Understanding the difference between SEO (search engine optimisation) and SEF (search engine friendliness) can really help you the most out of your website, and stay several steps ahead of your competitors online.
When commissioning a new website to help launch or grow a business it's important therefore to understand the difference between the roles that SEF and SEO play.
What is SEF (search engine friendliness)?
SEF is what happens during the BUILD of a website, and if done properly is a one time process. It reaches into every facet of designing and building a website determining both how successful a site is at launch, as well as its long term potential. It’s all about how well your website is designed and built.
SEO is the ongoing process AFTER a website has been built and is concerned with how its content and messaging continually evolves to be even more searchable, to better impress and engage visitors, and to encourage ever more of them to take the actions you want them to.
Search engine friendliness, integrated during a website build (or major upgrade) creates a foundation for ongoing SEO as the site’s content evolves and grows. A well built website should seek to:
- Make it easy for search engines to index and rank the site favourably thereby allowing more potential customers to find it
- Create a great first impression, reassuring visitors they have come to the right place and that you are to be trusted, thereby encouraging them start exploring the site
- Deliver a great user experience and journeys which culminate in visitors taking the actions you want them to (such as getting in touch, buying online or visiting your shop)
- Provide a usable, powerful CMS (content management system) which becomes your indispensable “Swiss Army knife” for ongoing SEO
How does SEF underpin SEO?
Search engine optimisation is the process whereby you continually evolve your content to “fine tune” and improve all of the above. It is what happens after the launch (as you learn more about your site and how it's used). SEO does not and cannot happen during a website build - you cannot by definition optimise something which does not yet exist.
There is a third way to push traffic to your website which is PAID advertising. This will be covered in detail in a later post.
Let’s look at some of the key choices which need to be made when building a website, and see how they impact SEF (the quality of the website itself) and longer term, SEO (how well it’s kept updated).
What Makes a Website Search Engine Friendly?
It’s important when building a website to ensure that Google and other search engines can learn as much as possible, as easily as possible, when crawling your website.
Search engines will firstly look for metadata (or schema) to get the baseline information they need from each page or piece of content. This is what a lot of so-called “SEO plug-ins” claim to deliver but it’s often a case of buyer beware. Simply adding an “SEO plugin” to your website will not necessarily help make it more search engine friendly and may in fact do more damage than good.
This is because metadata must be implemented carefully so that it does not confuse the search engine by over simplifying the picture, repeating the same data or implementing the wrong types of metadata for what you need to achieve. It's normally better not to use poorly implemented “SEO plugins” at all and instead let the search engine fall back to simply using well structured website content to learn about your website.
When implementing metadata (which we recommend) there are three protocols which will be helpful to your website.
- Facebook Open Graph
- Twitter Cards
Let’s take a look at each of these and see how they can make your website more search engine friendly.
Although it is mainly used for search engine indexing, JSON-LD is also used in other fields such as scientific research.
Facebook Open Graph
Open Graph is a protocol used to improve the sharing of web pages on social media. Its uses metadata from the web page to control how a page is displayed when shared on different social media channels. Instead of simply showing a link, a card will be shown with an image, description and other appropriate attributes.
Originally developed by Facebook Open Graph has also been adopted by *Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn. There is no way to share links on Instagram so that they show with images and a description etc. Links posted in Instagram display simply as hyperlinks.
*Twitter is able to fallback to using Open Graph but Twitter Cards (see below) offers much richer functionality as it is designed for use with Twitter.
- Increases flow of customers from social media
- Improves SEF and SEO
- Increases revenue and profit
The richer functionality available when using Twitter Cards (instead of Open Graph) means you are able to choose from four different formats when embedding pages in Twitter.
- Summary Card (title, description and thumbnail image)
- Summary Card with Large Image (title, description and larger image)
- App Card (card with direct download to a mobile app)
- Player Card (a card which can display audio and video media)
One of the key measurements Google and other search engines look at when ranking a website is how fast it loads. This is important for all users but especially users on mobile devices or in rural areas with slow internet connections.
Google places so much emphasis on this that they provide a tool for testing your website which makes recommendations as to how you can improve it.
It's also worth bearing in mind that slow websites cause visitors to click off and go elsewhere (bounce) as well as producing more carbon because they require extra power to transport “heavy” pages around the internet.
Performance is not wholly determined by platform but well built sites on Honeystone’s chosen technology (Laravel with TypedCMS), typically outperform sitebuilder projects or “plugin based” sites by some margin. It should however be highlighted that the quality of developers building on the Laravel framework tends to be higher and this is known to correlate with higher performance.
Ideally a site would score on the 90s on mobile and desktop but sometimes the amount of content on a page will make this impossible. However a score below 50 (the red zone) should always be avoided. If your site is in the red zone you will be inhibiting your search ranking and disappointing your visitors.
What, you may ask, does a visitor’s first impression have to do with how search engine friendly a website is? The answer, it turns out, is quite a lot.
It is widely known among website “user experience” experts that visitors will form an initial impression of a website within as little as .05 seconds of landing.
Assuming the page loaded quickly this is the next filter a visitor will apply. If they don’t like what they see, feel that you do not offer what they want or are not trustworthy they will click away - immediately. Search engines know how many people stay on your site and how many bounce off within a couple of seconds. Sites with a high bounce rate are often heavily penalised.
It's therefore not enough to have a pretty landing page or an aesthetically pleasing template. Your home page is your primary landing page and should immediately communicate what you are offering (and where), what is unique or better about your offer and provide independent proof that you are credible and trustworthy.
Trustworthiness can be communicated by something as simple as a testimonial link in a menu, accreditation badges or reviews from Facebook, Google, Trip Advisor or other sources.
The rule of thumb is that search engines like it, your users probably will too.
Large corporate websites will have teams of people optimising content and measuring small changes to maintain the best possible search engine results.
For smaller sites the best possible SEO is frankly good quality, up to date, well indexed content (delivered of course by a search engine friendly website). Anyone who says they can “do your SEO” but isn’t talking about the quality and relevance of your content is probably going to end up taking your money for delivering little or no value. Conversely anyone who is creating or updating your content should have at least a basic understanding of SEO and how it differs from SEF.
For smaller sites and some medium sized projects therefore, SEO and content management are one and the same thing. This means that your CMS (content management system) is vital to maintaining and improving your search engine ranking.
Honeystone’s preferred CMS is TypedCMS which is designed to facilitate ease of use, enhance team working and to evolve with your requirements.
Content Management Capability
In order for your content management and content marketing activities to help your ongoing SEO it's important that certain conditions are first met:
- Your CMS must be easy access and to use
- The data in your website should where possible be strictly typed so that both website visitors and search engines can derive its meaning easily
- It must be possible for all team members who need to work on you content to have the appropriate features available through appropriate user permissions
- Any content changes must be reflected in the website’s JSON-LD, Facebook Open Graph and Twitter Card metadata
- The CMS should have built in omni channel capability or upgradability
Content strategy is the governance, creation and management of written and other content. Its overarching goal is to help find and nurture customers with problems you can solve better than your competitors.
Honeystone uses a SIMPLE acronym to describe the various stages of content strategy.
A website should be easy to navigate and easy to update. However beware of the developer who uses a “popular” plugin web platform or a site builder just because it makes their job easy. Like real friendship, SEF or search engine friendliness should be hard earned and must be nurtured to evolve through SEO to stand the test of time!
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