White Hat SEO
I have been optimizing websites for search engines for almost twenty years. I’ve learned a few extra tricks about what works and what doesn’t over that time, like using keywords in header tags and titles, effective slugs, things like that. But you can learn that stuff in a few days and most of it can be automated in any content management system. Those things are not the key to effective SEO, they are just tools.
SEO best practices are fairly simple and easy to learn. You get some backlinks when you can, you organize your pages well, and you are doing fine. But if you are playing with cutting edge SEO stuff or trying to trick the search engines, I have bad news for you. Google is smarter than you are.
The key is simple. Give Google what they want. If you do this, your SEO work remains evergreen. A well written article with a few keywords in it, a keyword or two in a title and in the slug, and a few backlinks, will always do well.
What Google wants, what they will always want, is to please the person who is searching. If you don’t do that, they will eventually dump you in favor of content that makes the searcher happier. So write quality content. Really good stuff. Check it twice and then have someone else check it. Then run it through Grammerly and Hemingway and consider their suggestions.
Good content will stay in the search engines for years. It will generate more backlinks simply because people will find it useful. And it will keep people on your site longer. Anything else is just an attempt to game a system that won’t last and may not ever get you any boost in rankings.
That’s it. White Hat SEO is the only way to win in the long run. With great content and lots of it. Every new article that appeals to readers will get you more credibility with Google. Look at what modern search engine “experts” tell you to do to catch Google’s eye.
- Use keywords in titles and in the article, but sparingly
- Generate backlinks
- Keep your site up to date and running fast
- Create good solid content that will engage readers
- Link to relevant information
- Use domains and slugs that include keywords
- Keep fresh content coming and update old content regularly
Now think about this list. Isn’t it exactly what you would tell a site owner to do to make their customers happy and increase traffic? Exactly. Because what Google wants is to find the right site to make their customers happy. If they aren’t providing search results that make people happy, they could lose them as customers.
If you keep in mind that your goal is to provide content that offers exactly what the searcher is looking for, the rest is easy. Make that searcher happy by providing a clean, well organized site that is fast and easy to navigate, and you are most of the way there. Then add a few keywords to make sure Google knows what you are all about, and you have a solid SEO strategy. And it’s the same SEO strategy that worked twenty years ago. Just give Google what they want.
So how do we give Google what they want?
There are lots of rules for best practices for SEO these days, but those things change and they are easy to find. Just running a search for “best practices SEO” won’t make you an expert. I see search engine optimization in three phases.
Some keywords are much tougher to optimize for than others. And some will bring you traffic that isn’t particularly valuable for you. There are hundreds of tools to find the estimated search traffic for a particular word or combination of words. Pros use tools like Moz.com, which help you find search terms and come up with the best estimates for how much traffic you would generate by ranking for that term and how hard it would be.
If we use those tools to find search terms that are a good combination of easy to rank for and profitable, then we can create a list of search terms that we want to target. I know, I make this sound easy, but once you have access to the right tools it really isn’t all that tough.
Content Creation and Optimization
Creating content that ranks for your chosen search terms involves lightly sprinkling those search terms into high quality content. And I mean a light sprinkling. Don’t overdo it. Google hates it when you pack too many search terms into a page, or keep pounding the same term for no reason. It won’t help. Why?
Because, as I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t make readers happy. If they found you by searching for “sequined baby shoes”, they want to learn about sequined baby shoes, not read the word over and over. Put it in a title, in the slug, and mention it every few paragraphs, but don’t cram it into every other sentence or it will actually hurt your ranking.
I could go on for pages about how Google’s algorithm rewards, and penalizes, different content. But then they would change it again tomorrow and I would have to update this article again. I will give one example. If you put your search term everywhere, and create a long article with keywords related to your search term, but it isn’t informative and doesn’t make the reader happy, they won’t stick around for long.
When your readers bounce back to Google and search again, rather than staying on your site to read the article, Google drops your ranking. The reader didn’t stick around, so they clearly didn’t find what they needed, so Google figures that your content is not a good match for those search terms. There are lots of examples of ways that Google knows if your site has quality content, and they find new ones quite often, so the best thing to do is simply try to make the reader happy they clicked on the link to your site from their Google search. If you can make the reader happy, everything else will work out fine.
Remember, we use things like H1 tags, titles, meta data, and page slugs, to tell Google what our page is about. We will not convince them that it is good content for their customers unless it really is good content. So worry about making the reader happy, not spamming keywords everywhere or trying to game the system.
Another big way that Google ranks your content is by looking at how many other people like it. If someone links to your content, that is seen as an endorsement. But if you generate that link yourself from another site you own, it will be seen as having little or no endorsement value. And google knows what pages you own. They see that you promote certain content on social media, they see that you are listed as the owner in a whois database (or that your mother or business partner owns it) or they just see that certain sites always link to each other.
Getting links from people who aren’t directly associated with you is the biggest boost for your search rankings. You can do this by actively pursuing those links, or by creating great content that people will link to without your asking.
If you are going to actively pursue links, gently approach sites that rank for similar terms and suggest a link swap. Or do some research on link building. There is ample information about it online. You can even buy links, though this can get you in trouble with Google too, and as you might guess, they have some clever ways of knowing that you are doing it. So don’t play that game unless you really know what you are doing.
If you want people to link to you organically, congratulations, you are getting my point. Write great content that helps people, solves their problems, answers their questions, or entertains them. If your article is authoritative and thorough, people will link to it to educate others. If it’s funny, they will share the joy with others. What purpose it serves, make it great. One great page is worth ten fairly good pages over the long run because it takes a very strong piece of content to convince people to link back to you.