The tricky thing about search engine optimization (SEO) is that it’s always changing, always evolving depending on how Google (let’s face it, Google is thesearch engine we’re optimizing for) updates their search algorithm.
In just a few years, SEO has undergone several radical changes. In the old days, SEO was focused on gaming the system with heavy-handed keyword-based strategies and black hat techniques, both of which eventually became obsolete (though the case for keyword tactics can be made).
Today, modern SEO strategies are centered on providing a valuable content and a solid user experience—things that actually have a direct impact on users rather than search engines.
Yet underneath all that progress and layers of complexity, many of SEO’s fundamental tenets are still present. It’s just that many SEOs and marketing agencies don’t really give their clients the real scoop behind this field of marketing.
In this article, I talk about a few SEO facts your marketing agency may have failed to mention, intentionally or not, to you.
Hopefully, if you’re looking to hire an agency or consultant, the facts on this guide will help you ask the right questions.
1. SEO Isn’t As Hard as Marketers Would Have You Believe
As marketers, interpreting data and using what we learn to make appropriate changes is part and parcel of our job. As such, it’s important to have some kind of technical knowledge on factors that affect all fields of marketing.
Now, while it may seem that this is especially more applicable to SEO than other marketing platforms, that’s not exactly the case.
The basic principles of SEO are often buried under a lot of intimidating jargon, making it seem more complicated than it actually is. But as the story of Chloe Spencer shows, even a young teenager can use SEO techniques to make a little money on the side.
Sure, her dad is an SEO expert, but that’s not really a valid excuse. You have the entire Internet at your disposal. The number of guides (this included) giving you a walkthrough on SEO numbers in the thousands.
Of course, this isn’t to say that some technical expertise isn’t important with SEO. At some point, you’ll need to talk about things like:
- Page speed
- Clickthrough rates
- Site architecture
- Web usability
- Responsive design
- Conversion rates
- Bounce rates
And yes, all these key performance indicators (KPIs) have significant roles in SEO. But trust me when I say that they can all be learned at your own pace.
The truth is that when you stop to think of its true definition, SEO isn’t really a technical skill. Yes, data plays a huge role in SEO success, but at its heart, it’s about building online relationships and understanding online user behavior.
And guess what? That more or less falls under traditional marketing territory.
2. No One Really Understands the Future of Google’s Search Algorithm
Any agency or SEO that tells you they know what will happen to Google’s Search algorithm in the future probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Even the folks at Google are having problems confirming or denying algorithmic updates.
In the history of Search, Google’s has released four major algorithm updates, named in chronological order:
These four are the big boys of algorithm updates, but between these refreshes, Google has also made several hundred (perhaps even thousands) algorithm tweaks that fly completely under the media’s radar, but may still have some kind of impact on your SERP rankings.
And there’s no way one agency, much less one person, has the inside scoop behind all these updates.
So does this mean we’re completely at the mercy of Google? Not quite, if you ask me. With their most recent updates, Google’s basically telling us something we’ve known all along as best practice:
- Focus on delivering a great user experience
- Provide high-quality and useful content
- Control low-quality links
3. There’s No “Secret Recipe” to Going Viral
Yeah, this one might be a tough pill for many people to swallow. Going viral is seen by many as the Holy Grail of marketing, and for good reason. A content asset that generates thousands of views, likes, or shares can dramatically increase your brand’s visibility. But is virality an exact science?
Some would like to insist that it is.
While it certainly helps to look at the anatomy of viral content, replicating the unique series of actions that pushed a certain content asset to go viral is a process of trial and error. And anyone who guarantees your content will go viral is probably overstating things.
In fact, if your SEO strategy’s entire purpose is to find a way to go viral, then I’m telling you right now: it won’t succeed.
SEO comes in by tweaking content to increase its chances of being picked up by influences and shared within their respective circles. Is it virality at the level of “Gangnam Style”? No, but that example is an extreme one, and highly unlikely to be replicated by any marketer.
4. Keywords Are No Longer King
As mentioned earlier, gone are the days of keyword-based strategies being the be-all and end-all of search engine optimization. We have Hummingbird to thank for that, which really shook up SEO by drawing a line in the sand separating old school and modern search optimization principles.
There’s old and new SEO, and they answer different questions.
With the introduction of Hummingbird, Google has redirected the focus from keywords, to actual users. This isn’t to say that keyword research will no longer be important, because it still is, especially when expanding into new markets.
But keywords now play a relatively minor role when it comes to pushing content that solves your audience’s problems, which is really the thrust behind Hummingbird. To do that, you need to answer questions your target market is likely to ask about your brand, as well as your products and services.
In other words, focus on the user instead of keywords. Sure, leverage relevant keywords in your content, but they shouldn’t get in the way of quality and value.
As a bonus tip, experience has taught me that 91 percent of my search traffic comes from long-tail keywords, so experiment with long-tail phrases instead of head keywords.
5. Top 5 or Nothing
When it comes to search rankings, anything below the sixth spot for your target keywords won’t be worth it. It’s either top or nothing. Not first page, as some marketers will try to guarantee (a huge red flag if any), and not top 10.
A report by Chitika shows that the top 5 search engine results receive 75.7 percent of all clicks. The top spot gets 33 percent of all traffic, while the second spot gets 18 percent, with the percentages decreasing as you go down in rank.
If anything, this means running a hyper-focused keyword campaign in order to get results. Focus on the most valuable keywords, building your content around them.
You don’t want to spread yourself too thin, because that will just give you mediocre rankings across multiple keywords at best.
6. Your Blog is Your Biggest Search Bargaining Chip
SEOs will tell you your blog is important, but what they won’t tell you is how powerful it really is.
From the top of my head, here are the three best reasons to set up a blog, or revive your site’s inactive blog.
- A blog drives traffic
- A blog helps convert traffic to leads
- It builds your reputation or authority
With Google pushing for high-quality content as a primary ranking signal, the cliché of “Content is King,” is getting more and more firmly rooted in fact. But from an SEO perspective, having a steady stream of content on your website blog gives Google the signal that your business is showing online activity.
And from a human perspective, any sign of blog activity is a welcome indicator of someone actively managing the site.
Remember, stagnant sites are boring and look unreliable. If you want to give your visitors and customers a reason to come back, offering valuable content through your blog.
7. You Can Start Small with SEO
SEO is perfectly scalable. Don’t believe anyone who says you need to be firing on all cylinders right from the get go. If you don’t have the resources to invest in large-scale content marketing, link building, or conversion rate optimization (CRO), you can just as easily start small with the most actionable methods.
Check your site structure
The fastest way to ensure your site’s search engine friendliness is with a quick evaluation of its site map, HTML readability, and folder structure. Free tools like Google Webmaster Tools will notify you of any HTML errors, duplicate meta tags, and descriptions that could be hurting your site’s ranking.
Run a quick keyword study
If you’re completely new to SEO, don’t worry. Right now, think of 3 to 4 words and phrases you would use to find your site on Google. Ask your friends and family to do the same, and then compare your results. If you see overlapping keywords, chances are, these will be what your target audience will use as well.
You can then use Google’s Keyword Planner tool to run searches for these keywords, checking for search volume and competition. If there aren’t any searches, there’s no use targeting these keywords. Conversely, if competition is too high (too many searches) consider using long-tail variations of your keywords for better results.
Share your site and its content on social media
If you already have blog posts and articles on your site, you should start posting them on social sites to generate traffic. It’s quick, easy, and a complete no-brainer. Your SEO will then have something to work on once you bring him on board
8. SEO Isn’t Just SEO Anymore
You’ve probably heard talk about how SEO is dead, or how Google’s search algorithms have made it irrelevant today. There’s actually a little bit of truth to these statements. It’s not that SEO is dead, it’s just that it’s changed.
In one of my previous articles, I pointed out how SEO is actually all about content marketing—their goals overlap, their purposes are intertwined, and the techniques involved complement each other.
Perhaps the best way to describe this symbiotic relationship is by thinking of SEO as the blueprint.
- SEO tells you what keywords to use.
- SEO tells you what the most ideal content length is (through analytics).
- SEO tells you to use backlinks
- SEO needs content
As it turns out, content marketing provides the answer to make this blueprint a reality.
- You can’t optimize anything without content
- Content provides the avenue to drive backlinks
- SEO craves consistent output; content marketing helps you do just that
If you’re looking to work with a digital marketing agency or an SEO consultant, the facts and issues raised in this article should help you make the right decisions when bringing in outside help. And hopefully, this doesn’t take away from your view of the value of SEO, and how it’s truly a worthwhile investment when marketing your brand online.
If anything, this guide highlights the importance of working with a reliable SEO consultant. Just remember to do your homework so you’re not being led on or pushed into something that’s a complete waste of time and money.
What about you? Do you have any insider information about SEO you’d like to share?