What’s the difference between search engine friendly and search engine optimised?

When it comes to SEO or Search Engine Optimisation, there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding what it actually is and what companies should be doing when they charge a fee to do SEO work on your website.

We’ve all had those emails or phone calls from overseas call centres promising you “page one results on Google!” for a small fee, but what does it all mean, and when someone tells you they can make your website ‘SEO friendly’, is that the same as SEO optimised?

Before we launch into the differences between search engine friendly and search engine optimised let's take a quick look at what SEO or Search Engine Optimisation actually is.

Here’s Wikipedia's definition of SEO: Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines via the "natural" or un-paid ("organic" or "algorithmic") search results.

Now that we know what SEO is all about, let’s look at the difference between ‘search engine friendly’ and ‘search engine optimised’.

What does Search Engine Friendly mean?

If someone is talking to you about making your website search engine friendly this means pretty much only one thing – it means making your website available to search engines’ crawlers or spiders so they know about your website.

Search engine friendly doesn’t have anything to do with optimisation or making your website climb in rankings.

How to test if your website is search engine friendly

The easiest way to test and see if your website is search engine friendly is to type ’site:’ followed by your website address into Google. So if I were trying to do this for the Marketeam website I would type  site:www.marketeam.com.au  into Google.

If all of your website pages come up after adding this advanced operator into Google then your website is search engine friendly.

The other thing you can do is use a search engine spider simulator like:-

Or you can download a free tool like Xenu Link Sleuth (I personally use this tool and it’s amazing) to test the crawlability of your website. This tool also doubles as a broken link checker.

If there are pages missing from any of these methods of crawling your site, there might be some issues and you may need to start doing some investigating.

Where to look if your pages aren’t being indexed by Google

Ok, so you’ve done some testing and you’ve established that all or some of your pages aren’t being picked up by search engines. Where do you start looking to find answers as to why this might be happening? Let’s explore some options.

Your robots.txt file
The robots.txt file is the first file a search engine looks for when it crawls your website. This is a simple text file that sits on your server and let’s search engines know the areas of your website they should and should not crawl to put into their index.

There are many different instructions you can put into your robots.txt, but for this article we’re going to focus on two instructions, ‘Allow’ and ‘Disallow’. Think of these two instructions like an open and shut door to the pages or folders on your website. ‘Allow’ means the door is open and search engines can get to these pages, ‘Disallow’ means the door is shut and they should ignore these pages.

If your robots.txt isn’t set up properly it could be shutting out search engines to some – or worse, all of your pages.

Look for a noindex tag
Secondary to the robots.txt file is the noindex tag. This is a tag that can be put on individual pages to tell a search engine that it shouldn’t index this page and add it to their search engine. Some content management systems like Joomla and Wordpress enable you to add a noindex tag to your entire website so it’s worth also seeing if that might be the cause of the issue. Here’s how to check.

How to check for noindex tag in Joomla
There are two areas you want to check in Joomla to ensure that your site doesn’t have the noindex tag activated. First you will want to check:-

System / Global Configuration and under the ‘site’ tab there’s a field called ‘Robots’. Make sure this is set to Index, Follow.

The next place you want to check is Content / Articles and choose the article that’s not showing in search engines. In the publishing tab there’s a field called Robots. Again, make sure this is set to Index, Follow.

How to check for noindex tag in Wordpress
With Wordpress there are many different ways to add a noindex tag to your site so it will depend on your setup and if you have any SEO plugins installed.

One of the most popular SEO plugins is SEO by Yoast so if you have this installed you will have to go to the page you want to check and scroll down to the Yoast SEO section under the page content, then click on the cog icon (advanced setting) and there is a field called ‘Meta robots follow’ that gives you the option of follow and nofollow.

There’s also an option to choose a default for that post type which is like the Global Configuration in Joomla in that you can allocate an index type to all post types.

Badly formatted or uncrawlable URL structures

Search engines are getting very good at crawling all types of URL structures these days, but if your URL structure is badly formatted or has strange and wonderful characters in it (like $#%^&*@ for example), it’s possible that search engines may not be able to crawl your pages.

Let’s look at an example:-


Good URL

Javascript Menu Structures

We don’t see this as much these days but it’s worth noting as you can sometimes still find websites with menus built entirely on Javascript. If you find your website’s menu structure is built on Javascript (search engines can’t crawl javascript, they’re getting better at it but they’re not quite there yet) a simple work around is to build a static html sitemap page with text links to all the pages on your website.

Non SEOfriendly website

What does Search Engine Optimised mean?

So here’s where we need to make the distinction between search engine friendly and search engine optimised. As you can see from the section above, search engine friendly simply means that search engines can access and crawl your content. This doesn’t mean your website will rank well or that your content is any good and will drive traffic and conversions for your business.

This is where search engine optimisation comes into play. This is the art and science of creating websites that contain great, crawlable, relevant and unique content that drives traffic through search engines. Once that traffic gets to your website the content should trigger an emotive response that drives the customer to take an action of some sort (usually to buy something online, pick up the phone or fill out an online form).

Search engine optimised websites should really enable a customer to go on the following journey:-

  • Potential customer types a search query into Google
  • Your website is listed in the top ten results of the first page of Google
  • Your title and description tags are relevant, timely and drive the customer to click your listing
  • The customer lands on your website page (could be the homepage or an internal page)
  • The customer scans the headlines and images of your page to determine if they wish to continue reading
  • The customer determines that this page is what they’re looking for and continues to read your content
  • The customer is given solutions to their problems and answers to their questions
  • The customer is gently reminded of what to do next (call this number, click this button, fill out the form to the right, etc)
  • The customer takes an action and that is what we call a conversion

Now that we know the journey that a customer should be taking through a search engines results page (SERP), onto your website and through to the conversion stage, how do we actually get a website to be search engine optimised?

Keyword Research

This is potentially the most important aspect of your overall website design and SEO approach as your keywords are what decides the stage of the customer journey your website is targeting.

“SEO is like reverse branding – you need to become the generic equivalent of your product or service.”  
Peter Dowse
Director Marketeam

Understanding how to choose the correct keywords for your website is incredibly important as if you choose the wrong keywords, you’re going to drive a lot of traffic that doesn’t convert. Ensuring you have the right audience going to your website will provide you with a high conversion rate.

Choosing the right keywords
When I’m looking for keywords to target for a website, page, article or blog post I try to incorporate four different types of keywords:-

1. Keywords
2. Keyword Variations
3. Semantic Keywords
4. Long Tail Keywords

Let’s break these down a little so we have a better understanding of the differences between these keywords and what they represent.

These are the main keywords your page is targeting, so usually it’s centered around a service or product. The best way to find these types of keywords is to use a keyword tool like the Google Keyword Tool as this will give you a broad range of different keywords that are related to your product or service.  Let’s use our website as an example so we’re going to use ‘web design’ as our main keyword that we’re going to target.  

Keyword Example – Web Design

Keyword Variations
These are keywords that are a direct variation or an expansion of your original keyword and can bulk out the content on your page, giving relevance and accuracy to your content. So if ‘web design’ is our the main keyword we’re targeting, a keyword variation would be something like ‘web design Brisbane’, ‘Joomla web design’, ‘Wordpress web design’ or ‘web design companies’.

The Google Keyword Tool is a good place to get keyword variations. The other tool I really like to use is the BetterWayToWeb Google Suggest Scraper. Simply type in your main keyword into this tool and it will give you a bunch of different variations you can choose from.

Keyword Variation Example - Web Design Companies Brisbane

Semantic Keywords
These are keywords that are related to your topic but aren’t a direct variation of your original keyword. If we are using ‘web design’ as the example, semantic terms related to this keyword phrase would be words like design, website, web, business, computer, internet, technology, office, laptop, layout, template, development, programming, concept, device, tablet, responsive, mobile, illustration, content, screen, digital, designer, symbol, page, online, homepage, icon, media, work, display, software, phone, table, creative, monitor, application, workplace, smartphone, modern, seo, banner, notebook, paperwork, flat, abstract, creativity, planning, graphic, background, etc.

I really like using The MyKeyworder Semantic Keyword Tool to find semantic keywords when writing SEO copy for websites.

Semantic Keyword Example -  Computer, Responsive, Cost

Long Tail Keywords
These are keywords phrases that are very specific, have multiple words and usually make up the questions that people ask when trying to find answers about a topic, service or product. Typically these keywords don’t drive a lot of traffic, but given their specificity, they can have very high conversion rates if targeted.

Longtail Keyword Example -  How much does a website cost? Why do web designers use lorem ipsum? Why do web designers use macs?

piecing together

Now that we know we need to use the right types of keywords to target and use in our articles, how do these all go together to make a page or a website search engine optimised? As this is a very deep and potentially complex subject, we’re going to focus on the main aspects of SEO that will help to give your website a major boost.

Title Tags

The title tags of your website hold a lot of weight when it comes to search engine ranking factors so it’s important to get these right. Remember, SEO is like reverse branding so don’t call your homepage ‘HOME’ or “HOME - Company Name” as that’s not going to do you ANY favours when it comes to ranking in search engines or getting customers to click on your listings.

When writing title tags remember that you only have around 65 characters to play with as that’s all search engines will display so you need to make sure you get your message in within that character limit. Let’s look at an example. We’re a web design company based in Brisbane so at the time of writing our title tag for our homepage is:-

Web Design Brisbane | Marketeam | Fantastic service!

As you can see we’ve targeted a specific term, followed that with our company name and then had our point of difference at the end of the title tag. This is likely to change in the future as we’re in a highly competitive market and we’re always testing different keywords and phrases to try and improve our listings and conversion rates.

every page on your website

Description Tags

The description tag is believed to hold little weight when it comes to ranking factors however it does give you the opportunity to choose what content Google displays for the description of your website so it’s an incredibly useful SEO tactic to have a well written description tag.

In 2018 Google has started showing up to 300 characters in their description tags, which gives us a little more room to play with than the original 150-160 characters we’ve been used to for the last ten years or so. When developing description tags it’s important to remember to write about the solutions you can provide for your customers and add a call to action. Here’s an example of the Marketeam homepage description tag:-

Brisbane web design company that provides great results and amazing website development services. Call us on (07) 3882 3375 today.

At the moment we’ve stuck to the 160 character limit but will be looking at expanding and testing our description tags soon.

Website Content

This is where all your different SEO elements really start coming together to create a unique, relevant page that has keywords, answers questions, builds trust, hits emotional triggers and asks the customer to take an action.

generating more customers

After I’ve put a title and description tag together, it’s time to make a start on writing the content for the page or article I’m developing.

Reducing Barriers to Sale
The first place I like to start is thinking about how we can reduce the barriers to sale. Every visitor has a series of questions, concerns or issues that you need to solve, answer or overcome to convert them from a visitor to a customer. When developing SEO content it’s our job to write copy that gets the customer closer to the conversion end of the sales cycle so they pick up their phone, fill out that form or buy that product, etc.

Be the cure, not the medicine
Let’s say you’re on a bushwalk and you come face to face with a venomous snake and you’re unfortunate enough to get bitten. When you arrive at the hospital your kidneys are starting to fail, you’re bleeding internally, your head is spinning, your legs don’t work and your body is starting to shut down.

The doctor rushes to your bedside and explains that he has some anti venom he would like to administer and starts telling you about how it’s manufactured right here in Australia and they’ve used it in over 4,000 snake bite patients and that there’s the option of 10, 15 or 20ml bottles, etc.

At this point you’re not going to give a damn about these facts, you just want to be cured. The same goes for your customers. They have a problem or a question and they want the answer or the solution your product gives, not the dimensions, how long you’ve been in business or the turnaround time, etc. Sell the sizzle, not the steak.

People buy on emotion, not facts or features
When people are looking for any product, sure they’re going to look at the price, the specs, packaging etc, but ultimately everyone buys based on emotion and we only reinforce facts about the product or service to back up our emotional responses. Don’t believe me? Check out The Tale of Two Chickens.

So when you’re developing content for your or a client’s website (or an SEO company is developing it for you) make sure it hits them emotionally and targets the points that make them feel something. This can be done in a range of different ways. Telling stories, using persuasive imagery, make the copy about them (using you and writing to them personally), think about emotions like fear, anger, happiness and sadness and how you can target these in your copy.

Page Headlines
The use of headlines in your copy is extremely important as it gives visitors the option to scan through your content and decide if they want to continue reading. They should be able to read nothing but the headlines of your article copy and get a decent synopsis of what the page is about and the items that are covered in it.

Calls to action to improve conversion optimisation
A call to action is simply something to remind the customer that they need to do something. This could be a reminder to pick up the phone and call your number or click the buy now button to the right or fill out the form on our contact page, etc. Don’t leave customers’ actions to chance, because chances are they won’t do what you want them to.

Gently guide your customers through your keyword-rich, relevant and interesting content, answering their questions, offering them solutions and then reminding them what they need to do next.

bring elements together

Bringing it all together

Now you’ve got an idea of how to put together a title and description tag and the types of elements you want to incorporate into your website copy it’s time to bring it all together. Let’s start mixing these elements up into a page for your website.

I start with the Google Keyword Tool and choose somewhere between 10-15 of the most relevant keywords for my product or service and add these in a list to my page for reference.

Semantic Keywords
Next I head on over to the MyKeyworder Semantic Keyword Tool and type in the first words I can think of when I think about the product or service I’m writing about (usually 3-5 words) and just grab the first 50 terms and put these on my page for reference also.

Next I write out a list of questions the customer might ask about the product or service. I think of as many as I can and search online through forums, posts and social media to find out the problems people face that a client's product or service might solve.

Write the SEO copy
Then I start writing the SEO copy. I put together a title tag first, then move onto the description tag (remembering to add a call to action) and then finally I start writing the content thinking about all the different aspects I’ve listed above along with incorporating the four different types of keywords along with answering questions, triggering emotions and incorporating calls to action. 

As you can see from the journey listed above search engine optimised websites are very different to search engine friendly websites. So the next time someone tries to sell you on SEO, or you’re wondering about how much work it is to optimise a website for search engines you will now have a better understanding of the differences between search engine friendly and search engine optimised.