Want to know a secret? The best thing you can do to improve your site’s SEO is to make it load more quickly.  Not only is site speed a major factor in how Google views your site, but your users will thank you too. We found this out recently when a persistent problem with SSL certificates on our server slowed response times to a crawl. Come to our site: only 30 seconds left to wait! Not cool.

We used the fantastic free site speed tester at GT Metrix a lot as we moved to new, much, much faster servers. Now we can’t stop speed testing as we try to make the small improvements it suggests and cut that fully loaded time down by another fraction of a second.

Twenty years ago, when the Internet first took off in the UK, there were hundreds of UK directories and search engines. Yahoo! was king and a listing in dmoz, the open directory, was a real boost to any site. Google was just getting going and the upstart was courting the early adopters of the Web with cool tools, widgets and APIs. Linking to sites you liked was an instinctive and free process, and everybody did it because that was how people found your site.

Oh how times have changed! Yahoo! has retired the directory they once charged £200 for a rapid review of your site (which still didn’t necessary mean it would be listed!) and dmoz is dead too. Google is king and Microsoft’s Bing the only real challenger left in the general search market. Links are still the best way of finding your site but now they determine where sites are listed for any Google search too. You could have bad links as well as good links now too, as Google developed new methods to separate spam sites from genuine hub sites. Link farms and paid links replaced natural links from blogs and hobby sites, then Google killed them as well.

What’s left is a disaster for those who want to get ahead but can’t compete with businesses and their deep pockets. While SEO has never been more important, it’s now also much harder than it was. The ‘anything goes’ experimental sites have been squeezed out by a handful of giant players and while it’s never been easier to create a startup, it’s also never been more difficult to succeed.

So what can be achieved by the blogger, hobbyist or small business in SEO terms today? Good question, and one your SEO Friend here is going to explore as we test what’s possible, what’s good, and of course, what’s bad in website promotion on a shoestring.

For a quick overview of how a site’s SEO health we like Searchr, mainly because you don’t have to login! It tests your homepage against all the usual metrics and gives you a score out of 100. Bish, bash, done.

It’s great for reminding you to add a sitemap, robots.txt file and a favicon, as well as the usual meta stuff, so it’s a good early destination for sites being actively developed with SEO in mind.

We do actually login, because it’s free, the restrictions on casual users are removed, and we can access our bookmarks. Drive-by users can only test a site once a day, but registered users can test as many sites as they want, as many times as they need to.

It’s on our cool tool list, but it’s important not to forget that, although it’s measuring Moz and Google PageSpeed,  Searchr’s SEO Score is just a number to help compare sites.