Search engine optimization (SEO) is somewhat enigmatic. It used to be that all you had to do was make sure your content included the right keywords, relevant to your brand and field, and a higher keyword density would help raise your site to the top of your audience’s search results.
The key to good SEO is focusing on people first, then on search rankings. The most important issue is whether your target audience likes the content you create. If they like it, Google will like it too.
“SEO is a long-term investment, and every company needs to be prepared to invest in the work of SEO over the long term. Frequently publishing unique and valuable content is the first step, but the ongoing work of SEO will be continually promoting that content, building social media channels, and building the overall brand by developing relationships with reputable websites and blogs.” ~ Jayson DeMers
Unfortunately, there are people who don’t abide by this maxim, and instead try to abuse the system. This type of SEO seeks to boost sites’ search rankings artificially, by filling pages with nothing but keywords, over and over, without any meaningful content attached to them. To combat this, Google and other search engines have had to crack down, creating algorithms that will weed out those false positives, and even penalize pages whose keyword density was too high, by giving them a lower search ranking.
Over time, as unscrupulous implementers of SEO have continued to find loopholes, Google has continued to update and evolve its algorithms for search result rankings. Because of that, a lot of people over the years have said that search engine optimization is dead. It’s not. It just has a different form than it did ten, five, or even two years ago. So how can you improve SEO for your brand in 2018? Here are some best practices for search marketing.
“You can’t fake it. To be quite blunt, search engines are getting smarter and smarter. Be genuine. Spending money to trick a search engine (buying links, keyword stuffing, link wheels, etc.) will just be a waste. Focus on building a quality user experience instead.” ~ Neil Patel and Ritika Puri
BUILD YOUR STRATEGY AND KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
As with any inbound or content marketing tactic, your first step is to outline a strategy for how to succeed. What, exactly, are your goals, and how can you use SEO to help achieve them?
Once you’ve got that figured out, your next step is to figure out how best to reach your target audience. For that, you need to do a little research. What’s on their minds? What do they care about and want to know? More specifically, what are people searching for with regards to your field, your industry, or your company? What search terms are leading people to your site, currently? What search terms are leading people to your competitors’ sites?
“My rule of thumb is build a site for a user, not a spider.” ~ Dave Naylor
Taking the audience knowledge to greater detail. In addition to market research about your audience, develop audience segments, or personas by reaching out to your audience and interviewing them, listening to them, asking questions about:
- Why and how they make their decisions about the services and products they buy
- What is important to your audience at the different stages of their research, consideration and decision making stages
- How they define a successful outcome
- Having them expand on their responses. This will help discover valuable insights, those ‘nuggets’ of information that can really get the content deep-thinking started and understand their real needs and behaviors. These insights will also help with focusing on high quality terms and phrases they use throughout their entire research and decision making process
- The attributes or behavior about your company would cause them to not want to work with you or not buy your services
- Describing their buying journey in detail
- When they finally decide, what is their decision-making criteria for that decision. What evaluation criteria and path did they choose?
One of the best approaches is to interview your clients and future clients and then align them in segments which will evolve into your personas. Not just demographics, but insights into their approaches, processes, behavior and how they choose a ‘fit’.
“The most effective way to build buyer personas is to interview buyers who have previously weighed their options, considered or rejected solutions, and made a decision similar to the one you want to influence.” ~ Adele Revella
Google has tools that can help you discover this, and there are other tools around the web as well that can help you keep your finger on the pulse of your audience’s search preferences. Design relevant, high quality content around these insights and keywords, and it will help drive more people to your site.
Create Worthwhile Content
“SEO and content marketing are BFFs. Traditionally, SEO aims to create content that attracts search love, whereas content marketing aims to create content that humans love… or find useful or valuable. But in a world where social sharing is more important than ever… shareable content is key to long-term SEO success.” – Ann Handley
This tip will always be relevant, no matter what the year. Google’s entire purpose is to provide its users with the most worthwhile, most up-to-date content. Black hat SEO seeks to circumvent that, which is why the algorithms are in place to begin with.
One of the best ways to boost your site’s ranking is to provide users with meaningful content. Instead of stuffing each page full of as many keywords as possible, choose a few of the most relevant ones and build a blog post around them. The algorithms will recognize the value of what you’ve created and its usefulness to a certain section of Google users (i.e. your target audience), and rank your post higher in searches for those specific keywords.
Be Up to Date
Google wants its content to be not just relevant, but current. The world changes quickly, and no matter what the subject, a page that was posted in 2016 won’t be as relevant (or appealing to Google users) as a page that was updated in 2018, which in turn won’t be as relevant or appealing as a page that was updated, say, last month.
In determining where to rank your site, Google checks to see how recently it was updated, and how often it’s updated. If you’re constantly providing your audience with new, relevant information and content, then you’re more likely to rank higher in search results than if you only post sporadically, or if your site hasn’t been updated in a year or two.
This is why it’s important to be continually creating new blogs, new videos, etc. Not only does it establish your site as being current and relevant, but the more pages of content you have on your site, the more opportunities your audience will have to find you.
Google wants to establish that your site has been around for a while and proven itself to be worthwhile and relevant. Therefore, preference will generally be given to sites that not only have existed for a few years, but been active throughout that time, and, most importantly, been linked to consistently by other established websites.
Linking is a very important part of Google’s search algorithm. When other established, high quality sites are linking to pages from your site consistently over time, it shows that you have something worthwhile to offer. Unfortunately, it takes some time to establish yourself in that regard, so if you’re a relatively new site, you may have to be patient.
There are ways of getting other sites to link to yours, such as collaborating with them on a project, but to be fully legitimized on this front takes several years of continual posting, linking, being linked to, etc. If you’re not yet established on this front, then start right now.
Of course, the question is, to whom should you link? Choose companies and sites whose business is adjacent to yours, but not actively competing with you for customers. That way, you can establish a mutually beneficial relationship without risking driving potential customers to your competitors’ sites, or helping to increase their audience.
Aim for Rich Answers
One relatively recent addition to Google’s search results is the “rich answer” box. You’ve probably seen it. When you search for song lyrics, the box will contain the first couple of verses and a link to the rest. When you ask a question, the box will have a basic answer and a link to the site where it came from, which presumably covers the question in more depth.
In terms of actual search rankings, the site in the rich answer box often isn’t first. But its perceived relevance to your query gives it a place all its own, which in turn makes you much more likely to click on it.
So how do you get your site into the rich answer box? Well, first of all, only a select few search results even offer rich answers at all. A fair amount of those that do are just song lyrics. However, apart from that, the most common ones provide straightforward answers to specific questions.
So, think about common questions that people might have in your field or industry, and create content that addresses those questions. Getting a box all your own can be very helpful in driving people to your site.
Optimize for Mobile
An ever-increasing percentage of Internet users now choose to browse through mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets. Google recognizes this and will often give priorityto sites that are optimized for mobile users.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the same as it used to. A few years ago, optimizing your site for mobile browsing meant cutting down on pictures, videos, and other files that made the page take longer to load. Now, as devices have improved, that’s not nearly as much of a factor.
However, there are still a few things to keep in mind. Using HTML5 instead of flash plugins (Adobe is ending support in 2020), which aren’t always available on mobile devices. Also, don’t use pop-ups, which are even more difficult to navigate through on a phone than they are on a PC. Seeing them may cause users to leave your site as soon as they arrive, increasing your “bounce rate,” which in turn is detrimental to your search ranking.
Finally, make your buttons and links large, clear, and easy to click. Mobile users, especially those with fat fingers, often have trouble with this, which can make your site difficult to browse.
Review and Adjust
These are just a few of the trends that are dominating search engine optimization in 2018. Keeping up with them can be difficult, as Google’s specific algorithms are a closely guarded secret. Often, the only way to know for sure what changes have been made to their approach is through trial and error.
However, some things never change. There will always be preferential treatment for high quality, up-to-date, relevant content. If you continue creating that regularly, you’ll have a significant advantage. As for the trends that do change, just do your research to find out what’s working best at the moment.
By staying up to date with the latest search marketing trends, you can gnot only drive people to your site more effectively, but help them to stay there and explore further what your brand has to offer. A strong, current approach to SEO will help you drive web traffic, increase lead generation, and ultimately drive sales for your brand.
Robert (Rob) Burns is the Managing Partner of gnooko Digital Marketing. Rob is a recognized specialist in digital business development strategy and it’s implementation. Rob has over 20 years experience advising companies of all sizes in various business development, sales, and marketing roles. In addition to global conglomerates, Rob has also assisted small and medium sized companies with digital transformation strategy, solutions, tactics and implementation.