Is your entire SEO strategy built around getting a green light in an SEO plugin?
Or do your efforts end after signing up for a Google Analytics account and submitting your XML sitemap to Google Search Console? If you’re hanging your hat on this one great thing you’ve done for your SEO, chances are extremely high that your SEO sucks.
In this article, I’d like to share with you some practical steps you can take to improve your SEO. Not the underhanded stuff that might get you far fast, but will also get you penalized by search engines.
SEO (search engine optimization), the process of ranking well in search engines, is like a diamond: It’s multi-faceted and the value ultimately depends on its collective quality. What do I mean? Well, if you’ve ever shopped for a diamond, you’re likely familiar with the 4 C’s of diamond quality:
- Carat Weight
Is it enough to do well with only one of those qualities? You tell me. Do you want to walk around with 5 carats of foggy, flawed, mishmash on your finger or around your neck? I don’t. These qualities have a cumulative impact.
Search engine optimization is often about making small modifications to parts of your website. When viewed individually, these changes might seem like incremental improvements, but when combined with other optimizations, they could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results.
– Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide
At the risk of stretching the metaphor, I’d like to share with you how you can check the SEO quality (or lack thereof) on your site using the same process you’d use when shopping for a diamond.Good SEO is the cumulative result of lots of little efforts, not just one big thing. Click To Tweet
4 C’s to improve your SEO
When it comes to a diamond, a high-quality color actually means that there is an absence of color. The purest of diamonds have no coloring.
Right now I bet you’re wondering how I’m going to relate this to SEO. 🙂 Good SEO means that there is an absence of overt attempts at SEO. What do overt attempts look like? I thought you’d never ask!
A lot of blatant attempts to game Google fall into the category of black hat SEO. Here are some easy to recognize attempts at SEO that reek of “overdoing” things.
When you introduce yourself at a cocktail party, do you sound like this?
“My name is Carrie Dils and I own Incredible Nachos! I’ve been making incredible nachos for myself since I was seven, so it only makes sense that I start a business making incredible nachos for my family, friends, and other folks in the Incredible Nacho Capital of Texas – in a restaurant called Incredible Nachos, of course! Seriously, they’re incredible nachos. You need to try one.”
You wouldn’t say that to someone in person, so why would you write the equivalent on your website? You wouldn’t. The rule of thumb? If you wouldn’t say it to a person, don’t write it.
Bait & switch (or unrelated keywords)
Have you ever searched for something, found what looks like the best link, and clicked it only to find that the page had nothing to do with the subject you were searching for? Maybe worse yet that page was full of advertising? Boo.
When using links in your website, make sure that what you’re linking to is in alignment with the content it represents. You want people to be happy when they click.
While this tactic might improve your SEO in the short-term, it won’t last long. It’ll also have the negative side effect of driving your site’s bounce rate through the roof, which is a tip-off to Google that people aren’t finding what they expected to find after clicking a link.
Write for humans. Period.
Above all other factors, write your content for your live human audience, not for Google. Google loves it when you do this!!
The fact is that humans – your customers, clients, subscribers, etc. – are the people you want to make happy. When you make them happy (i.e. they find the content they want on your site), that makes Google happy (i.e. a search phrase finds relevant content on your site).
My friend Rebecca Gill explains it like this:
Help Google find the best content to solve a user’s problem and you’ll win at SEO. Every single time.
How do you do that? Think like a user. Think of your own experience:
- You have a question
- You type that question into a search engine
- You see results
- You click on the result that looks best
- You find the answer you wanted
- You are happy!
- Google is happy!
Now recreate that experience for your site visitors by thinking through the questions they might have and then writing content that answers those questions.
Bring crystal-clear clarity to your problem-solving:
Use a technique called keyword mapping to tell Google exactly which search query belongs with which piece of content on your site. For example, let’s say I have two articles where I talk about Flywheel WordPress hosting:
- How to work with Flywheel staging sites
- A comparison of WordPress hosting companies (that includes Flywheel)
Although both articles broadly talk about Flywheel, they’re quite different in content: one’s more for web developers and the other is for normal people. 🙂 If I don’t optimize those posts for a specific keyword (or key phrase), then I’m leaving it up to Google to decide which article is most relevant to a user’s search.
That’s not Google’s job. It’s mine! I don’t want Google to decide because there’s a 50/50 chance Google might not get it right and that would result in an unhappy site visitor when they’re matched to content irrelevant to their search.
Instead, through good SEO, I let Google know that if someone searches for Flywheel staging sites (or similar), they get the first article. If they want a WordPress hosting comparison, they get the second.
If you want to dig deeper into this, I highly recommend Rebecca Gill’s SEO course (I’ve taken it, which is why I can write articles like this and improve my SEO).
When we talk about the cut of a diamond, we’re not talking about its shape. We’re talking about its dimensions and symmetry. So what are the dimensions needed to improve your SEO? I’d like to discuss three (broadly):
- Technical SEO
- On-page SEO
- Off-site SEO
Think of technical SEO as the things you do to structurally “set your website up for success.” These are the things you do in order to make your site generally welcoming to search engines. They include:
- Submitting an XML sitemap to Google Search Console
- Making sure your robots.txt file is set up correctly
- Making sure you’re using quality code with proper markup
- Setting up good meta titles and descriptions
- Ensuring your site looks good on mobile devices
If you want to dig deeper into these (and other technical aspects of SEO), then set aside an hour to watch this webinar: What Really Matter with Technical SEO.
If technical SEO is making sure that you’re website is set up so that search engines can crawl and index your content, then on-page SEO is making sure your content is optimized for the best (most relevant) ranking.
This is the dimension most people consider when they think of SEO. In addition to some SEO tactics we’ve already discussed, this includes things like:
- Hyperlinks (and linked text)
- Headers (i.e. H1, H2)
And that’s just scratching the surface. With technical SEO, once your site is good to go, you can pretty much set it and forget it. On-page SEO, however, is something you’ll do with every piece of content you write. IT TAKES A LOT OF FREAKING WORK, all the way from researching the key phrases you want to rank for to actually optimizing your content for that key phrase.
It’s ongoing. It’s intentional. It’s intensive.
What the heck is off-site SEO? Well, it’s just what it sounds like. It’s all of the factors that happen away from your website that can still impact your site SEO:
- Inbound links
- Social profiles and activity
- Brand mentions
These, along with other indicators, are all little data points that search engines use to determine things like your authority and relevance. While off-site SEO isn’t as critical as technical or on-page SEO efforts, it’s still a dimension you should consider.
4. Carat Weight
Let’s talk about weight. About the heftiness of your content.
If you truly want to improve your SEO then write rich, meaningful content. In other words, drop the fluff. Don’t stuff in a bunch of filler words just to make the content longer.
Google likes long-form content. Your site visitors’ love helpful, in-depth content.
Would you rather wade through 5 or 6 articles to piece together the answer to whatever question you’re searching for or would you rather find one extremely informative article?
Your site visitors feel like you do. Answer the questions they’re asking and answer them well.
Remember: happy visitors = happy Google!
How much should you invest to improve your SEO?
At this point, we’ve evaluated your SEO using the same criteria you’d use to evaluate a diamond. The final comparison I’ll make is cost.
Obviously the higher quality the diamond, the greater the cost. The same is true with your SEO efforts. Whether it’s your time or your money, good SEO is an investment. It doesn’t happen overnight and it rarely happens without effort.Whether it's your time or your money, good SEO is an investment. Click To Tweet
So, how much of an investment in your site’s SEO worth? That’s ultimately a question only you can answer, but I like to help my clients think about it in these terms:
How much do you depend on your website to drive revenue in your business?
If the answer is not much (i.e. your site mostly functions as a brochure for your business), then your SEO investment is likewise minimal. There’s nothing wrong with that.
On the other hand, if your website generates meaningful revenue for your business, then you’ll want to invest accordingly when it comes to your website and your SEO. Your investment can come at the cost of your time or your money to hire a professional.
Either way, the investment is proportionate to the role your website plays in your business.
I’ll end with one last recommendation to improve your SEO (and this is for the folks who depend on website-generated income for their businesses):
I recommend SEO Bootcamp. It’s a 3-day, in-person SEO training event. Taught by SEO guru Rebecca Gill, the idea is that you get your hands dirty with your site’s SEO. When you leave, you’ll have accomplished much of what I’ve talked about in this article.
p.s. I’m hosting SEO Bootcamp in Dallas, TX this coming January 2017.