SEO shouldn’t exist. In a perfect world, there would be no place for Brian the Search Engine Optimisation Consultant* or any of his cronies.

Every client includes it on a brief, ‘first page ranking’, ‘top of Google’. That’s easy. Almost every page on every site on the internet is top of Google, if the search term is specific enough. But that’s not what they want. What they really want is conversions.

Search engines present users with the most relevant pages based on the search terms they enter.

The SEO wizards know the ‘tricks-of-the-trade’ to falsify your web page’s relevance for the keywords required, giving your page a higher ranking than it actually deserves, and they’ll happily charge you to do it. They’ll have you believe it’s some kind of magical dark art, passed from generation-to-generation. It’s not. And there are two problems with their ideals and their methods. When Google, Yahoo!, Bing and the others find out these tricks, they change their algorithms in order to nullify them. What’s worse, users tricked into visiting the wrong page, leave. Leading to reduced conversion rates and increased bounce rates.

Google (et al) are in the game to make money, and they do this by serving the most relevant results to their users. Repeated users equal more advertising revenue. And what makes a search engine popular? Getting the best results first time every time. Relevance. It’s in their interest to remove the false results.

To achieve a high ranking that leads to conversions, don’t use tricks and cheats that will be out-of-date by the time your next birthday comes around. Look at the content from the users’ point of view. The best way to appear relevant is to actually be relevant.

How do you convince the search engines that your page is the best result? Start by being the best result.

Employing a good web copywriter and a decent development team is a good first step on any project but it’s also a good first step to achieving a true high ranking.

Web copywriters know that search engines love to ignore repetition. They will choose different keywords for each page and write original content to avoid the downfalls of repetition and to encourage in-linking (incoming links from other web pages on different domains).

A page with a large amount of inbound links is obviously influential. A page with inbound links from other influential pages is even more so, and the more influence a page is shown to have, the more relevance it is afforded by the major search engines.

If the content is good enough that it will be linked to, and linked to from influential sites, then the ranking will improve. But it’s possible to help it along without being naughty. If a website is for a business that operates in a localised area, it’s useful to add it to web directories to improve in-linking. The most influential of these are Google Places, Yell and Dmoz.

Good developers will always write valid, semantic code and keep page load to a minimum. Search engines like both of these things.

Firstly, semantic code often presents less code and more content, so a greater percentage of the document read by a search engine index will be keywords.

Secondly, while Google admits that site speed isn’t a massive factor in search results, it is still a factor and, efforts should be made to make webpages as quick to load as possible. If only for the sake of the user. At Erskine, we’ve started to set global performance budgets on the websites we build. That is, setting a maximum page weight, http requests and response time. It allows us to concentrate on what’s important, content and user experience, without getting carried away with huge images and obtrusive JavaScript animations.

After a website is pushed live, there are a lot of things that can be done to give it a head start. To prompt search engines to crawl a site, it’s possible to submit an XML sitemap to each of them. This file outlines every page on a website, giving each a priority against the others.

Once submitted, a website is then monitored by Google Webmaster Tools, a neat little admin system which highlights any crawl errors and other issues, as well as giving tips, and tools, to improve listings.

Of course all of these things can be achieved by SEO consultants too, and there are good ones out there that will use the honest methods outlined above to do so. Unfortunately, there are also those that will happily take the shortcuts that exploit a hole in the system.

Any healthy relationship is based on trust, if one side is regularly faking or lying, they will eventually get ditched when the other side realises. Building an organic high ranking will keep everyone happy. The search engines won’t ditch pages that remain relevant, a website’s users will receive a better, faster experience and site owner’s will achieve those conversion rates they wanted.

What the internet needs, is less SEO sorcerers, and more site owners that actually care about their content. Not just their conversions. These ‘good’ sites will always do better in the long run, even if the ‘evil’ site is at the ‘top’ for a while, like in any blockbuster movie, the baddie will meet a horrible, fiery end. Be patient, be good and update your site regularly. If you build it (well) they will come.

* Cue huge backlash from SEO consultants named Brian.