The first and most important thing to remember about search engine optimization success today is this – it’s not about rankings. It’s about profitable business results!
The profit SEO adds to your company’s bottom-line defines how successful your SEO efforts are.
New visitors and ranking improvements are great, but if that doesn’t translate into improved business results, how is that helping you succeed online? It’s not!
Why Is SEO Important
The ultimate reasons SEO is so important are (1) the quality of organic traffic and (2) the profit potential of that traffic. Organic traffic is a highly targeted, non-disruptive, high-quality source. To prove this point, you merely need to break channels out at the per-visit-value level, and organic traffic will usually have the highest value per visit, or at least be one of the top 2. That and the staying power of organic traffic makes it one of the most important traffic sources.
Other reasons include;
- Reliable Source of Business
- Trust and Credibility Improvements
- Predictable Return on Marketing Investment
- Creating Competitive Advantages
- Consistently Improve Your Popularity
- Build Your Business in Your Local Market
- Cost-Effective Marketing that Last Long Term
According to Avanish Kaushik, Google’s #1 Digital Marketing Evangelist – organic traffic is so crucial to your online success that it should represent 40% to 50% of your overall monthly online traffic footprint.
If you are below these levels, it is critical to engage in SEO as soon as possible. Every day you put off organic optimization is another day your competitors can gain a stronger competitive advantage over you, and organic competitive advantages are difficult to overcome.
The Golden Rule of SEO Optimization
The golden rule of search engine optimization, one that has never changed from the beginning, is this; in all that you do, if you live to provide people with highly valued content and an incredible experience, you’ll be rewarded and will never have to worry about a Google update taking you out. Companies that do regularly see ranking improvements when Google releases new updates!
So Where Do You Start?
The place to start is with an SEO Audit that includes a competitive analysis and benchmark report. The Audit is needed to develop an effective optimization plan and the benchmark report for measuring your success over time.
Next, you’ll need an SEO-specific measurement model, where your main KPIs measure business improvements and the others measure the success of your SEO plan over time. This model should include targets and goals, e.g., improve organic profit by 20% and links by 10% this quarter.
But before you get into an audit, it helps to understand how Google’s algorithmic updates have changed the game over time, as this will help you with planning as you move forward. That said, let’s take a look at the most important, now.
Understand Google’s Updates
When considering how to dominate the search engine results pages, first, you need to understand Google’s current Algorithm and how updates have changed it over time. Understanding the Algorithm and the updates will help you avoid obsolete tactics that no longer work. Unfortunately, many of today’s SEOs are still using these tactics. You don’t want to be one of them.
We won’t cover all of Google’s updates but instead, focus on the ones that changed the game significantly. The updates we’ll cover include; Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Mobile First, RankBrain, and Bert. After reviewing them, you’ll better understand how the optimization game is played today.
The Panda Update
In February of 2011, Google released the Panda update, designed to combat poor quality, duplicate, thin, over-optimized content, and plagiarism.
With this update, Google said, whatever you put out, it better be unique, original, high-quality content that provides value to our searchers, or not only will we not rank it, we could penalize your site as well!
Before the Panda update, many companies were producing a ton of low-quality content simply for better rankings because before Panda, content was king. After Panda, the definition of content is king, changed. Now it’s content that people find, engage with, and share is King.
The workaround for the Panda update is simple, put out awesome content that aligns with your business objectives that is in demand and ensure people find it, engage with it, share it, and don’t over-optimize.
Basically, the Panda update took the focus off of trying to game the algorithm and placed it on trying to produce better content than your competitors, and those that are the best at it get the most Google love.
The Penguin Update
In April of 2012, Google launched the Penguin update designed to combat low-quality links, over-optimized anchor text, and unnatural link-building tactics, all of which lowered the quality of Google’s search results.
Google was done with SEOs using link-building tactics for gaming their system, and the Penguin update was their answer. The Penguin raised the bar on link building.
With the Penguin update, Google said, if it looks like you SEOs are building links to game our system, if links to your site don’t look natural and relevant, we will penalize your site, period.
Overcoming Penguin takes a thorough understanding of your current link profile and your link needs, understanding your content needs, a documented content marketing strategy, online relationship-building skills, and careful planning.
With the links you intentionally go after, be picky, as you can only add so much to your profile at one time. In other words, go after the links with the most bang for your buck.
Finally, always remember that all link growth needs to look natural, or the Penguin will come for you, so don’t overdo it with any link type.
There is one exception. If you create a piece of content that goes viral and grabs a ton of link growth in a short period of time, Google recognizes viral content and Penguin will give you a pass. However, this must be natural growth.
That said, make your content fantastic cause you never know when something is going to jump off!
The Hummingbird Update
In August of 2013, Google launched the Hummingbird update, which is an AI algorithm used to recognize natural language and searcher intent.
The Hummingbird update was a massive change in how Google’s algorithm decides which pages rank and which pages don’t. Basically, this update removed keyword gaming and elevated the most useful pages in Google’s index.
In a sense, this is what Google always wanted, but SEOs wouldn’t stop gaming their system, and Google finally took action to improve their results.
Before Hummingbird, SEOs carefully wordsmithed their pages with the keywords they were targeting, and for a long time, it worked; however, this pushed more valuable pages down and lowered Google’s search quality. Then along came the Hummingbird.
Hummingbird brought natural language and intent to the forefront and pushed keyword wordsmithing out of the game, allowing the best pages for particular search intent to be served up.
Hummingbird is all about what Google thinks a user is asking and then providing them the most relevant content. It used to be about keywords. Now it’s about themes and the strength of the orbit that surrounds a theme, which is why excellent content marketing is so important!
What’s the solution? Understand the keyword themes you are going after, write pages naturally, develop content to support those themes, and make sure that people find that content.
Lastly, make sure the content you create to support your themes aligns with your business objectives because if it doesn’t, you may see organic growth, but it will be the wrong traffic, i.e., it won’t convert. This is a significant mistake many SEOs make today!
If your pages and content are incredible, focused, and it all aligns, i.e., supports your business objectives, Google will get it, and you’ll be rewarded with better organic business results!
The Mobile-First Update
In April 2015, Google launched the Mobile-First update, another game-changer. The Mobile-First update made mobile sites a priority over desktop sites.
In other words, after the Mobile-First update, if a site wasn’t mobile-friendly, it would have significant problems ranking, with the exception that all companies in an industry weren’t mobile-friendly, or there isn’t much competition.
Dealing with The Mobile-First Update
This one is obvious. Make your site mobile-friendly. It’s that simple, especially if your competitors are not mobile-friendly, as this is low-hanging fruit and a great opportunity to take the lead.
A couple of ways to do this, (1) make your site responsive, (2) build a separate mobile site using something like Duda Mobile.
Which direction you choose, i.e., responsive or mobile site depends on the mobile user experience. In some cases, a responsive design works fine. In other cases, the responsive site may not provide visitors with a good mobile experience. In this case, building a separate mobile site is preferred.
The RankBrain Update
In October of 2015, Google launched the RankBrain update, which is part of the Hummingbird update. What this update did was improve Google’s ability to understand searcher intent.
RankBrain attempts to gain a deeper understanding of each searcher that moves beyond simple intent. This is the update that helps Google know their searchers.
With RankBrain Google adds search history, synonyms, implied words, and from that creates searcher profiles to personalize results for each searcher. It’s Hummingbird on Steroids!
Dealing with RankBrain
This is where high-quality everything especially the content you create comes into play even more than it did when the Hummingbird update was initially released. With this update, Google said, no gaming, we own quality, play along or forget ranking. It’s up to you.
The Google Bert Update
In October of 2019, Google launched the Bert update, which is the next step in Google’s evolution from keywords to searcher intent. With this update, Google has taken its natural language processing abilities to the next level. It is basically all the best of Panda, Hummingbird, and RankBrain, combined.
Dealing with Bert
The way to deal with the Bert update is to do all that was mentioned above and adopt an expository writing style that does not have many fluff words.
You can learn more about this writing style from this pdf called Research, Write, Present | Expository Writing Expository Style from Intel’s Technolgy Literacy resources, and by watching this Video on Expository Writing that explains it.
It is also useful to include entities to create a context which you can learn about from this post on SEO Entities.
On-Page SEO & Popularity
Now that you understand how Google’s updates have changed the game for SEOs, which should be your guiding light, let’s look at some of the SEO on-page factors you should be aware of.
When it comes to On-Page SEO, there are some technical factors to consider, especially when it comes to coding.
Still, at the end of the day, what matters most is how valuable searchers find your site’s content compared to your competitors and how easy your site is to use.
It’s all about who’s site is most popular. If your site is that site, your audience will continue to grow month-over-month, and your ranking will follow. Everything that you do to your site or page should add value to the user experience. If it doesn’t add value, don’t do it.
That said, let’s look at some specifics.
Title Tags & Meta Descriptions
Your organic listings, i.e., your organic ads on the search engines are made up of your page titles and meta descriptions and these should be written with as much thought as any paid media Ad. Each page you want to rank should have its own page title and meta description.
Don’t focus too much on keywords here. Use them but use them naturally. Instead, focus on writing powerful ads that people engage with, as this will influence your rankings more than anything else.
From an SEO standpoint, your headlines need to be concise, relevant, and engaging enough to get people to slow down and consume your content.
Keywords are important but not as important as creating enough curiosity to get people to continue their journey. The goal of your headlines is simple – entice people to engage with your content.
People Scan Before they Read
To deal with the overabundant amount of data on the internet, people scan web page headlines and subheads for what they are looking for. They don’t read paragraphs unless something catches their eye. That said, make your headlines as useful and catchy as possible. Create curiosity and answer questions with them.
Break Your Content Up
It is best SEO practices to use heading tags, <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc. to break your copy up. Don’t make your copy a page with one headline and lots of paragraphs. Add heading tags to break things up.
Headlines DO Impact Rankings
That said, make your headlines stand out and encourage engagement. A fun tool for coming up with headlines is the Title Generator. Check it out!
A significant part of search engine optimization is creating an incredible user experience. A site that is incredible that people love has a better chance of outranking sites that someone has spent time trying to optimize for visibility.
That said, the look and feel of your website and pages, especially across devices, will significantly influence your ranking in terms of credibility, trust, and ultimately your site’s popularity, which will affect how Google ranks your site and how fast you grow. It’s not about impressing Google; it’s about impressing Google’s searchers.
Focus on being incredible, not on being optimized for the Algorithm. You can’t optimize for the algorithm anymore without being incredible.
A Look at Not Being Incredible
The best way to learn what great web design looks like is to learn what poor website design looks like.
Poor website design has the following characteristics;
- Design that is difficult to understand
- Poor use of color
- Too many calls-to-action on one page
- Too much page clutter creating a mental load
- Copy that is not organized or too wordy
- Redundant content that reduces focus
- Duplicate or plagiarized content
An Example of Poor Site Design
You can feel the mental load that this site’s poor design creates, and that is what you want to avoid.
Here’s a good rule of thumb – the higher the mental load, the lower your conversion rates will be, and the lower your chances are to rank well.
With Google’s current algorithm and any moving forward, there is slim to no chance that the above site will rank well no matter how much an SEO optimizes. It would be futile and a major uphill battle to even try!
Here is another example. The pages below have the same content. Which one would you rather use, and which one do you believe has the best chances of ranking well?
It’s an 8-Second Game
On average, visitors will give you about 8 seconds to figure out whether they are in the right place or not. If they can’t figure that out in that timeframe, you’ll likely lose them.
Looking at the two pages above, it is obvious which one will be more successful with searchers and with ranking. Your pages need to make sense and be pleasing to the eye. Use this common-sense principle, and you’ll be well on your way to outperforming your competitors.
Characteristics of a Great Web Page
Now that we’ve looked at what poor website design looks like, what are some of the characteristics you’ll see on great website design?
- Your value propositions should be front and center
- Make pages easy to scan by breaking content up into bite-size pieces
- Image Alt Tags filled out
- Unique Titles and Meta Descriptions
- Keywords need to fit in naturally
- Write amazing copy
- Images should add value to the message
- Make your site mobile friendly first
- Clean coding and speedy load times
- Ensure only useful pages are indexed on Google
- Secure https connection
- Hierarchical information architecture
- No duplicate copy
- Each page should have a purpose
- Use bullet points instead of paragraphs when appropriate to make content easier to digest
- Use color call-to-action buttons that fit the color scheme and stand out
- Add internal links that help where help is needed
- Avoid content clutter; it needs to make sense
- Don’t water down conversion goals with distractions
The Autonomy of an Optimized Page
The Bottom Line of On-Page SEO
When it comes to on-page SEO, the bottom line is this – if people visit your site, spend time on it, and convert, you’ve done an excellent job. Of course, there are on-page best practices, but due to Google’s updates, user experience will always trump technical SEO or black hat strategies. Be incredible, and you’ll be rewarded.
Off-page optimization is all about link building. To build links effectively, you need to understand your link profile and the competitive environment. To do that, you need to run a link profile audit. You can use Ahrefs to do such an audit.
The audit will show you what you have, what you need, and what may need to be removed. Then, armed with this data, you build your link-building and content marketing plans and get busy.
Four Secrets to Successful Link Building
There are Four secrets to successful link building, which are;
- Create unique content that People Want to link to
- Get your content seen
- Promote your posts
- Pay to play on social media platforms
- Build genuine relationship
- People link to people they like more often than not
- Do something cool for them
- Participate in the community
- On Social Media
- Promote others content
- Leave comments
Content marketing, relationship building, and getting involved with the community off-site are all required if you want to maximize organic link growth! There are no two ways around that. The best SEOs have great content, build powerful relationships with important people such as Influencers and Webmasters, and are active in the community.
Here is a great post on building targeted links from Ahrefs.
Category of Links
There are different categories of links that you’ll need to consider, with the most valuable being those most relevant to the searcher intent you are targeting. At the same time, all the links need to be considered. When it comes to utility links, use keywords but do so in a natural way.
Your Links Define You
Your links define your business online; they speak of your reputation. They help ensure you are relevant and credible. The search engines don’t care about how many links you have anymore. Now it’s about the quality of the links you have. The search engines know if your links are relevant or not and place more value on editorial links that people create than links by some automatic means.
Below is a diagram that can help you understand the process;
Focus on the Source of the Link
The best way to drive relevant traffic to your site, traffic this is going to convert, is to focus on the source of the link. The more relevant the source is to your business objectives, the better the traffic you’ll receive. Focus your efforts on getting these types of links.
Links Should Align with Business Objectives
One mistake I’ve seen companies make when link building is that they go after links that aren’t in line with their business objectives. This is evident when organic traffic increases but conversions and profit don’t follow.
To take things to the next level in 2021, you must select keyword themes that align with your business objectives and then build, in a sense, a content silo that supports that theme and naturally attracts the correct types of links. This needs to be controlled to avoid better rankings without better business results.
Examples of Link Building Content
The following is a list of content ideas for building links;
- Blog Posts
- Expert Interviews (Especially Video)
- Ego Driven Content
- Educational Worksheets
- Resource Lists
- Online News Releases
The Best SEO Tools
When it comes to search engine optimization you will need some tools. These are what I recommend;
What needs to be done to dominate the search engine results pages is different for each company. Use your SEO audit and competitive analysis to guide your plans. Go after the links that you need, build awesome content, be incredible, and make sure you’re found.
Measure your success with Macro KPIs that move your business objectives and Micro KPIs that measure your plan’s progress.
That should be enough to point you in the right direction.
Thank you for reading, and I wish you all the best in your pursuit of SEO excellence!