Search Engine Observations

Posted on July 5, 2019 By

Why you should ignore anyone who tells you to ‘add some more SEO’

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Although we might have exaggerated somewhat, there was a time when the web looked a bit like that.

Of course, keyword stuffing was never a good thing. But before Google got really smart, you could just about hack your way to a high page ranking with some dubious tactics.

Unfortunately, many people without much experience of Search Engine Optimisation still think that a bit of technical wizardry and a few keywords will solve all their problems. We thought we’d set the record straight with a guide to our take on SEO.

The only SEO rule you need to know

Make your website as engaging as possible for the user.

That’s it. That one rule will solve most of your SEO needs.

Here’s how it works:

  1. People search for something related to what you do
  2. Google point people to your website.
  3. If those people are interested in your content, they’ll keep reading.
  4. Google will be happy and they’ll point more people to your website.
  5. Those people will keep reading.
  6. Google will be happy and they’ll point more people to your website.

So how do you go about making the most engaging website?

We’ll let Google explain in their own words:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
  • Don’t deceive your users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, ‘Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?’
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.

So basically Google, what you’re saying is ‘SEO’ is just a bunch of mumbo jumbo – what really matters is good content, designed for the reader?

Now, you’re probably disappointed in our lack of technical advice here. You wanted something to impress the boss. Some professional insight you can show off at the next team meeting.

OK, well if you insist…

Don’t think about SEO until you have Analytics sorted

If your Google Analytics (or similar tool) isn’t set up properly, stop reading now and get that done.

Any sort of SEO is pointless if you can’t learn what is and isn’t working. For example, you can sort your organic keywords report by bounce rate to see what sort of quality you’re getting from that new SEO agency you’ve hired. If the keywords they’ve suggested are driving lots of traffic, but that traffic leaves your site immediately, something isn’t right.

Or use the conversions reports to see whether organic search is actually driving people to take action further down the line. Becoming a go-to source of information is great, but you’re not Wikipedia. There should be an end goal in sight other than just answering questions.

There’s far too much to Analytics to cover here, so do some research. And play around with it until you’re a master.

Research your keywords

Don’t get too excited, but yes, keywords are still important.

There are lots of tools online, like answerthepublic.com, to help you figure out what people might be searching for by inputting related terms. Use them to come up with a list of the most relevant keywords you need to think about. Don’t use your list as a challenge to your copywriter to see how many they can fit in.

Once you have your list of keywords you can use it to develop new content that answers those searches. Remember, you can’t just add a keyword into an existing page to ‘SEO’ it.

Let’s say you’re a university offering a course in ecology. You discover that a common related search is about marine plastics. But your ecology course is all land-based.

You can’t just add in some words about the ocean and hope that works. Your content doesn’t match, and people will be disappointed. Instead, you should use your insight to suggest the university creates a new course on marine ecology. Or suggest an expert writes a blog post about marine plastics, with links to ecology courses or other news articles.

Understand your keywords

Let’s pretend you’re a new brewery making low alcohol craft beers. There are lots of obvious keywords that could apply to your content: beer, brewery, ale, hops etc. Your research might convince you that these are really important. But unless you’re Heineken, they’re probably not.

Ever since Google’s Hummingbird update back in 2013, search is all about context and intentions. So you should be focusing on long-tail keywords that are specific to your niche. Instead of ‘beer’, try ranking for ‘low alcohol American-style pale ale’.

People looking for something specific are more likely to buy something and more likely to find you in the wilds of the internet. The coveted single keywords can come later when you get bought out by Heineken.

Get PPC and SEO working together

A list of keywords is just the beginning. To get the best from SEO, you’ll need to think about what the user is looking for when they use those search terms.

If the term is something that will drive lots of people to your website looking for information, it’s a great choice for SEO. If it’s something that shows the user is further down the line and wants to take action, it’s a good choice for Pay-Per-Click.

Going back to our marine ecology example, if your university has followed your expert advice and created that new course, you’d get a good return on PPC for a search like ‘best marine ecology course’. It’s hard to rank organically for keywords like that (unless you have the only marine ecology course), but it would be worth paying to drive that kind of purposeful traffic to your website.

However, something like ‘how much plastic is in the ocean?’ is better for SEO. You won’t get any sort of direct action (like applying to a course) out of the user so it’s not worth paying for it with PPC. But it builds trust with your audience and may lead to relationships further down the line.

It’s a complicated distinction, and to really nail it you’ll probably need external help. For now, just remember – if the user’s looking for information, use SEO, if the user’s ready to take action, PPC.

Write like you speak

Silicon Valley is big into voice search – assistants are popping up everywhere from your car to your TV. So search engines will prioritise content that sounds good read out loud.

Decent copywriting is naturally suitable for voice search. The main thing you need to do is use shorter and simpler words and break up any long sentences.

And fortunately for you, those simpler words are more likely to be the ones people are searching for. For example, a London hipster is looking for information about houseplants. They might ask Google:

‘How often should I water my peace lily?’

Your Shoreditch florist’s website should explain:

‘You should water your peace lily when the leaves start to droop.’

Not:

‘Horticulturalists should irrigate spathiphyllum when the turgor pressure in non-lignified cells reduces.’

Keep things fresh

You could write amazing content that perfectly answers every question people might have about your industry or specialist area. But it won’t make a difference if you just let it stagnate without regular updates.

Search algorithms depend on new content. An active website will always get more traffic than one just sitting there doing nothing.

If your website is just a simple shop window for your small business, start a blog. If it’s a large global corporate website, provide help articles or industry analysis. If you’ve just got a one-page minimalist scrolling jobby, at least change a few words every now and then.

Ignore dubious advice

If you follow our suggestions, you’re going to have decent content whether it ranks high on search engines or not (and it will). But if you use every tip from every ‘107 ways to improve SEO’ article you can find, you’ll have some pretty terrible copy.

SEO is a bit of a dark art and some people out there are desperate to prove their worth. Our advice is to err on the side of caution and take a long-term view. Quick fixes can solve small technical problems but won’t build you an audience overnight.

Less is often more. Any decent agency should be able to explain simply and clearly what they’re doing to your content – and how it improves things for the user.

One rule to rule them all

We said there was only one SEO rule you really need to follow.

Make your website as engaging as possible for the user.

We stick by that. But because we’re feeling generous, here are five more:

  1. Start with well-written copy and a well-designed website
  2. Get to grips with Google Analytics
  3. Tweak things based on what you learn about your audience
  4. If you’re still not seeing the results you need, do some keyword research to find out if you’re missing anything
  5. Keep updating content and keep making it more relevant to what people are looking for

That’s really all there is to it.

 

 

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This post was written by Chris Silberston