This post has gathered together some best SEO practices straight from Google (or the horse’s mouth, as it were). With a search engine whose secret formula is changing with increasing regularity, it seems prudent to have an SEO strategy with long-term planning.
Let’s work smarter not harder
When it comes to consuming genuinely useful advice about SEO, surely we should just listen intently to the people with the keys.
The people who hold all the knowledge. The gate-keepers.
That could be the difference between becoming a success or a side note, an achiever or an also-ran, adding meaning to your efforts or just plain meh!
Who is Matt Cutts and why is he important?
Matt Cutts is an extremely intelligent and very likeable chap. He’s a software engineer who is the head of Google’s webspam team. Listening to him is like listening to the inner workings of Google’s brain. You’ll learn ideas about how things work now and how they’ll work in the future.
What you are about to read are some of the most useful and ultimately the best SEO practices for 2014 and beyond.
Backlinks vs. content
Google crawls the web to find webpages for its search listings. Websites are crawled roughly in order of PageRank – a Google algorithmic calculation. The more PageRank you have, the faster new content will be found because your site will be crawled more frequently and more deeply. PageRank is officially defined as the number and importance of links pointing to your website.
However, this doesn’t mean we should just gather as many backlinks as possible. Gobble them all up and hoard them! Err… no. Links have their own value based on the relevance, reputation, page position, neighboring context amongst many other factors. Lots of bad links are worse than no links at all. Paid for links is another major no no – honestly, don’t go there.
The objective is not to “make your links appear natural”; the objective is that your links are natural. – Matt Cutts
Collecting the perfect set of backlinks has become the sole purpose of many SEO experts. But it’s a strategy with a narrowing potential. Watch this…
Feverishly gathering backlinks yourself can be extremely time-consuming, modesty destroying activity with no guarantee of it making a real difference. Plus it is also worth noting, that any backlinks that are quick and easy to obtain or abuses a weakness in the algorithm will almost certainly be downgraded now or in the near future. This could lead to your efforts being penalised or just plain wasted – and you don’t want that.
So, yes – if an opportunity arises whereby a link can be obtained on a relevant and reputable site then go for it. Be actively aware of opportunities to link to your content via other sites in your niche or your social network accounts as well. This makes sense and is a perfectly natural way to add links. Just don’t be seduced into the idea that ‘links’ should be the important thing to focus on when it comes to SEO.
The kind of site that users want to “bookmark” is the kind of site that more likely builds links organically, because people prefer to link to great websites. – Matt Cutts
The question we need to ask ourselves
So if you want to work smart not hard, here’s the question we need to ask ourselves.
What is the most efficient, time-effective and ultimately the best strategy when in comes to improving our Google search rank?
Here we go…
are you ready…
this is it…
a sentence that could change your world…
the epiphany you’ve been waiting for…
the answer to your SEO dilemma…
the complete anti-climax…
your new mantra…
drum roll please…
I’ve totally over-cooked this haven’t I…
Create relevant, engaging, original content that people want and are likely to share and link to.
It’s as simple and as hard as that.
Without content on your site you’ve got nothing to link to. Without relevance to you, your service or business goal what’s the point? Without any engaging, useful, surprising, exciting, funny, shocking, impressive or absorbing content who’s likely to share it? Make sure your content is original and not just a re-spun version of something that already exists. This will help you to build both trust and a reputation. Go against the grain, try to make your work stand out enough to make people WANT to link to it.
“Happy users are loyal users.” Matt Cutts
Back to reality
The usual response…
What if I’m not technical when it comes to websites, blogging or optimising them? What if I haven’t the time or inclination to learn every last SEO trick?
Well that’s ok too. As long as you’re making a good effort when it comes to the content bit everything else might just take care of itself.
Admittedly learning some basic SEO principles can help, we’ve got an extremely useful follow up post that’ll teach you about writing your page title, H1 tag and meta description just so. Keep reading for the link.
Can’t I just pay for Google ads? That’ll help with my ranking, right?
Unfortunately that is one big SEO myth.
Paying for search ads will neither help or hinder your website’s search engine ranking.
The wider picture
Putting SEO aside for the moment let’s look at the wider view. The ultimate goal of many website owners is to funnel readers/customers down this path:
Find, consume, action, share.
Find is the main thrust of this post. The ‘How people find your site’ bit. Important yes, but don’t forget it’s only one of several steps you need to get right, to be rewarded with the results you want. Although this post talks exclusively about search engines, bear in mind this isn’t the only way that people can find your website! Social media, email marketing, direct marketing, talking to people face-to-face and customer recommendations they are all good at driving traffic to your site. What did people do before the internet? …Exactly!
Consumption will just happen. To what degree can be improved by the ‘writing engaging content’ bit.
Action is the main reason for any site’s existence. It’s the action you want your readers to perform when they arrive at your site. Ranging from…
- Reading the content
- Buying a product or service
- Signing up to receive something in return (membership, information, service, samples etc)
- Writing a comment, question or review
- Sharing the content
- Contacting you
Sharing. Again this can only happen naturally and is much improved by following the ‘content is king’ theme. Make it as easy and as obvious as possible.
(psssst… you can share this page by clicking the icons at the bottom of the post)
In fact, a lot of goals can be achieved through the pursuit of the ‘content is king’ mantra.
will should …
- Engage an audience
- Be contextually relevant to you or your business
- Be naturally shareable
- Make people want to link to it
- Make people perform the primary target action
‘Great’ is a bit of a vague adjective! Can’t you be more specific?
OK. Let’s think about it logically. What does great content look like? What will it contain? What won’t it contain?
‘Great’ content is likely to…
- Have a headline that makes people want to click it to find out more
- Start with an introductory paragraph that is instantly engaging
- Contain visually stimulating imagery that enhances the content
- Sit within a page layout with few distractions (I loathe pop-ups that ask me to subscribe to a site I’ve barely read the title of… aaaarrrh!! Please don’t do this!)
- Be easily consumed on a variety of devices (mobile-friendly)
- Contain information that exceeds the readers initial expectations
- Be easily digestible and legible
- Have more than 1000 words
- Talk in depth on a single chosen subject
- Give the reader what they wanted to find out
- Cause a strong emotional response – surprise people, make them laugh, make them cry, make them angry, motivate them
- Have the exact words in a phrase in the headline and the URL that people are likely to type into Google
- Have a range of similar keyphrases scattered throughout the content in subheadings, paragraph text, image alt tags, image file names & meta descriptions
- Belong to a website which doesn’t involve itself with spammy or underhand tactics
- Hold people’s attention for a long time
- Present the information in a diverse range of ways (plain text, quotes, lists, tables, images, videos)
- Encourage audience participation (comments)
- Encourage sharing of the content
- Be written from an honest and trustworthy perspective that people can relate to
- Exude a sense that the writer is passionate and enthusiastic about the subject they are writing about
- Actually solve a genuine question
- Be a little different from the norm
A last thought… but really the most important first step!
Make your site crawlable
If the Google bots aka spiders can’t find your site then it won’t be listed in Google. Period. One of the many reasons WordPress is awesome… FACT! is that it does an amazing job of sorting out these accessibility, crawlability, canonical/duplicate content issues. This boring but really important stuff is all ‘under the hood’.
The first port of call for WordPress users to check if their site is crawlable is to look in their admin settings. Settings > Reading. Make sure the click box relating to discouraging site indexing adjacent to ‘Search Engine Visibility’ is unticked.
If your site is new, to get Google, Bing or Yahoo to quickly find your site just add a link back to your site onto a social network profile. A Google+ profile, a Facebook profile, Twitter profile etc. Don’t think you need to submit your site to each and every search engine. That just isn’t true. (Although the forms do exist :)
Top tip: If you can’t highlight the text, Google bots will have an almost impossible task of indexing it. Make sure all the most important content on your site is highlightable, including headlines, navigation, calls-to-action etc.
I hope you’ve found this post useful. I can already feel a level of criticism as I write about writing great content. But it is what it is and I hope I haven’t made too many ironic mistakes!
Feel free to add your comments below and if you would be interested in reading more articles relating to SEO, WordPress or website development in general, please subscribe to this blog below.
The Zaposphere Team
PS: If you’re really keen to learn some more SEO principles check out our post titled Top 10 SEO Principles for 2013 and beyond. There are some more in-depth tips about using H1 tags, keywords, meta data and page speed. Check it out!
Summary of the best SEO practices
OK, so the word ‘practices’ might not technically apply, but here’s the ideas covered in this post.
- Work smarter not harder
- Don’t obsess over building backlinks
- Put effort into generating engaging, original content
- Make your content shareable
- Understand you don’t have to be an SEO expert to rank well
- Paying for ads won’t help with your ranking
- Think about the wider picture – what is the action you want users to perform?
- Optimize your content a little by putting the right keywords in your page title, URL and subheaders
- Make sure your site is crawlable