Top 7 Essential Keys for SEO Success
At the end of the day, while it’s important to implement smart tactics to optimize your content, don’t lose sight of the big picture: “People often forget to acknowledge that the people who read our content and the searchers who find things on Google are the same people,” says Trevor Klein, Moz’s editorial director. In other words, don’t just worry about getting them there. Make them want to stay.
1. Original, engaging stories always win. This is the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth most important key to SEO. Publishing stories that people are compelled to share, link to, and write about are simply the most organic path to great SEO.
Google’s practically begging you to do so. Last August, after discovering that a large share of users was searching for in-depth, original long-form content, they gave high-quality, “in-depth” articles a prioritized place in search results.
2. Keyword and audience research still matters. Keywords may be more than the sum of their phrasing, but publishers should still use the available research to help them determine optimal content themes. Keyword tools like Google Adwords Keyword Planner, Bing Keyword Tool, Übersuggest, and others will help you understand the volume of content already optimized for key terms relative to the number of queries made for them. Google Trends can also help add context to those terms, based on what themes are popular in a given time and place. It’s simply a good way to gauge what content your potential audience desires.
Another way to gain audience insights: Ask for them. Social media can be a great, low-cost way to do this, as Gary Vaynerchuk detailed at a recent AdAge Digital Conference. Create engaging posts, like quizzes and games, that pull information about what an audience wants from your brand, and then develop content accordingly.
3. Great headlines are key. Boring headlines are poison for publishers; at the same time, racy, misleading headlines may bring short-term traffic volume—especially on the social web—but are not a sustainable practice. After the initial clicks fade away, search engines may no longer see the point in driving traffic to your content.
Even headline masters like Upworthy are moving away from the practice of teasing readers toward a more descriptive approach, as The Atlantic reports. The difference between clickbait and a truly great headline is the difference between a one-night stand and a long-term relationship. Marketers that really want to connect with their audience in a lasting way should establish a process for creating smart headlines and test and optimize them continuously (like Upworthy does infamously). As the gateway to your content, and to connecting with your brand, figuring out headlines that work should be an ongoing effort.
4. Better content > more content. Marketers using their budgets to produce a large volume of content at the expense of quality should rethink their strategy. In his weekly Whiteboard Friday, Moz founder Rand Fishkin urges publishers to be honest about whether their content is actually providing meaningful insights into a specific topic or keyword. If your site has multiple pages with variations on the same content, consider consolidating or updating them. Otherwise, the site’s overall authority, not just the rank of a single page, may be devalued by search engines.
5. Optimize on both the page and platform level. All those pesky details like meta tags and descriptions are more than busy work. They help search engines know what’s on your page. Failing to do so can sabotage your content. For example, Buffalo Wild Wings’ otherwise-appealing March Madness-themed Fundamentals content was virtually impossible to find through a basic query on search or on social channels. That’s a big problem—especially since they teased it inexpensive prime-time TV slots. (Editor’s note: The Fundamentals content appears to be locked behind an EpiServer… Oy vey.)
And beyond page-level production tactics, intelligent platform technology is the lifeblood for good content. Dan Bray says the biggest misnomer his clients tend to have is that technology isn’t important. By cleaning HTML code, H1 headers, server errors, URL structures, and how code loaded to their pages, they were able to boost natural search results to one client’s site by 1000 percent in 18 months.
6. Get inbound links. Even if you’re creating engaging, original content, it’s still important to find other ways to get links to your site from reputable sources. In recent years, guest blogging has been a popular way to grow inbound links, but it was recently declared “done” by Google’s head of Webspam, Matt Cutts, after the practice was plagued overrun by spammy pay-for-play schemes. On the other hand, guest blogging can be an effective way to build brand awareness and identity; check out this case study of how Buffer used the tactic to grow a massive audience. Is guest blogging right for your brand? Like all link-building efforts, intention counts. If guest blogging adds value and authority, this will be readily apparent, to audiences and to Google. Just don’t do it to get inbound links at the expense of quality.
Content delivery (or distribution) networks (CDN), like Outbrain and Taboola, are another much-used way to spark a large volume of traffic. This type of automated, data-driven service places a publisher’s content on sites that reach its desired audience. Bray has had good success with CDNs for his clients; not only do they drive highly targeted inbound links, the broad reach can also mean greater likelihood of social shares. Sharing content in communities on platforms like Reddit can have the same impact.
7. Social matters to search, in more ways than one. Google and others are non-committal on the exact role social media plays in their complex set of considerations. But if considered beyond Facebook likes and links, social’s influence on search can’t be ignored. Personalized search results are a good example. The results a person logged into Google gets are different and more targeted than someone not logged in. An author in one’s Google+ circle is likely to rank higher in that person’s search results than not. Search, too, is not just about Google, or Yahoo and Bing, for that matter. People search all over Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and other social networks. The circle of influence between social media and search, including and beyond the traffic it drives, is indisputable.
The moral of the story is, well, tell great stories. And do the work to get them discovered. Stay up to date with best practices, but don’t freak out and take desperate measures to drive up your page rank. Be patient. Call it SEO. Call it OC/DC. Call it whatever you want. But as one successful brand likes to say: Just do it.
January 1, 2018
January 1, 2018