Everybody knows that search engines no longer care about meta tag descriptions. Everybody knows that header tags don’t matter. Everybody knows that there has to be a 5.6% keyword density in written content. What else does everybody know? And who the heck is “Everybody”?
Most people visiting this blog are looking for a “how-to”. They’re trying to answer questions like “how do I get my site to rank?” or “what am I doing wrong?”. In fact, about 90% of our clients come to us because they don’t know what SEO is or how to do it. However, what they’ve also probably done is searched for SEO information elsewhere. (No worries, I don’t hold it against you. Research is a positive thing!)
As someone who does their best to keep up with emerging SEO techniques, believe me, I know what searchers are reading. I know it can get confusing. For me, at times, it can get really irritating. Here’s why.
Yesterday, I came across some link bait. For those that don’t know, “link bait” is a title designed to shock people into clicking. This particular title said Terrible Advice: Focus on Users, Not Search Engines.
I thought, “really…”, because I have often told our clients that we focus more on the users than the search engines. After all, bringing in users is the ultimate goal. Now, I don’t hold it against the guys at SEOmoz for the article. It was a good article; I’m not bashing it. The author irons it out in the end that what he’s saying is, “Yes, focus on the users, but don’t only focus on the users. Focus on the search engines too, or you’re not giving your clients the full benefit of optimization.” I completely agree.
However, in one of the comments, a gentleman said “Assuming that it is already widely known that the engines don’t use them for keywords.” My initial reaction was, “What??” My following reaction was this blog.
What you need to get out of this…
Look – you need to know that you’re going to come across conflicting information. For every ten optimizers that say, “Search engines don’t care about keywords in the meta tag”, you’ll come across ten others that say they do and vice versa. Why? Why is there so much conflicting SEO advice from optimizers? If you’re asking the same thing, I’m going to let the cat out of the bag for you.
Most optimization techniques are based on hypothesis, conjecture, opinion and the individual experience of the optimizer.
That’s not to say optimizers don’t know anything. We do know some things that are set in stone (for now):
- Strong keyword research
- Competition analysis
- Website optimization
- Landing pages
- Relevant (and updated) content
- Relevant links
- Title tags
The above are a few of the important ones. The rest begins with “You know, I bet if I…”
Does this mean SEO is a scam?
Absolutely not. Like I said, some things we know for a fact work, such as those listed above. Level343 has provided several clients with high listings using the techniques we know work and testing others until their rankings are where they need to be.
However, Google and the other search engines have not walked up to any optimizer – anywhere – and said, “Here. Take this information on how our algorithms work, manipulate the system and put your clients on top.” In fact, the likelihood of that happening is … well, you know the saying about pigs and flying.
Have you ever seen a pig fly without being catapulted? I haven’t – and if you have, take a picture and I’ll remove the blog. No doctoring allowed.
So – while you’re searching the web for comprehensive SEO information, take what you read with a grain of salt. When giving out advice, most optimizers forget to add “in my opinion” or “this is what I’ve seen work”, because, in their opinion and experience, what they say is what works.
If you can’t make heads or tails of the information you’re getting, spend a little bit of time on the Google Webmasters site or a little bit of money on an SEO consultant you feel comfortable with. Most companies offer hourly consultations to give you a boost if you want to do your own SEO.
Most importantly, don’t freak out if you’ve paid attention to one particular optimizer, followed what they’ve said and then found someone else that said, “Don’t do that.” If your rankings are going up, then what you’re doing is working. Keep it up and don’t panic!
Before paying for SEO, you should learn what is involved, so that you can specify your requirements, which will most likely be high quality PERMANENT & RELEVANT one way links from high authority pages where your link appears. Links are still the biggest ranking factor with the search engines and they are all you should pay for really. Internal linking, etc. should be an ongoing iterative process of improvements.
You are exactly right. Make websites for users not search engines. That’s worth paying for.
For one thing, even if Google had parted with the ingredients to their secret sauce, by next year, it would be different. SEO’s can only dispense knowledge based on past observation, common sense derived from some basic knowledge of language and technology and most importantly, what’s good for users.
Frankly, if your website doesn’t work for users, why do you care if they get there – they’re just going to leave again. Also, people keep forgetting that Google is just a big website. They’re just like everyone else – they want to produce quality content that will attract visitors. If your website is useful for users, then Google wants to put it on their website.
The trick, I think, (and it’s not really a trick – more of a skill) is to keep abreast of what’s possible technologically and help design or optimize websites that are good for users using technology that allows Google to objectively tell that it is good for users(using a computer because basically Google is just as lazy as we are).
Thanks for this! I write for small businesses and start-ups that can’t afford an SEO consultant, but also can’t afford to ignore SEM. I’m able to give them a good start, but I know SEO is an ongoing game of strategy. Thanks for a vote of confidence for “do what works!”
Hello Anna, you are most welcome. I have yet to meet anyone in the business (SEO) that knows everything there is to know about SEO… unless they were Google. We are all using theory, best practice, what has worked in the past & keeping in mind to test, test, test. It does keep web masters busy by being pro-active.
Wondering what would happen if someone made unbelievable videos which “edutained” and then wondering…. if they posted them on a website / blog…. and then wondering if they were so good…. so amazing, …. so helpful, people would link to the website by the thousands…. no… tens of thousands… and as I wonder, with hundreds of thousands of visitors because of the ten's of thousands of links….. would such a website / blog get searched for and found in search engines without keywords, meta descriptions and what else ? ah… meta-tag keywords. Creating something amazing and helpful for people in need (without the shock value)…. hmmmm I wonder. What could it be? A song? An opinion? A cartoon? A skit?….. A class?
But then in the very beginning of business / website start up where having one comment in a day is a time for celebration, one uptick in Alexa a sign of good fortune; no stone is left unturned … just in case, by chance… one meta description might offer a lead to put potatoes on the table for dinner, then meta it is.
Great post you have. Hopefully it will give people thinking about SEO a smaller W.A.D. to deal with. (Wonder And Doubt) Small WAD is better. 🙂
I like that the Google dance… 🙂
Very engaging post. Perhaps it's true, sometimes you just really don't know what works for you. Optimizing your site could be one of the challenging to do..you always have to do the “google dance”
Hello Melissa we try… thanks for your kind words.
Between you and I and everyone reading this blog, we are all still learning. 😉 thanks for your kind words & support!
SEO is a minefield and for me trying to do it myself is even more difficult but because of the price SEO companies are trying to charge I simply cannot afford to pay them.
For me trying to optimize my websites has been like baking a cake, there's so many different elements involved and everybody seems to have their own unique twists.
However, thanks to resources like this it has made the process a lot easier.
Hey Matt, yeah I like “art form” almost the “elusive” art form.
No problem DA. In our line of business SEO companies ask what the market can handle. It seems no one told 90% of the SEO companies out there our world is in an economic crisis. 🙂 That is not to say SEO is an easy thing to do and should be cheap. But, I dare anyone (double dare) to tell me they can promote any website with ethical SEO and show results on page 1 of any search engines in 24 hours. Unless of course you work for Google and you have the Google Algorithms hand book.You see in our opinion SEO is still all theory and mathematics. That is not to say SEO cannot be used successfully. Therefore in my opinion that is where your costs come in. How much time, trust and patience do you have?
Bob, whatever the technique is keep doing it. I can honestly tell you link building is your best bet. They unfortunately take a very long time to establish. Traffic is great, but targeted traffic is key!
Hey Matt, yeah I like “art form” almost the “elusive” art form.
The SEO/SEM fields exist in something like a cloud of mystery. It almost seems like an art form as it doesn't have clear operational checkpoints.
But…that is what makes it interesting!
Very interesting thoughts. I know little about SEO (or better say ” I think I know little about SEO) and these techniques I use doing very well for me. But, to be honest often I am not sure what and why I am doing. I am just sure that is important to get much backlinks.
The most important question shouldn't ever be “how can I get the site ranked fast today”, but “how can I get my site ranked right and make it stay there”. The heavier the manipulation of the search engines, the faster you might get ranked, but you might also be penalized.
Focus on the basic strategy first, such as those “set in stone” listed in the article. Then, give yourself some breathing room and research other strategies that will help your current campaign rather than hindering it. For instance, if you aren't getting traffic, don't change everything at once… change one thing and see what happens, like your title tags.
As for who can you trust, most optimizers aren't out to get you. In general, you can trust an optimizer to use strategies that have worked for them. Many clients ask for non-disclosure agreements, so getting references might be hard.
The main question to always ask is, “do you guarantee number one placement?” If they do, walk away – no one can guarantee number one placement without some serious blackhat techniques, which might get your site taken off the engines. Mainly, just do your research. Look up the company name with “scam” or “fraud” included in the search.
So with SEO being such a tedious process, what's the most important, get your site ranked fast thing you can do today? Which optimizers can you trust and what can you look for when searching for a SEO company?