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SEO Fundamentals – Some things never change

The more things change, the more they remain the same. That is in large part true with SEO. Here are some fundamentals to grasp for long-term SEO success.

OK, everybody panic. Google just changed its algorithm again.

Just kidding.

But it is believable, because Google is constantly changing its algorithm, and websites wax and wane in the wake of the changes. Panic is often what you hear in chat rooms and mastermind groups and forums – wherever website owners and bloggers congregate.

SEO fundamentals remain the same

In such an atmosphere of anxiety and ambiguity, one might be tempted to assume that SEO (search engine optimization) techniques change vastly each year, perhaps even on a weekly basis. Well, they don’t. The fact is that there are some trends over time, but if you were doing good SEO in 2010, or even in 2005, very little is different in 2015. So much is still the same. Not much of what I wrote in my SEO FAQ back in 2010 would I change today.

Let us pause for a moment to reflect on this to the melody of Bob Seger.

 

Some things have changed, no doubt about it. But much remains the same, and that is the subject of this blog post.

Get into your target market’s head

The very first step when you set up a website and want to capture the leads that search engines might send you is to get inside your target market’s head. You want to figure out how they think at the moment when they are about to search. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What words do they use? Would they tend to use “home” more, or “house”. Never mind what keyword research says nationally or even regionally, you should know your audience well enough to know what word they use most. If not, the best keyword research you can do is to get out of the office and meet some customers.
  • Are they more likely to search with plurals or singular? Again, you should know your customers. If you don’t, you can always test this using an A/B split test with Adwords.
  • What qualifiers might they use? Would they be more likely to search for “buy house” or for “house for sale”?

Don’t rely on keyword research for this. What the public does when searching matters less than why the rubber chicken crossed the road; the words your target market searches with is what really counts. This was true in 2005 and it was also true when I took the Tardis back to 2025.

What really matters in SEO

Do keyword research

OK, so I lied. What the public does matters. For instance, if you find that 80 percent of searchers in your city use the word “home” rather than the word “house”, there’s a pretty good chance that your target market does, too.

When you do keyword research, just be careful about the sample size. The more local the search and the more long-tail the keyword, the less reliable the data. As a rule of thumb, if you don’t have at least 100 results pointing the same way, it’s pretty sketchy data. Even if you have more, take it with a grain of salt.

Keyword research is good to give you a general idea of what to optimize for. It might not tell you for certain which is more popular, “homes” or “houses” if one gets searched only 15 percent more than the other, but it might tell you whether people are searching for “condos” or “property” at all.

Once again, keyword research has always been an important task to take with a grain of salt. That has not changed.  There are a couple good explanations of keyword research here and here.

Use the keywords

Now that you have your keywords – the terms you want to optimize for – you need to use them on your page. You need to include them in your title tag and your meta description tag and your H tags and in the body of your text, bolded if possible.

Nothing has changed.

Don’t overdo it. In 2005 we erroneously called it over-optimization. Now people don’t even talk about it; the keyword stuffing that got people amazing, but ephemeral, results in 2005 are now understood to be toxic.

Position still counts

The title tag is still the most valuable SEO spot on the page. H tags still come in second place and bold text is still a very important spot to include keywords. These are the words that jump out at readers, so these are the words the search engines value most to determine what your page is about.

As Nate Dame put it last year, “The search ranking factors that have stood the test of time are typically those that do, in fact, benefit real users, and we can only expect that those are the factors that will continue to deliver a return over the long haul.”

Over the years, the search engines have grown smarter, incorporating more signals today than in 2005 to determine the topic of the page, but the basics have not changed.

Above all, make sure there is some text on your page. Yes, some sites get by without any text, just images, but that is a huge ranking disadvantage. Text with keywords deftly weaved into the wording makes a big difference, just as it always has.

Write for visitors first

I remember back in 2005, and even to some degree in 2010, how many people in the SEO community failed to understand this very simple concept. If you stuff keywords all over the place and you do manage for a while to trick the search engines, you will win that pot of gold.

Yes, you will win the pot.

But somebody else will walk away with the gold that should have been in it. Stupid SEO wins the pot of gold; smart SEO wins the gold in the pot.  Which do you prefer?

SEO gold or just the pot?

What is the point of ranking at Number One if your stilted language turns off all those visitors that the search engines send your way? It’s fine if you want to collect a bunch of empty pots. Hey, who am I to question your goals? But if you want to win yourself some gold, you have to write for your visitors. That is something that has not changed. It was as true in 2005 as it is in 2015.

And you still want to make sure your keywords are there for psychological continuity. The visitor searched Google for “buzzing dog collar”, Google sent them to your website, so they subconsciously expect to see “buzzing dog collar” prominently displayed on the page. That’s how they intrinsically know they are in the right place, and are therefore more predisposed to buy from the moment they arrive. That basic psychology has not changed over the years.

Variety is the spice of SEO

If your page about “suitcases” never uses the singular “suitcase”, that is a dead give-away that you are purposefully trying to game the search engines. How could someone possibly have a page of text about suitcases that never mentions “suitcase” or “travel” or “baggage” or “bag” or “luggage”.

The importance of natural writing cannot be stressed enough. Write for the reader, and make sure you have variety, or else you will bore the reader – and Google doesn’t like to send people to boring web pages. Google wants to send people to useful pages. If there are 100 pages about “suitcases”, and and some mention “luggage” and “travel” while others don’t mention either of those words, which ones will Google think are most relevant to a search for “suitcases”?

Historically, most webmasters have not thought this way. It’s OK, I’ll wait while you think it through.

The search engines have become much more adept at playing the word association game, so that has changed to a great degree. And it is true that in the early days, variety was not needed to rank well. But by 2010, the Web was all abuzz about semantic search, as synonyms and plurals and variations had already become a significant aspect of good SEO.

Get top quality links

I must concede that in 2005 one could rank their website quite well by article blasting to hundreds of article directories and by massive link exchanges, even automated ones in many cases. That has changed; today that would be like feeding yourself untreated sewage for breakfast. But it only worked back then because so many competitors were also building crappy inbound links. Remember that SEO is a competitive sport.

If your website was getting regular links back then from USA Today and Harvard, you can be sure that competing websites getting links only from “links.html” pages and article directories were not ranking above you. Quantity might have counted for a lot back then, but quality did, too. Quality links count more now than ever.

Still the same

I still have Bob Seger’s tune playing in my head as I close off this article. Much has changed over the years, but most of the fundamentals are still the same.

By the way, one other thing that hasn’t changed since last century is the panic, as slide 34 in this deck will attest to.

There are surely many other things that have not changed since 2005, or have changed only to a small degree. However, these seven SEO basics remain the same. Ground yourself in these fundamentals, and I’ll see you still at the top of the SERPs when I land my Tardis in 2025.

 

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10 Responses to “SEO Fundamentals – Some things never change”

  1. Soumya Roy (4 comments) Says:

    The fundamentals will never change, at-least for them who follow the guidelines. Keyword analysis, proper and natural content optimization, media optimization and authority link building are the key techniques. And the strongest change which happened in last couple of months, is, Google is stressing more on mobile friendly sites, which is the need of the time.
    Loved reading this post and I completely agree with you, the basics of SEO will remain unchanged until and unless we game with search engines.

    Regards
    Soumya Roy

  2. David Leonhardt (160 comments) Says:

    Hi Soumya. That is a great point about mobile…but is that really an SEO change, or is that a development change? Yes, Google is taking that into account big time, but that’s because a website is simply not viewable to so many people if it is not mobile-friendly. There are definitely SEO implications, but I think that is much bigger than SEO. If a website could not be viewed, Google generally avoided ranking it previously; now if it cannot be viewed ion mobile, Google dampens its ranking. So, yes, there is a difference, but at the same time there is continuity.

  3. Jim Bannon (3 comments) Says:

    Nice job, David. Made the complx Simple!

  4. Preston Odenbrett (1 comments) Says:

    David, great article.I need to go to most of the links you have in this article and read more. Just too late now, going to bed. Thanks for your time on this, good quality information.

  5. Soumya Roy (4 comments) Says:

    Hello David, I completely agree with you that mobile-first concept is not involved with SEO only but as it is a big factor for User Exp and conversion optimization and as I strongly believe that SEO is nothing but marketing, that’s why I mentioned that point.
    And thanks for replying me on my comment. I am much obliged.

    Regards
    Soumya Roy

  6. sherman smith (2 comments) Says:

    Hey David,

    Although there have been many changes with Google’s Algorithms, some thing stay the same. Keyword search, where to place the keywords, and quality links are some of the things I’ve noticed that hasn’t changed too much. They are definitely worth focusing on when trying to make each of your posts more SEO compliant. I have done some black hat techniques back in 2011 which really didn’t work for me anyways, so I had to do my due diligence in studying SEO a bit more 😉

    Thanks for the share! Have a good one!

    I found your post on kingged.com under the category SEO/SEM
    http://kingged.com/seo-fundamentals-some-things-never-change

  7. Brian Belfitt (1 comments) Says:

    In my opinion, most people overdo SEO. They tend to stuff keywords in their articles hoping to get a higher search engine ranking. Most bloggers still do not write for the readers. As a result, their content is not informative and doesn’t provide any real value. Looks like some bloggers will never learn.

  8. Josh Adams (1 comments) Says:

    Got to agree with the image above about not much changing in 10 years – Google got a little bit smarter and is increasingly punishing black hat tactics, that’s all, really. Oh and content importance has risen a lot since back then, too, whereas before you could use a bunch of links on blank sites.

    Regardless, growth and progression is great. Adapting is easy.

  9. Emilia Pineda (1 comments) Says:

    When done right SEO fundamentals don’t change. What changed from 2010 to now is that black hat doesn’t work anymore.

  10. Rob (1 comments) Says:

    I totally agree with you, the fundamentals of SEO has not changed. I remember one year ago black hat was flourishing and was really hard to get your website in the top 10 if you followed the guidelines. Today I see no website in the top 10 that use unorthodox techniques.
    On the second page, here and there it is possible to see some very strange websites, but there are never surviving more than a week.
    What I see working today is good content, as you wrote above, content that is dedicated to your readers and not to search engines, and good quality links.
    Social media shares may also be a good think to consider, beside the links and content.

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