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.
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.
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.
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?
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.