8 aspects of a sustainable SEO strategy
SEO doesn't have to be tanked by constant changes. Learn how to do SEO sustainably while mitigating risk and focusing on priorities.
Today’s hot topics revolve around the future of SEO as the race to AI-powered search heats up. Bing will use ChatGPT and Google has Bard. I’m not saying all the buzz is unjustified.
These developments simply highlight the nature of search where change is constant and inevitable. Seasoned SEO practitioners know that everything could be turned upside down tomorrow.
Yet, in a practical sense, SEO doesn’t have to be tanked by new ranking factors, algorithm updates or constant changes. There is a way to do it sustainably while mitigating risk and focusing on priorities.
Below, I have outlined eight strategic aspects that have stood the test of time and are still worth investing resources in.
1. Clean code
The days (for most) of static, lightweight HTML and CSS websites are long gone. We can now push the design and functional limits of UI and UX. In many cases, search engines can see it.
In some cases, we see a return to simpler code outputs with headless applications and sites. What hasn’t changed is that the cleaner our code, the more trust we can have in it being found, indexed, and ranked in the search engines.
Whether your content is long-form, interactive or visual-heavy, making things easy for a search engine to consume and render is fundamental. It is as important today as when search engines first started crawling the web.
We don’t want our target audiences to see broken sites or embarrassing messages from a Canadian pharmacy on our home page. The loss of trust, revenue and overall credibility from any visible security issues can be damaging.
Even a behind-the-scenes security issue flagged by search engines can cost you dollars or time at the least. More importantly, it can cost you Google’s trust and result in a drop in rankings or visibility.
Have a security and monitoring plan in place. Utilize the tools at your disposal via Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
3. Site performance
I still remember when site speed, page load times, and core web vitals were not yet ranking factors. Back then, we already had performance reports in Google Analytics. We knew that slow-loading pages had higher bounce rates and could do basic analysis and correlations.
In general, better UI and UX meant better traffic stats. This aspect hasn’t changed even though performance measures are now explicitly part of the search algorithms and expected experiences. This isn’t going away and has been and will continue to be foundational in SEO.
4. Quality content
This might feel obvious and should be. Having quality content isn’t going away any time soon.
Google and other search engines have put it at the forefront of many published algorithm updates over the years.
Whether weeding out thin content, filtering results to reduce duplicate content, or any other factors to put searchers first, quality has been the primary goal.
The debate will continue on whether AI can meet the standard needed for search engines. Google and Bing’s own use of AI might lead to it having a bigger place.
That’s not an issue, as long as a quality standard is reached that matches a searcher with unique, rich, and engaging content tied to what their search and site visit goals are.
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5. Quantity of content*
*More content is typically better, but the asterisk here is that it has to be quality content, per the point above. If your funnel or customer journey has education or nurturing, you will need to have some depth.
Yes, you can rank for terms you don't explicitly target due to the context and related terms that the search engines associate with your pages and site overall. However, if your audience needs a lot of help, you will need it.
We still do a lot of gap analysis work finding areas where clients want to rank for topics, yet lack much if any content to support their authority position for that topic.
6. On-page elements
Beyond content, the basics still apply and are not likely to change. Yes, Google will tune the impact of certain on-page tags up or down or choose to ignore them altogether if they are duplicate or poorly written.
However, except for the meta keywords tag that was ignored by Google a long time ago, there are only slight changes to best practices like character counts or debatable elements, like the impact of heading tags (H1, H2, etc).
Overall, the structure of an optimized page still includes consistent topical and keyword use along with all of the on-page tags and elements we have control over.
Pay attention to:
- The alignment and context with the topic of the page.
- Connections to the broader level and sub-level content based on the section the page is within.
Yes, this might fall into clean code and overlaps with content. Still, it's important to point out as on-page aspects have been a constant must-have in SEO.
7. Competitive focus
A lot of what I've talked about so far is inward-focused (i.e., our own technical setup and on-page within our site). Much of it falls into best practices and checklists or audits of some sort.
Here's the curveball. That's not enough. Search results vary from query to query.
While a best practice might say that you need a certain amount of words on a page and that you need to do certain things to have a high-performing, fully-optimized page, those can all be thrown out the window if all the high-ranking pages are skewing the norm.
Whether it is all the pages only having a few words, a few thousand, or a wide range and being boosted heavily by external factors (more on that in a moment), being in tune with competitors and their performance is key.
Often, they aren't necessarily traditional competitors but those that own the top of the search results page for terms you're the authority for. Have your checklist and best practices, but don't ignore the competitive landscape. This has always been important and will continue to be.
8. External credibility
I've been pulled into conversations over the years with colleagues wondering if we will see the end of the importance of inbound or backlinks at some point. While that's very much possible, it hasn't happened yet.
Inbound links are important and still send "votes" or lend credibility to a site from external sources. Yes, we don't have some of the same visibility into PageRank as we had before, but we do know that links still matter in a balanced SEO strategy and approach.
The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same specifically in this category.
Don't get too distracted by shiny objects
Admittedly, this article – or parts of it – might not age well. I'm OK with that.
That has created a great opportunity for career development for my colleagues in the SEO industry and me. It is hard to get bored!
The constant change and pace of keeping up are critical. However, establishing strategic processes is just as important. We have a lot of shiny objects and things to distract us.
Staying true to things that have evolved, yet remained pretty constant over many years builds a great foundation and consistency for SEO approaches for your own site, your clients' sites, or those you consult.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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