Much of what I’ve learned, over the years, about online marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) I gained through practical experience. While I own ten feet or so of books on the various sub-subjects of web marketing and I suck up blog content like a starving sponge, nothing beats experiential knowledge. What did this education teach me that is applicable to good SEO in 2016?
SEO wasn’t an issue in the 90’s.
Writing good quality content always seemed to get my sites found. By the turn of the century, SEO had become a profession with all sorts of tricks that helped speed new websites into visibility. Site visitors found a lot of these techniques were frustrating as keyword stuffing and content written for search engines failed to deliver the desired results for the reader.
Google soon figured this out and thus began making frequent algorithm changes aimed at providing the optimal user experience, Thus the science of SEO is constantly evolving to meet Google’s changes. As a result of these frequent changes, many SEO practitioners seems to have forgotten the point of their efforts.
What is SEO trying to accomplish anyway?
My personal entrance into SEO wasn’t driven by numeric metrics designed to beat the system, my personal goal, then and now, is to deliver readable content that answered the readers’ questions and, for the most part, this technique has worked well though not always as quickly as techniques used to game the system. However, the sites I’ve written for that focused on quality content have also not suffered through Google’s algorithm changes.
I’m amazed that over time, one point about SEO that I rarely see or hear mentioned is:
A search query is, by definition, a question. The user is seeking something. Ideally the answers that come up first on the search engine results page (SERP) are those that best address the user’s question.
Google’s goal is to deliver the best possible answer to that query.
All the true white hat experts at SEO will say the same thing “write for the user, not the search engines.” Over the past fifteen years, I have written for the users. Period. Yes, I do use technical best practices for site navigation, headers, alt-tags, urls, word choice and other things. However, my primary focus for on-page SEO has been and will remain, on answering the questions my audience is seeking to answer.
Off-site good SEO has evolved as well
What started out as “the site with the most inbound links gets the top SERP results,” evolved into “the site that has the most links from higher page-ranged sites wins,” to “the site with the most links from high authority site wins.” All of these are pretty easy to game, and thus much of the practice of SEO became all about the links.
Of course Google knows this too. Heck, Google knows everything. They probably know more than the NSA and, well…Google even controls my phone, so they even have the NSA beat there. Ah..but I digress. Google has been clear all along, if you game their system, they will eventually catch you, then slap your site down into the hell hole that is obscurity.
Links do still matter
You will occasionally see some SEO “experts” claim link building is dead. This is far from true. Every few months one of the more prominent SEO sites does their homework and determines which signals seem to pack the most value and links still come up near the top of the list.
The quality of the links is key. Garbage links, linking patterns that seem unnatural and a large number of links acquired quickly can get your site “sandboxed” into obscurity. Also keep in mind that lots of links to weak content won’t rank you high. Your site has to deliver the goods. Investing in good quality content is absolutely key to good SEO.
Focus on the fact that Google wants to deliver the most relevant results for that query and seek out only links that deliver on this promise.
My SEO link building Rule of Thumb
In fact, I believe inbound links should ascribe to one key attribute – will that link drive traffic that is interested in what your business offers? Are they likely to be buyers? If the answer is “yes,” you want that link. If the answer is “no” then you don’t. Those sites that built links along these guidelines have generally been treated quite kindly as Google’s many updates, including Panda and Penguin, have occurred.
If you consider your business goals, traffic that isn’t interested in what you have to offer has little value anyway.
This is one reason social sharing has become such an important contributor to SEO success. The combination of “this content answered my question”, and an inner circle recommendation is a powerful sign of relevancy.
Google’s Matt Cutts has been saying this for years and yet I still see many focusing on gaming the system. Worse yet, many an SEO effort is still gauged using these techniques. How many links have you added to your website’s profile? What is the keyword density of this page? How much traffic growth is attributable to these links? These are still used as key performance indicators (KPI) for the trade.
SEO KPIs that truly matter
Like everything else we do in business, our SEO efforts should be measured according to our business goals. This really boils down to what traffic increase are we seeing that accomplishes our business goals for sales, subscriptions, increased brand awareness and customer loyalty.
It is my opinion that most of this should be common sense:
- know your audience,
- answer their questions,
- create great content that is share-worthy and do so with the intent of building customer relationships
- continue to seek out inbound links that are likely to drive true prospects for your business.
In a nutshell, everything that good SEO hopes to accomplish derives from quality content. Quality content automatically contains the keywords that drive your business. Quality content builds trust for your brand. Quality content is share-worthy and encourages your customers to do your inbound linking for you. Quality content is king.