Three letters are sweeping the world’s resume skill section by storm: SEO, short for search engine optimization. From young and hungry Web designers, to social media strategists, to bloggers, and even administrative assistants, yes, nearly everyone in the digital world—and beyond—is now tacking SEO onto their skill arsenal. But can anybody and everybody actually deliver on this precious prowess? Not likely.
Put simply, SEO is the act of maximizing your website’s potential to rank at the top of the listings by search engines, such as Google, Bing and Yahoo. These are organic search engines, which deliver organic search results—results that appear because of their relevance to the user’s search terms. And if you care about the success of your brand’s digital marketing strategy, then you need to care about SEO.
In 2016 alone, Google reportedly changed its search algorithm 11 times. With the current algorithm, analysts are reporting that Google uses more than 200 factors to determine its search rankings. This means that if your brand wants to stay at the top of the pack when it comes to organic search rankings, you have got to stay up-to-date with Google’s algorithms, so that you can shift your SEO tactics accordingly.
Here, we’re going to help you get started on nailing Google’s most recent algorithm by telling you exactly what not to do. But before we get there, let’s first address why we are focusing solely on Google.
Google has 1.8 billion unique monthly visitors. Compare that to Bing, with 500 million visitors; Yahoo, with 490 million visitors; Ask, with 300 million visitors; and AOL search with 200 million visitors, and well, the numbers speak for themselves. Google retains the lion’s share of the global search engine market, holding strong at 79 percent of the market.
So, now that we’ve given you the “why” (Google), let’s get into the “what not’s” (to do).
Google maintains the lion’s share of the global search engine market.
Today’s digital marketplace is very much on the move, with 56 percent of Web traffic now coming from mobile devices. Hence, consumers need websites to be mobile-friendly, and they don’t have time to waste on the ones that aren’t. This is why Google is now docking sites that are neglecting mobile responsiveness.
Failing to do keyword research.
Nailing a keyword list is going to be the bread and butter for your site’s SEO. In fact, you can think of every keyword as a breadcrumb, trailing users to your site. But in order to create a successful list, you need to not only think of the most basic words to identify your brand. These are the words that consumers are going to be using to start their search. But you also need to consider your competitors.
If, for example, you’re a locally-based eCommerce site for specialty foods, such as gourmet cheese, the terms “specialty foods” and “gourmet cheese” are probably first going to come to mind. But how many other sites out there are already using these words? Probably millions. So, you need to take things one step further by creating a long tail keyword. This would be something along the lines of “best gourmet cheese in Denver.” And here’s where our third what-not-to-do comes into play.
Forgetting to localize.
In the above example, choosing to feature one of your specialty foods—cheese—was a smart move in narrowing down the search competition. But smarter yet was the choice to incorporate the name of your city. This step localizes your search terms, an extremely important SEO step, especially for retail brands with physical locations. In fact, 50 percent of Smartphone shoppers, who search locally on Google, end up visiting physical stores on the same day.
If your brand is failing to optimize itself for local searches, you are going to miss out on an entire pool of customers. Most importantly, given their close physical proximity to your brand, these customers are the ones you should be converting into brand loyalists. When creating your target keyword lists, be sure to include local search terms.
This infographic from Search Engine Watch showcases the importance of localizing.
Forgetting to speak like a human.
We’ve already alluded to the importance of going mobile in terms of your website design. And we’ve touched on the massive pool of Smartphone shoppers with regard to target keywords. But as users are shifting their modes of search to mobile, they’re also shifting their search style—from keystrokes to voice activation. With the advent of smart technology, users are now speaking to their devices more than ever—a trend that’s not likely to disappear any time soon. This means that your target keyword list needs to consider the phrases that consumers are using to ask their devices for help.
So, let’s revisit the specialty cheese example above. Your brand now needs to brainstorm and consider new phrases, such as “Siri, who has the best cheese near me?” or “Hey Google, where is the closest specialty foods store?” Make sure that your keyword lists are taking voice searches into account.
So, now that you’ve created a bangin’ target keyword list for your brand, you’re ready to jam as many of those babies onto your site as you can, right? Not so fast. This practice of repeatedly using keywords to drive traffic to a site—keyword stuffing—is something that Google has become very aware of. Google can now detect when sites are keyword stuffing, and they’re lowering rankings because of it.
A classic (bad) example of stuffing, courtesy of Word Stream.
The search engine giant is also aware that sites accustomed to keyword stuffing probably have poor overall standards of content. As a result, the Panda algorithm launched by Google is now targeting low-quality content on the Web and is now lowering the rankings of those sites as well. Make sure that your brand is consistently delivering the best quality of content—both visual and text—that it can. This also means that your site should regularly be updating content. In with the new, and out with the old.
Broken outbound links can really hinder the user experience and reduce the overall quality of your content. Google’s algorithms allow the search engine bots to travel from link to link, collecting data along the way. So, if your site is directing traffic to dead ends, be prepared to get knocked down a few pegs on the search results pole. Make sure you are auditing your links and updating them regularly.
New technology means jazzy new visuals, such as the current slider trend. But you need to make sure that your design team is taking speed into account. Users are busy. They want quick, clear, concise information and they want it as fast as possible. Google takes site speed into account and, as a result, those stunning, but slow-to-load graphics and videos could cause your rankings to plummet.
Poor meta descriptions.
If well-crafted keyword lists are the lure for your sight, then meta descriptions are the hook. These are the descriptions that appear just below your website title in the search engine results. This is your chance to tell the user exactly why they need to choose your site. You need to be short, sweet, and to the point. But you also need to make sure you have something to say that’s going to catch the user’s eye. Remember, Google’s going to posit you accordingly.
A concise meta description, courtesy of Moz.
Leaving out the analysis.
The strongest SEO practices are the ones that are constantly evolving, right alongside new search engine algorithms. In order to evolve your SEO practices, you need to be doing consistent analysis of exactly how well (or not) your efforts are paying off. Fortunately, there are loads of software tools out there to help you. Try checking out Google Analytics or Hubspot. Tools such as these can help you track what keywords are being used and just how many users are navigating to your site post search.
When it comes to SEO—and all other cogs in the digital wheel—it’s essential to remember that change is inevitable. And the brands that thrive are the ones who are constantly analyzing and adapting.