SEO has had quite the week. With the company formerly known as SEOmoz rebranding as Moz and shifting to a holistic Inbound focus, many of us have been left with questions. Is SEO dead? Should I still bother optimizing? I'd like to tackle those concerns today, and get into a discussion of some of the tried-and-true approaches to increasing visibility. Don't worry, SEO's not dead – it's just pulling a Madonna and reinventing itself.
Before we get too far into the specifics, let's take a quick glance over what SEO is and why it's relevant to your business:
- "Search Engine Optimization" refers to the practice of strategically writing your website's copy and structure to be easily found by search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo!. The sites with highest quality and greatest relevancy (along with a few other factors) are ranked according to importance on Search Engine Result pages (affectionately referred to as SERPs by techies).
- The higher a site ranks in result pages, the greater potential is has to be found by audiences seeking it's content. Why is this so important? 53% of searchers click on the first link in SERPs, and 41% of users will conduct a new search if they don't see click-worthy site on the first page of results.
With these refreshers in mind, it's no surprise that SEO has become the buzzword of the marketing industry throughout the last few years. Unfortunately, "black hat" and spam tactics have earned SEO a negative connotation. This, in conjunction with Google's repeated calls to focus on creating a site for people, rather than for search engines, has led to a rather rapid eroding of SEO as a standalone solution for businesses looking to make it online.
Despite these relevant shifts in perception of the value of SEO, undeniable facts hold true. First and foremost, being found by our customers online will never go out of style. (Unlike Madonna's eyebrows circa 1984).
Secondly, Google has incredible technology, but it still needs cues and tips in order to find and rank websites accurately. As such, I've created a list below of timeless on-site SEO practices which simultaneously help Google understand our website and provide a delightful experience to our visitors. And who doesn't love a two birds, one stone approach?
Don't skip the basicsThey may not be the sexiest parts of SEO, but being strategic with meta keywords, descriptions, and title tags is absolutely essential to clearly communicating your page's intent to search engines.
Associating relevant image Alt tags is also imperative, as search engines are still not able to understand images. Take care to be honest with tags, and assign them a name which is both relevant to the search and actual content.
Broaden your keywordsI know, it sounds crazy. All that hard work you do to identify and optimize a site around a handful of keywords, and now some woman is telling you to move away from them?
Don't worry, because I'm not advocating for a complete overhaul. I recently watched a Whiteboard Friday post by the one and only Rand Fishkin, http://moz.com/blog/advanced-onpage-optimization-whiteboard-friday which clued me into the value of semantically connected words.
If your keyword is "shoe" and you pack that baby into as many sentences as possible, Google and your readers will both become exhausted with the stuffing. Fortunately, Google is an amazing technology that recognizes words in relation to each other.
So rather than just using "shoe", including related phrases like "footwear", "apparel", "sneakers" and things of the like can be both effective and important in signifying to search engines what your page is about. It's also good for avoiding that annoying repetition which no reader appreciates.
Be friendlyBlog posts and content pieces are a great place to link to other articles around the web which may be of interest to your audience. This provides multi-dimensional value to your site: first, by building a community with other sites which will consider linking back to you in the future. Secondly, by establishing your site as a resource for visitors. Search engines absolutely take note of how long people are spending on your pages, and are likely to respond favorably when readers demonstrate actual enjoyment of your site.
Consistency is keyWe know about the importance of accuracy in descriptions, tags, and labels to communicate our site's content to search engines. But how often do we take note of the rest of a page's messaging in relation to them?
There will be obvious exceptions (some blog pots and pieces of exploratory nature), but pages should generally stick to the same topic throughout. This will allow for the organic inclusion of keywords throughout, which helps search engines determine the relevance of the page to searchers.
Focus on the userIf you follow SEO news and updates, you've heard it time and again. But if not, this concept could be really helpful in understanding why pages rank above or below others.
All search engines want to provide the most relevant and enjoyable pages to their users, which is why they care about how people experience your site. It's a simple idea: the better content you can provide to your visitors, the better you'll rank.
For every page you create, ask yourself (or an unbiased party) if it's honest, valuable, and appealing to the searcher. If the answer is an easy yes, you've mastered the most fundamental concept of SEO.
If not, take a step back and ask how you can be more user-focused.
To return to our early questions in this article, I think we can all agree that SEO is not dead. If anything, the digital presence of every business is becoming increasingly valuable. However, we are noticing a massive shift. SEO is no longer about cheating your way to the #1 spot on Google, it's about creating truly loveable content that users enjoy. This content becomes the heart of a comprehensive Inbound strategy, which gains customers through earned attention and continued value.
If you always keep that goal in mind as the end-all, be-all reasoning for every single page on your site, the results will more than merit the time spent. Even if it goes by slowly, like this song: