Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization. This is a topic that can be a real double-edged sword for a lot of companies. If you stink at SEO, then your traffic may not be as high as you or your investors would like it to be. If you’re really good at SEO, your investors might be worried that you are ‘too Google reliant’. In all honesty, I’d rather have the 2nd problem than the first problem. I’d prefer having my traffic skewed heavily to search largely because I have traffic and possibly a good business to worry about maintaining.
Many SEOs, both internal as well as external typically split SEO into 2 different categories, Technical SEO and Content SEO. We do that too, but we also add in an additional 3rd component which is Competitive SEO. Combining all three of these things we have dubbed this approach to be SEO360.
SEO overall is a huge subject that is half art, half science and half knowing how to combine them. Most people that “do” SEO for a living typically split SEO (Search Engine Optimization) into 2 categories. I on the other hand split SEO into 3 categories. Most SEO professionals start by discussing Technical SEO. Technical SEO refers to the coding and technical structure of your web site and your web pages.
For the sake of just putting it out there, we do NOT do what would be referred to as black-hat SEO. We define black-hat SEO as little more than a game that a site can play in order to rank higher on Google than they ordinarily would. We stay away from these things because if we can figure out it out, implement it at scale, Google will absolutely figure out what is being done to game the system and they will roll out an update to not only eliminate the artificial boost, but will likely penalize anyone that has implemented the trick. The long-time example of this would be key-word stuffing.
Technical SEO really refers to the elements of a page or elements of a site that the user cannot directly see. These elements refer to the things that Google uses to crawl and understand your site, like your sitemap, html structure of your page, server performance, page formatting, in-bound links, internal links and so on. Very early on the SEOdom this is where a lot of SEO consultants made a really good living, and still do. There are a lot of really well constructed sites out there that are blazing fast, have great, well organized content and then there’s the pages that most people never see that rank somewhere after the 5th search result page.
Technical SEO focuses on how well your site can be crawled and/or spidered for the purpose of indexing your site. Another way of thinking about it is that these are the things that your user typically won’t see – they may notice things, but they won’t specifically see these things.
The ranking factors that make up the technical side of SEO are things like the speed of your servers, specifically the Time-To-First-Bype (TTFB) metric. The longer that it takes for your servers to respond to requests the worse things will be for both Google as well as for your users. Google has what is known as a ‘crawl budget’, which is an allocated amount of time for them to look at and index the pages on your site. The longer it takes to do this, the less time Google will spend on you. From a user perspective, if it takes a couple of seconds to see any content it’s highly likely that they will abandon your site. I did an SEO review recently where the average Server Response Time (a component of TTFB) was over 1.5 seconds. It was no surprise to me that a full 75% of the audiece had a session time of less than 10 seconds.
Another key factor on the technical side of SEO is how well your pages can be viewed on a mobile device. How to deal with this can be confusing as only a couple of years ago, 80% of the top ranked pages for mobile were template driven. This means that there was a different subdomain, like m.site.com that served up a completely different user experience than the www.site.com was serving for desktop users. All the time that this was happening, Google was indicating that the preferred method was a responsive site design, which served up largely the same ‘stuff’ to all users but just made the pages look different to users based on the size of their screen. As soon as responsive design took a solid hold on things, Google released AMP, which is really a different way of saying that we need a template driven system. Regardless of how this is actually implemented, as a site owner you need to make sure that your user experience on mobile devices is good and takes advantage of the features of this device platform.
Any SEO audit or review will start out looking at how your site is structured and will perform a full technical audit. This has to be the basis of any traffic improvement project because if your site/pages are not well structured and your servers are not performing well, then not only will your SEO traffic and rankings be adversely affected, but this is likely to bleed into other channels like social or paid traffic.
Our audits, just like most others will start things off with a full review of your site and domain structure including a full site crawl. [We tell you this because a lot of large sites tend to block robots and crawlers (except Google), so we typically arrange this with your technical team to allow our crawl to happen.] We pay a lot of attention to some great information that you can have at your finger tips from Google and other search engines. Google’s Search Console and Bings Webmaster Tools are great resources for you to understand what’s going on with your site and what Google (or Bing) is up to and it’s up to us to figure out why.
There’s a lot that we include in our technical review/audit including; Indexability, Status Code review, SERP optimization of Meta data, proper <H> tag nesting, canonicalization, stack performance and backlink profiling.
As we stated above, there are two areas of focus for all Search optimizers and that is Content SEO. One thing that we’ve all said at one point or another – content really is king. If it were not for content, there really would be nothing to do online, on television on the radio and so on. SEO is really a specific focus within the broader scope of Content Marketing. This is where you focus on one specific channel, which is search, and more specifically for more people, it’s really about Google and to a lesser degree Bing/Yahoo.
The key difference between Content SEO and Technical SEO is that with Content SEO, you are dealing with what your site visitors will actually see on the page.
At the core of Content SEO goes beyond the basic keyword research and other data related activities that SEO folks love to do (yes we actually do). Content SEO has to be wrapped into a broader Content Strategic Plan. It’s all well and good to do your keyterm research that says that there are 100,000 searches per week for ‘word of the moment’ and that if we can move up to rank 2nd we will potentially get 15,000 clicks. If you’re just slinging together great keywords and terms then you’re not likely to reach the full potential of your capabilities. Some of the most important things that you need to do are typically things that are worked up within the editorial department with little to no interaction between that group and the SEO/Content Marketing group.
Google is constantly changing the importance of the 200+ criteria that it uses to determine SERP rankings. It’s really because of this that you need to think through your content and the goals of your content so that you are utilizing your time and effort most efficiently. A well thought out sequence where you; a-define your goals, B-understand your audience, c-map out an Editorial Calendar, d-analyze, reassess, return to step a.
A key component to a well oiled content/SEO team is that there is lots of time carved out to focus on, update or eliminate out of date content. It’s been my experience that the things that we tend to forget about are the things that come back to bite us. There’s one site that I’ve recently dealt with that had a content flow that directly led to a Panda penalty. There was a practice by the editorial team that inadvertantly created 2 different problems; a-duplicate conent and b-thin content. Both of these issues were fairly easy to identify and the penalty was in fact reversed, however that was a potentially very big problem that didn’t need to happen.
For more information about the content perspect for seo, please refer to our page on content strategy.
To get the full picture and view of what SEO means, you need to look at your competition. With recent changes to the Google Search Result page formatting with the elimination of the ‘igno-rail’ (no ads in the right rail), it has changed the way that you need to look at how you generate traffic. One thing that I always have in the back of my mind is ‘what if search completely becomes pay-to-play’. If this is even a remote possibility, then you’ve got to start thinking about this today.
Even if you are not thinking about paying for traffic today through a Google AdWords program or eCommerce program it’s a reality that those are becoming a bigger and bigger part of the search results. While Google has been experimenting with changes to how their search result pages look, it’s obvious that these paid promotions have already begun to erode the universe of clicks that organic results can generate. Knowing what you are competing against is a key to understanding how to win this battle.
Part of your content strategy has to be to have an understanding of what your competition is publishing. For example, if you are putting together content in a fairly crowded category like Retirement Planning. You need to have an understanding of what the demand for that term is, but you also need to understand what from a topical perspective you need to be thinking about as well. You will need to publish multiple pieces of content to support the topic of retirement planning with additional pieces that focus on ‘IRAs’, ‘Roth IRA’, ‘401(k) plans’, ‘roth 401(k)’, etc. By looking broadly at the subject you have a better chance of moving up in rankings and getting more traffic. Continuing with the example here, at the time of this update there were 18,000 monthly searches for Retirement Planning, and for the other 4 terms there were just under 300,000 searches.
The glue that holds our methodology together is this competitive SEO overview. This takes a lot of information and is very time consuming, but when you can substantially change your traffic profile it’s well worth the time and effort. In the last few years, we’ve honed this methology to some really amazing results. A business publisher achieved traffic increases of 1100% in 3 years. A science publisher [with 2 sites] achieved inceases of 500% and a 15-year old site was able to increase traffic by 280%, also in 3 years. A technology news and information publisher achieved results that exceed 600% in a little less than 3 years.
Our method can achieve incredible results if you understand and really work these theories into your normal flow of work.