’s because they are. Google uses an algorithm (a digital formula and process), with over 200 variables to rank sites.

What are these variables? No one knows for certain. It’s a bigger secret than the formula for Coca Cola. Except not only do theynot tell you what the rules are, but they’ll change them without notice.

The “Mobilegeddon Update” of April 2012 was a rare case of Google not only announcing that a major change was coming, but telling us exactly what it was going to be.

Do they do this to confound, upset, and make life difficult for website owners? It might feel that way, but their goal is to make money on their services. To do that, their search tool needs to serve up what their users want.

2016920-algorithm-chart

People who are using Google to search the Internet want useful and relevant information. Right now.

So everything Google does to improve their algorithm is done to provide better results. They have to keep adjusting it to keep up with technology (as in the case with the mobile search update), the sophistication of the users, and to stay ahead of those who would game the system.

That’s what most of the changes have been in response to: people trying to bend or break the rules so that their website can get served up to as many people as possible, whether that site is really what the user wanted or not.

A massive 2011 algorithm update was a crackdown on sites with thin content, high ad-to-content ratios, and other quality issues.

A year later, another massive update in 2012 was specifically designed to penalize sites that were “over-optimized” or stuffed with keywords that were popular, but not necessarily relevant to the site or product.

While these updates were intended to penalize those whose intentions were bad, or who were trying to make money without providing value, they also caught up (well, pushed down) a lot of sites that were legitimate businesses but that had very poor, outdated, or neglected content and layout.

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Rankings are Relative

If your competitors are  keeping up with the Google updates, refreshing their content, and optimizing their site – and you’re not– they’ll move up in the rankings.

At your expense.

You’ve got to work to just not fall behind. You can’t rest when the tide is pulling you out.

You might think you’re okay if your immediate, local competitors aren’t doing anything. But Amazon, Yelp, and the other website whales are swimming in the same ocean. They work to rank globally  and locally.

Competing against them requires not only constant effort, but much more specific, targeted audiences and key phrases rather than single keywords or trying for national rankings.

What to Do

It sounds gloomy. Like you might as well not even dip your toes in the SEO web design ocean with all this working against you.

But there’s good news, too. Most of your competitors aren’t doing much and if they are, they usually aren’t working on their digital identity in any consistent or strategic way.

Less than 9% of websites have Google Analytics (free traffic tracking software) installed. They’re not even tracking their traffic!

You can make the relative nature of rankings work to your advantage just by taking action. Just keep swimming!

It might also feel like the scammers and spammers have the advantage with all their evil SEO tricks. But if you’re a business, working hard to provide information and value to your customers and potential clients, then Google is on your side.

All of their 112 major updates in the last 7 years have been designed to make the user experience better; to give them what they want, not junk.

If you, your business, and your website are designed, updated, and expanded to provide that same positive experience (while following the rules and guidelines), then you will not lose ground (for long) when new updates come.

Where Are You in the Search Ocean?

If you had a website built two or three years ago but haven’t touched it since, you’ve been dragged out to seaall this time. Any rankings you have are likely to be for your own company name (if the site was built right) and maybe a few local-specific phrases.

If your site is older and hasn’t been touched, you’re not on social media, and your site definitely wasn’t responsive, the wreck of your internet presence settled gently on the bottom of the sea years ago, and the coral reef is slowly nibbling away at your infrastructure.

While we can’t completely predict the future of Internet and website technology, we do know that Google’s changes have settled down. They are focused on quality content.

If you are focused on giving website visitors, customers, and potential clients what they want and need, without evil tricks, you’ll always have a  successful anchorage against the ever-changing search engine tide.

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