How can I improve my SEO? If you asked this question in 2009, the answer would be “keywords and rankings”. If you asked this question in 2011, the answer would be “meta data and keywords.” But if you’re asking this question today, you’re really asking the wrong question.
Today, businesses and brands should be less concerned with improving SEO. Why? Because SEO has moved beyond just considering search engines. And because of this, the question you should really be asking is: How can SEO help improve my user experience and guide my strategy in a way that allows me to provide something useful to my audience?
SEO Strategies of the Past
SEO used to be easy. Or if nothing else, at least more straight forward. There was a time when it was all about keywords and rankings. Put a keyword on your website enough times and your ranking would improve. The best part was, Google Analytics gave us complete access to the keywords searchers were using to find our websites. Meaning we could take those keywords, stuff them on more pages, and just like that, we were ranking higher and getting more traffic.
But let’s be honest. This type of SEO wasn’t helping anyone. Businesses and websites were getting more traffic and improving rankings, but these weren’t necessarily translating to higher conversions or higher revenue. And searchers were landing on pages that had nothing to do with what they were looking for.
To improve this, search engines (specifically, Google) began creating new algorithms that could better anticipate searcher intent. In turn, this lead to slowly phasing out access to keyword data. By 2011, marketers started to see that more and more of the keyword data they were used to seeing was moved to the “(not provided)” bucket. And today, keyword data is barely in existence, and nothing has really replaced it.
While all these changes have made the job of an SEO specialist more challenging, you have to admit, when you search for something now, the probability that you’ll find a useful page after just one query is significantly higher than it was, in say, 2009.
The Technical Side of SEO
Because of old school, “black hat” tactics of the past, SEO specialists often get a bad rap as the “keyword stuffers” of the digital marketing world. But today, many SEO specialists are focused on the more technical elements involved in SEO, things that the user doesn’t even necessarily see make it easier for search engines to understand your website, thus increasing the chance your page will rank. This would include things like:
- Creating an XML sitemap and submitting it to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
- Being mindful of your page load speed and ensuring your site doesn’t take more than 2 seconds to load.
- Making sure your robots.txt isn’t blocking important pages from search engine bots.
- Properly redirecting old pages using a 301, which will transfer most of the page’s authority over to the new URL.
- Making sure your page structure can be easily crawled, meaning you are properly using header tags (h1, h2, h3) logically and correctly.
- Using title tags and meta descriptions that accurately describe the contents of each page of your website.
Other behind-the-scenes technical elements include incorporating proper schema structure, which essentially just helps search engines, such as Google, better crawl your page for a potential searcher. The better Google can read your site, and understand the content on a particular page, the more likely it is to show it to a potential searcher.
But what about the non-technical side of SEO? Are keyword optimizations still necessary? Or has SEO completely moved behind the scenes? We’ll explore these questions in Part 2 of this series.