If you have an SEO guy who has been in business for more than a few years, the chances are pretty good that they’re doing it all wrong. That’s because anything you learned about SEO before 2012 is wrong — and half of what you’ve learned about SEO since 2012 is wrong, too!
That’s because 2013 has brought us things. Things like In-Depth Articles, Penguin 2.0, and Hummingbird — Google changes that, if your SEO guy hasn’t already taken them into account, are probably not good for your business. Today, we’re going to take a long, hard look at what Google’s latest set of changes has done to SEO.
Keywords: They’re Not That Important
Two years ago, keywords were the be-all and end-all of SEO. You wanted to buy a domain that was an exact match to your best keyword. You wanted your keyword in your metatags, your img tags, your copy, and your pasta-roni if you could manage it. Everyone knew that there were limits — you didn’t want your keywords showing up so often that Google would penalize you, but up to that limit, more was straight-up better.
Today, that’s simply not the case anymore — and doing those things will get you Google-slapped out of the park. What you should be doing with your keywords is much more low-key:
- Pick one keyword that you can optimize around, and include it in the URL, title, description, and text naturally. If you can’t read it without thinking that it came from an ESL student, you need to revise.
- Make your content relevant to the keyword, and to the rest of your site, and to your brand identity as a whole. If you can’t do that, you’ve picked the wrong keyword and you need to start over.
- If you have a very easy keyword to work in, you may still need to keep the old guidelines (1% for longer keywords, 2% for 1-2 word keywords) in mind — you can still get penalized for putting the same word in 80 times in 500 words, even if it all flows naturally.
Accessibility: Really Is That Important
Accessibility — the ability of people to get to and utilize the most important content on your website — is a crucial ranking factor that essentially didn’t exist two years ago. It was still a good idea to have an accessible site, but it made good business sense back then to have things like advertisements in-line with the text because you’d make more money from them even though it impinged upon the user’s experience. Today, Panda will claw your eyes out if you try some crap like that.
What you need to do is this:
- Make sure that your navigation is blatant, simple, and functional.
- Use the ALT tag on images to tell non-image-loading users what’s supposed to be there.
- Test your site to make sure it looks appropriate on every browser and platform.
- Make your website a mobile-responsive one that puts the most appropriate content up in compact form when it’s accessed from a mobile device. On every page of the site.
- Accessibility needs to come before SEO — but SEO should still be carefully attended to.
The Legend of Link (Building): The Macarena of Time
A long time ago, there was a fantastic song called Macarena, which managed to become explosively popular despite being in Spanish. Part of that was because of the dance, which was ridiculously easy to do and made most people look stupid. Fast forward two decades, and it’s only ever mentioned to make fun of people.
Link building is much the same: a long time ago, it was stupid and easy and made people feel like they were doing something. The problem was that, like the Macarena, it was entirely overdone, to the point that Google got mad at link builders. They would spam literally anyone with an even vaguely relevant webpage and try to get links set up — and often, if there was a way to get a link from a website without asking the owner, they would do that, too.
Spinning articles to trick Google into thinking you were producing unique content. Multiple social bookmarking and social media accounts all linking to your content to make it look like it was going viral. Comment spamming, forum spamming, directory spamming. Universal exact-match anchor text. The list of things that were commonplace two years ago that will get your site sandboxed today is HUGE.
So what should you be doing? …I’ll get back to that in a moment. Instead lets talk about what you can do if you already have a bunch of ‘black’ links coming into your site because you followed the SEO advice of yesteryear:
- Conduct a link audit. Check your incoming links and see if you can find evidence of undesirable links coming in to your site.
- If any of those links cause your browser to pop up with a malware warning, immediately email the site owner and politely request that he take the link down ASAP.
- Any links that come from low-quality sites, or otherwise come across as spammy, use the Google Disavow Links tool to claim that you had nothing to do with the creation of those links.
- Check Google Webmaster Tools to see if Google has flagged your site with any specific issues, fix them, and ask Google for a reconsideration.
- Get plugins like GASP to keep comment spammers from linking to you.
What TO Do To Build Good Links
- Build a reputation as an expert in your industry. Tim Ferris suggests asking a local college for a few hours in an empty seminar room, printing off your own flyers, and using them around campus to invite people to a free event on X subject. After you’ve done that a few times, you can announce yourself as having given said talks, which gives you enough authority that you can start to get in on industry groups and panels and whatnot. You can also just blog a lot — intelligently and in depth — about your industry, though having the cojones to get up and talk in front of a bunch of strangers adds enormously to your cred. Once you’ve gotten the attention of some local names, you can get references from them and use them to position yourself as an ‘expert source’ for high-end blogs, get interviews, and earn the chance to write white papers. Online tools like HARO and MuckRack can help you find those connections.
- Get your Google+ Local profile, your Google Maps profile, your Yelp profile, and other local directories, review sites, and yellow pages all up to date. The more universal your listings (i.e. exactly identical name, address, phone, hours of operation, and so on), the more likely Google is to serve you up as the person in your area that does what you do — so be meticulous.
- Commenting can still be a good way to build links — as long as you do it occasionally, carefully, and in depth. Leaving a generic comment will, best-case, get ignored by Google. Posting a couple hundred words intelligently critiquing an industry-related news piece or blog post can actually get some decent link juice — and if it’s popular enough, can get some attention in it’s own right.
- If you offer a product or the kind of service that you can give a sample of, give samples — but do it right. Mark Ecko of Ecko Unlimited, a hip-hop clothing designer who has some of the top names in the industry wearing his stuff, credits his clever giveaways with ‘getting him in the door’. His post on Tim Ferriss’ blog (linked above) lays out the top 10 rules of getting an “influencer’s” attention. It’s well worth reading if you think that having a big-time name mention you publicly will do your business some good.
Losers: Don’t Surround Yourself (Or Your Website) With Them
You’ve probably heard this many times in your life, but it’s true on the Internet just as much as it is at college or in business — if you want to win, surround yourself with winners. If you want your website to win, surround it with winning websites. Many modern SEO guys will take links (and give links) to any site on the Internet — don’t do that. In other words, make sure that your content gets linked to by winners — and make sure that you link out to winners as well. Google pays attention to both, and while incoming links are more weighty, a website that links out to crappy websites definitely suffers as a result.
If you’re not sure how to get quality on both sides of your website’s link chain, here’s a few tips:
- When you create a guest post or otherwise put content up on the web, make sure that the site it’s going on isn’t a crappy, spammy site. Try to use the site for a while; if it comes off as hard to use, filled with iffy content, or otherwise not the kind of site you would use personally, don’t put your content there.
- You can check the quality of a site more directly using any of several free online Page Rank checkers or plugins like SEO Tools for Chrome or the Moz Toolbar for FireFox. You’ll get information about the site’s age, social presence, PageRank, and more from plugins like those.
- Similarly, make sure that any site you post your content on is relevant and coherent. Google made it clear with Penguin 2.0 that they’re now looking at an entire website when they check for topical relevance, so posting on a site that’s largely about fishing but happens to have one or two pages devoted to your industry is going to come up as an indicator of lower quality to Google.
- Before you post to a site, check the social networks for mentions and links — it’s not necessarily a bad thing if you don’t find them, but it’s a great thing if you can find some!
Content: Even Awesome Words Are Not Enough
No matter where you’re going to put your content — someone else’s website, your website, your blog, or even in the mail to be sent directly to your clients — it needs to be excellent content…and more. The process of creating excellent content isn’t something that can be condensed into a single article (but you can read all about content creation according to NPM through that link.) — but you need your SEO guy to do much more than that. He should also be doing at least these:
- Get your Google+ profile set up and use <rel=author> to claim authorship of all of your content. That little photo that shows up in the search engines next to all of your content is pure gold.
- Spend plenty of time crafting the titles and descriptions for your posts, pages, and content so that what people see in the search engines actually makes them want to click on your article.
- Find at least one quality (open-license) image that supports every piece of content you write. The Creative Commons search engine is probably the easiest and fastest way to get what you need.
- Create in-depth content that takes a single topic and delves deeply into it. Longer articles mean more shares, better brand building, and greater authority.
- Market your content (this is different from content marketing) by adding quality supplemental materials like webinars and further content.
Social Mentions: Sauron’s Google’s Eye Sees All
Last year, everyone realized that Google was using social mentions to set the SERP rankings of content, and the social media sphere — which was already awash in marketing — went bat-guano crazy. This year, we know a little more — but still, some SEO guys are wasting their efforts pursuing in appropriate social strategies. What you should be doing looks like this:
- Focus your social efforts on your brand new (less than two week old) content — after two weeks, Google rapidly cuts back the relevance of social signals and pumps up the relevance of backlinks.
- Create a strong, branded social media presence that people can Like, link to, and interact with. Post, at the very minimum, links to your best content (if not actual unique content) there.
- That said, don’t just use your social media presence to push your own stuff. Nothing says “profit-oriented corporate borgdroid” like having a Facebook page where you never mention cool stuff other people are doing.
- When you post content anywhere, make sure that your social sharing buttons are right there next to it — and add a call to action that openly asks for shares after you’ve wowed them with a pile of epic content.
- Encourage your users/customers to openly and honestly review your products and services on their or your Facebook pages — and make sure your product or service is good enough to wow them.
There are a lot of things that SEO guys are doing wrong these days — they have their hearts in the right places, but they’re not keeping up with the latest (and biggest) developments in SEO and online marketing. In the end, it boils down to two simple rules:
- Give people what they want.
- Don’t try to trick them.
If you can manage those two things in every aspect of your business, you’re off to a great start.
Agree? Disagree? Did I miss anything? Throw out a comment, or let me know on Facebook!
(Image credits: aliciacody on Flickr for the Macarena; Thos003 on Flickr for the SEO conference)