Search engine optimization (SEO) has changed. Are you doing it right? Or are you still using techniques you read on Moz or SEJ from 2009*? SEO is a moving target. It always changes. From 2013 to 2015, there were thousands of updates to the Google algorithm alone.
*This post is not an attempt to discredit Moz, SEJ, Search Engine Land, or any similar site. They would likely agree— an article written 6 years holds little value in 2015.
SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. Keeping up to date with search engine activity is very important. That means continuing education daily. You must learn methodology and evolve strategies alongside Search Engine algorithm changes. In 2015, SEO works best along side Digital Marketing as a whole. With today’s search queries you will see much more natural language influenced by results. It’s not just about building traffic to a website anymore. There’s much more to it; user experience, site accessibility, generating traffic from multiple referrals from different states (for national ranking factors), content development and marketing, social media integration, mobile friendly and responsive websites, and so much more.
The primary goal to an SEO strategy now is to give ROI to your client. This means providing Google with the means to rank you, converting traffic, building traffic, and giving potential customers a reason to be on the page by optimizing content. If you want to really optimize a website for search, you need to be doing all of those things. If it's all for the sake of search optimization, well then that would be SEO. Same acronym, different meaning.
Let’s touch on user experience and site accessibility. These are important metrics to factor in when attempting to market your brand online. User experience is very important to Google. This shows Google that the content on your site is accurate, easy to find, and easy to understand. For example: If you have a website all about guitars, (guitars for sale, guitar lessons, guitar types, etc.) you want your website to have visible content about guitars. You don’t want the home page of your website to be all about boats. Google won’t like this, because your visitors won’t like this. Site accessibility is how Google sees your site.
Tip- It’s easy to show Google specific data. Try using schema, JSON, XML sitemaps, and other mark-ups!
Google has been telling us for a few years now how important Mobile search is becoming. We have seen substantial growth over the past 3 years in mobile visibility on search engines. As of April 21, 2015 (as I’m sure you all know), Google put out an algorithm change to favor in mobile search results.
Tip- Having a responsive design and integrating mobile SEO into your strategy is paramount. This should be one of the first factors when creating your SEO strategy in 2015.
I see a lot of SEO’s lately advising dated strategies to their clients. These are template-based formats that have no place in 2015. Some companies have lost touch with factors search engines look for. Page Rank for example really doesn't mean much anymore. One of the most important things that search engines look for is site accessibility to Google and other search engines, as well as site speed. Also referring domains is becoming more important (if not already more important) than IP diversity. Topical relevance and Niche relevance is more specific to content and user experience.
You should be asking SEO's more questions such as:
Rich Snippets and data mark-up have become very important in optimizing your sites content and code. This is a great way to show search engines your brand, address, products, and more!
As mentioned above, structured data helps tell search engines about your brand and products. You can enhance presentation in search results by including rich snippets for products and reviews. Using breadcrumbs, site links, and search boxes are also great for user experience and search visibility.
The Knowledge Graph is what you see on the right hand side of the SERPs (search engine results pages). Optimizing this is great for local SEO. This will provide users with information about your brand when they search for your company. This includes a map listing, google reviews, Wikipedia pages, financial information (for publically traded companies), as well as your brands social media page links.
Social Media has become more and more important over the years. We see with algorithm updates such as Penguin that Google wants a strong social media presence for your brand. Social Signals help your web presence and provide potential customers a way to follow your brand.
Preventing Negative SEO is not necessarily difficult. It just requires the knowledge to see that it’s actually happening to your website. Most seasoned SEO’s will use Analytics and Search Console to ensure that if there is negative SEO being done, it gets taken care of immediately.
I’m aware that some of this is more specific to SEO professionals, and the laymen may not understand these terms. Though, it is important to know how someone is going to build links. Are they going to build quality links that will actually help your website? Or are they going for more of a quantity approach? Asking this question will help decide if that agency will help you or hurt you.
Keyword Research is definitely important when doing SEO. Reverse indexing, latent semantic indexing keywords, and long tail keywords. All of which are going to affect the way users see your website. Once again, if your website is all about guitars, the keywords being used for that website should not be about boats.
Ideally you want to hire an agency who has worked in your niche simply because they should have a proven history of generating results for clients in a similar industry. This is also a good way to determine what the agency specialty is. Are they proficient in local, national, or both? Can they target multiple languages? These are things to think about.
-Note: If an agency has not worked in your industry, it doesn’t mean they won’t do a good job. Knowing this means you will understand there will be a learning curve for them.
Most SEO agencies will not willing give out much information about their clients. This isn’t a bad thing. They care about their clients’ privacy. After all, if you own a pizza parlor and the pizza parlor down the street contacts your agency, would you feel comfortable if they showed them your results and how you got there? With that being said, most agencies will have at least a few case studies for you to view. This will usually consist specifically on a raise in organic rankings as well as increases in traffic.
SEO is something that can take a while. Like we all say, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” If an agency tells you that they will have you ranking in 2 weeks, run. Run away fast. They are lying to you. Although every strategy is different, a good agency will give you results first and timelines for later. Most agencies can produce positive results as early as 3 months and more major results within 12 months.
This is all a lot for a business owner to take in. However, understanding how SEO works will empower you to make better decisions on who to hire. I hope this can also be a valuable resource to know just how much it takes to do SEO. If you plan on doing SEO solo, know it takes a lot of work and dedication to learn best practices. Hire an industry professional. Maximize your results and free yourself to focus on your business!