SEO doesn’t look like it used to (and that’s a good thing). But what does it honestly take to increase relevant traffic from the organic search results to your website today? As part of a series of talks and lectures we’ve been delivering on digital marketing, we’re exploring top SEO techniques ranging from textbook best practices to utilising the latest technologies.
If binge-watching White Board Fridays, conference videos or Webmaster Hangouts has taught us anything, it’s that to somebody who doesn’t do SEO day in, day out, it can be a totally overwhelming topic. Personal experience with new clients proves it too: from needing to explain that their traffic has plunged because Google can’t read any of the content on their brand-new website despite their developers building it in the hottest technology, to dealing with the aftermath of a messy breakup between them and their last agency once those “effective” link building tactics led to a Google penalty.
Being overwhelmed or let down can be paralysing and frustrating, especially when all you want to do is a good job.
What’s the one thing that’ll give you an advantage in the game of SEO? Soaking up all the wisdom you can from people consistently doing the job well. Here, we’ve distilled it down to the very best advice 6 experts have learned. Regardless of your role or industry, their words may help you on the road to long-lasting growth.
1. Where possible, consolidate
The in-house SEO team at Google recommends that focusing on one great website instead of multiple microsites is the best way to encourage organic growth over time. It’s common to see marketing teams managing multiple websites for campaigns, products or blogs across different domains and subdomains. However, it’s difficult enough to get everything right on one website, let alone several. And you may be sacrificing the potential growth of the websites that actually generate business to say focus on link building or optimisation for one of your other microsites. By consolidating, it means when good things happen, such as earning links from a variety of high-quality publications or improving the site’s speed – everything on the website benefits rather than just the one section. You also reduce the risk of something going wrong by having control of your entire web ecosystem.
2. Focus on earning links
In this video, Rand Fishkin (Founder of Moz) explains the difference between link building and earning links, and that earned links grow traffic and brand awareness as well as giving you a better chance of performing well in the search engines. Whereas buying or building spammy links can potentially harm your website’s performance in the search engines. Links are an important SEO signal and focusing on earning those links that are hard for competitors to replicate are the best ones. So rather than just guest posting wherever will allow you to – research what your ideal publications and blogs are covering and brainstorm campaign ideas that they would care about and once you’ve created something let them know about it. (And if you’re new to SEO, Moz’s Beginner’s Guide is where we’d recommend you start and is also the perfect example of something they have created that deserves to earn links).
3. Don’t forget the fundamentals
With SEO your first priority should always be to get the fundamentals right so that you make it as easy as possible for search engines to discover, understand and rank the pages on your website. In an ideal world, search engines would be able to access and understand everything on the web. However, this isn’t the case and there are correct and incorrect ways of building websites and creating content that impacts how a website is crawled, indexed and ranked by search engines. This post by Colm O’Sullivan from AIM gives a good overview to those fundamentals, from providing a well-organised site structure with easy to understand URLs to improve site speed and optimising meta tags.
4. Make sure you deserve to rank
Andrea Gozzi from Webranking writes here about how the simplest and most useful rule to know if you can position yourself for a given query is to always ask yourself: do you deserve to rank? That is to say: do you think you deserve to rank for terms over the websites that are already there? This may sound obvious, but you can’t imagine how many people expect to rank by just setting up a page and “doing some SEO”, when they have a weaker collection of products or information than their search competitors. It is very important to realise that a search engine’s job is to organise the web and provide the user with the best possible answer, and if your website does not meet their needs, they will recommend somewhere else.
5. Avoid making major changes all at once
During this Webmaster Hangout with Google’s trend analyst John Mueller, he explains that making a bunch of fairly significant changes to a website all at once can cause the algorithms a lot of confusion and has the potential to result in bigger negative effects in regards to search. Instead, John recommends taking the changes step by step to test them individually first to ensure each step is working as it should be. The website that the question is based on saw a significant drop in rankings and visibility across search results in general after changing the domain name, framework, platform and content. After investigating the specific website, John explains that all of the changes have made it difficult for the algorithms to figure out what the new stable state should be and therefore is taking a lot longer than a normal site move would take.
6. It’s not how much you report on – it’s how meaningful you make it
In this superb Whiteboard Friday, Cyrus Shepard from Zyppy shares how you can make your SEO reports far better. Like Cyrus, we’ve seen hundreds of reports filled with overwhelming amounts of keywords, data and charts to show the value of SEO. The truth is that nobody reads them because they aren’t that helpful. Rather than reporting everything, report on what is really meaningful to them and will drive action.
And if you roll your eyes at the thought of reporting, it’s probably because you aren’t doing it right. Creating a report is not only an opportunity to reflect on your strategy but is also a chance to adjust it and innovate. It’s not just the end of a period – it’s the beginning of the next.
It’s also common to try and paint the rosiest picture of the website’s performance. But don’t run from reporting on the bad and the ugly – this is how we learn, adjust and improve.