Great online content doesn’t matter without an equally smart strategy to get your message in front of key audiences.
Ignore search-engine optimization (SEO) and focus on content.
Worst. Advice. Ever.
SEO still is kicking. The rules have changed and some of the starting lineup were in the minors a few years ago, but you need a plan.
Look at just a few recent stats:
93 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine
75 percent of users never scroll past the first page of search results
70 to 80 percent of search users ignore paid ads
Is SEO necessary? Yes, it is.
SEO simply “translates” your website into language that’s easily understood by search engines — so users see your pages when they go hunting for offers, products, services, information or answers to specific questions. The “how” is SEO, and even a beginner’s guide can seem overwhelming.
The exact formula used by Google and Bing is subject to debate. RankBrain, content and links that point to your site are three of the biggest ranking signals. But other factors play their role, too.
I’ve seen businesses make the same mistakes over and over again. Here are the three most frequent offenders.
Keywords used to be … well, key. But then content became king.
You still need keywords. Two mistakes that novices and “experts” alike continue to make? Stuffing keywords and targeting the wrong words.
Stuffing aims to trick the engines by using an exact keyword phrase in an unnatural frequency. Observe:
“Our car polish is the best car polish on the car polish market. If you’re looking for the best car polish, then look no further than our best car polish. It’s the best car polish money can buy!”
Horrible. Do that, and the engines will penalize you. It sounds stilted, it offers nothing of value and it’s obviously meant to game the system.
Google uses Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) to analyze your page’s intent and determine keyword variations. Trust it. Use naturally occurring synonyms and alternatives instead of word-for-word repetition.
Have a keyword focus, but don’t force it. Include the keyword and its variations in the title, opening paragraph, meta-description and throughout the body of the text (within reason).
Use the Keyword Planner to identify words that pop in searches, but resist the automatic urge to go after those with the largest search volume. Instead, find the relevant long tail keywords (three- to four-word phrases that make up the bulk of searches) with a decent volume. Use Trends to determine what’s popular and what’s so last year.
A little homework goes a long way.
2. Anchor text.
Anchor text — the clickable words in a hyperlink — can land you in hot water.
You want your page links to point toward other content on your site as well as relevant material on external sites. Businesses used to get away with exact-match or keyword-rich anchor text. Not anymore.
Your best bet is a healthy mix:
Branded text, as in “QuickSprout has a great user guide”
Naked links, as in “www.entrepreneur.com”
Long tail links, as in “use a wide variety of anchor types to stay safe”
Just don’t rely on “anchor text” as your anchor text in a piece about anchor text.
3. Image optimization.
We love visuals, and they increase engagement. Visually charged content gets more clicks, likes and shares.
But there’s a problem: Search engines can’t “see” images. Engines need textual explanations to understand what the image represents and how it connects to your topic.
Include a highly relevant file name, alt-description (a description of the image, as if you were telling a friend what the image depicts), caption, and image title. Some studies found captions are read 300 percent more than body text.
Consider a compression tool such as PunyPNG or JPEGmini to reduce file size and load time, with very little loss of quality. Faster page = better SEO.
4. Link strategy.
Backlinks matter. In the 2016 State of Link Building Survey, 90 percent of respondents reported they use content publication/promotion and guest posting as part of their link-building strategy. And 78 percent of survey participants believe it’s the most effective SEO-boosting strategy.
It’s still a case of quality over quantity. You run the risk of Google’s wrath if you include links from penalized sites or those with a domain authority less than 20. Populating with too many backlinks, too quickly, also could have negative effects.
Spammy guest-blogging or link directories will hurt you. Instead, write high-quality content. Share it with influencers in your niche, and promote it on social media. Establish relationships with influential sites so you can pitch useful ideas that fit with their subject and theme to offer real benefit to their readers.
Yes, it will take longer. But three to four relevant, high-authority/high-quality backlinks are infinitely better than 100 backlinks from questionable sources. Commit yourself to playing the long game.
5. Fans and followers.
Social media is fantastic, but your number of fans is irrelevant.
It’s about engagement: How are you connecting and interacting with people, and how are they engaging with you?
Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, would tell you that your social-media following has no direct affect on your SEO. All the same, an active community of members who share your content and link back to your site can spread your brand awareness and authority. In turn, this increases your site traffic. Social activity signals to Google that people are interested in your site and spreading its message.
Remember this mantra: It’s not about numbers, it’s about activity — the actions you generate and the engagement your audience takes forward.
Mistakes are bound to happen. SEO is a complicated beast, after all. Avoiding these common pitfalls will help you play it smart and pay off in the long-term.