The world of SEO seems to be ever-changing, and the pace of that change is ever-accelerating. It’s both the blessing and the curse of this industry. Today there are evermore options and issues to contend with to fully optimize websites and online properties.
Unfortunately, it now appears, at least to some, that even some of the old stand-by, tried-and-true SEO techniques of the past are now suspect, not only in their efficacy, but in their viability.
We now work in the age of Pandas, Penguins, and more. There are penalties and there are algorithms, all set up to take us down a notch or three – and who knows what’s coming next? What do we as SEOs tell our clients (or our employers) to do now?
I submit to you that Chicken Little is only a moral folktale, and that the sky is in fact not falling, at least not for SEO. Indeed, the common thread running through all of these changes is that running a website for the benefit of the site owner rather than for the site reader is a problem.
As a result, the differences between blackhat and whitehat SEO remains as clear as ever (and Google’s recent actions only drive that point home ever more clearly). If you as an SEO have a brand to build, a site to optimize, and a message to convey, how to be successful online is as straightforward today as it has ever been.
The problem we face is the new potential repercussions of old SEO shortcuts or “cheats.” I have always advocated that the smartest, best long-term strategy for a business branded website is to develop the site for the human reader, not the search engine. Search engines spend a huge amount of resources of time, money, and energy to figure out what people want. They do everything they possibly can to act as human analogues.
Of course, algorithms are not humans, and computers have a hard time interpreting non-text content and assessing nuance. In light of that, I will make a slight caveat to my SEO creed: Develop your website for the human reader who uses a computer screen reader with their browser.
Pursue Your Quest For Goodness
Despite the release of recent Google algo changes that continue to shake up the SERPs, I still believe that no SEO ever went wrong by getting these fundamentals right…
1. Developing descriptive metadata and body text with keywords.
Help both the human searcher and the search engine figure out what your pages are about. Figure out which keywords are most relevant to your page, and then use them in places that have the most punch.
By developing descriptive, relevant text for your page’s <title>, <meta> description, <h1>, and <img> alt text tags, and by ensuring those same words are used again in the body of the page, you help develop relevancy to those keyword queries for your content.
- Caveat: But don’t go overboard. Use natural language as much as possible. No human wants to visit a site listed in the SERP whose blue link text and descriptive snippet are nothing but a keyword dump. Write compelling text fort humans and you will be rewarded with page views.
2. Creating interesting, crawlable content.
Humans search the Web for great content. Make yours interesting, informative, expert, creative, perhaps even humorous. Show off the one element that makes your site different from everyone else – you!
- Caveat: This is where the computer screen reader SEO credo amendment from above comes into play. Search engines are merely computers, and computers have a hard time interpreting non-text-based content. Sure, a photo gallery is a photo gallery, but a page supposedly about ancient Roman gold coins should have more than just images or a video. The multimedia content is good stuff (because people find it appealing, search engines want to understand it). Help the crawlers understand that interesting content by employing text-based, graceful degradation strategies.
Furthermore, don’t bury important text content within images, videos, or other binary files. Put it instead on the page as styled text so it can be easily and reliably read by the crawlers!The lack of high quality content is what is getting sites busted in Google Panda. Feed Google some great content – they’ll appreciate it, as will your readers.
3. Improving architectural issues for site crawlability.
This includes such straightforward advice as canonicalizing your URLs, using permanent (301) redirects when redirects are needed, minimizing your folder depth to no more than three subfolders from the root, and using keyword-based folder and file names.
Also, create a custom 404 page to keep customers on your site when inbound links are broken, post a valid robots.txt file to make the search crawler more efficient, and publish valid XML-based Sitemaps and RSS feeds to tell the search engines about your most important content pages. Lastly, ensure your site is optimized for page load speed.
- Caveat: Be careful with your architecture changes. You don’t want to lose page rank on existing pages by carelessly changing URLs without careful planning. You also want to make sure any changes to your robots.txt are heavily scrutinized. When I worked for Bing, one of the biggest problems the Webmaster Team saw with crawling problems was the unintentional blockage of the crawler through careless robots directives, especially when wildcards are involved. If you suddenly block a large portion of your site, those pages will fall out of the index.
4. Building relevant links with authority sites.
Link building used to be easy, right? Just submit your site’s URL to a few hundred of your favorite directories to earn inbound links, and voila! When that stopped working so well, folks tried paying link farms, blog networks, and other large aggregation of junk sites to link to them, figuring “a link is a link.”
Well, search engines never liked such falsified signals, and Google Penguin simply seals the deal.
Today, think in terms of quality (judged by industry authority) rather than quantity. I don’t know what ratio search engines use for good links equating to junk links (and there may not be one anymore).
Just identify the niches of the Web that are relevant to your site’s target audience, find the most significant players in those niches, and then contact the webmasters about linking to your site. I’d highly recommend having some of that interesting content previously discussed ready to show them – that’s what’s likely to interest them.
- Caveat: Don’t send spam email to webmasters asking them to link to your site if there’s nothing there worth linking to. Get your expert content in place, and then you have something to promote.
5. Engaging with customers via social media.
Speaking of promoting your website content, use social media to build your community. Unlike link building, in which you are primarily appealing to authority sites, use social media to connect with your fans and potential customers.
Get into the habit of regularly publishing posts or tweets that are interesting to your people. And no, your latest sale or newsletter subscription drive is not really interesting to anyone but you. Become the expert in your field, where people learn to go for your industry’s news, developments, and helpful information. Develop your brand as a trusted authority with great posts.
- Caveat: Don’t invest in a social media effort if you don’t have the resources to maintain it. There’s nothing more frustrating for a user than a sudden flash in the pan and then fizzling out by neglect. Be consistent, and of course, be professional. Potential customers are watching you. Getting them to buy is hard – discouraging them from buying is all too easy to do.
6. Avoiding malicious webspam.
If your primary intention with an optimization campaign is to fake out the search engines, you’re on the wrong track from the start. If you think hidden text, rich snippets spam, cloaking, and paid links are worthwhile efforts, you’ve missed the boat.
Sure, legitimate inbound marketing is hard work and takes time to come to fruition, but in fact that is the point. Its benefits are long-term, organic, and valuable. Optimize for people to win. Optimize to fool search algos to destroy business websites and brand names.
- Caveat: Nope, there’s no caveat in this one. If your business model is to burn through the first thousand domain names as fast as possible, then fine, go play. But if you have long-term, online business development goals, just say “No.”
No SEO ever went wrong by doing the right thing for end users. You won’t automatically be successful by being as pure whitehat as the driven snow. You need also brains, great content, hard work, and a compelling product/service/website. But a nice whitehat is always in fashion in search.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.