Jill Kurtz, is the Owner of Kurtz Digital Strategy
Fun fact: Webmasters and content providers have been optimizing websites for search engines for more than 20 years.
For many, this means their sites have a lot of search engine optimization (SEO) baggage that’s not effective anymore. There’s also the potential that many sites are missing some critical components of modern SEO.
In the spirit of spring cleaning, I offer the following suggestions of what to ditch and what to consider to improve your SEO.
SEO is easy when you remember to focus on providing a website that is usable and addresses the needs of your target audience. Search engine rules change to meet user expectations. If your site does the same, you will succeed.
SEO Concepts to Ditch
Some SEO concepts that were important are not so critical now. Here are several ideas that you can let go:
You need a lot of pages. The quality of your content is more important than the number of pages. Search algorithms no longer assume that page volume is an indicator of a site ’s authority on a topic. Quality of content is far more important than page count.
User experience is secondary to SEO tactics. No SEO tricks are more important than a great user experience. Pay attention to your analytics for indicators of user happiness at the site. Factors like page load time, bounce rate, time on page, and page views per visit indicate a good user experience AND help your search ranking.
Images aren’t important. Images are important to the user experience and to SEO. Search engines can’t see images on websites so it is important to give each an alt tag that lets the search crawler detect what it is about. Descriptive titles and captions are a bonus. Further, using keywords in the image file name can help with your site rank.
Q&A doesn’t help. Question and answer and numbered steps have risen in importance with the Google snippet feature. A featured snippet is shown on some search result pages when a question-based query is used. Since these types of searches are becoming more common, this is a great opportunity to get attention. (Note from Carrie: This does not give you license to create a bunch of FAQs! Q&A as a content format is perfectly acceptable.)
Search Engine Tactics that Work
To rank well in search, you need to offer content that people are looking for and use the words and phrases they use when they search. The concept of keyword optimization has evolved to the larger understanding that website content needs to match the words and phrases used by the target audience.
Today’s search engine user submits queries that reflect plain language, conversational style. Studies show that 64% of searches are four words or more. This is becoming even more prevalent as voice searches (“Siri, find me a…”) become more common.
To land on the right content, you need a healthy understanding of who your target audience is and what they want. Then research the words and phrases those people use. There are several places to find the words people use:
Emails and other written correspondence
Facebook posts and comments
You can refine your list using one or more keyword tools. To get the best results, you need to start with knowledge of how your target audience thinks and talks about you and what you do.
To state the obvious, your content must actually use the words and phrases that you want to rank for. I recently had a client who gave me a list of 30 important keywords. None were used at the website! The reason for their poor search ranking became pretty clear.
Structure Your Content
Search engines crawl websites with bots, not eyeballs. They are programmed to process content in certain ways. The closer you match the expectations, the better your rank.
To rank well in search, start with the broad topics you want to rank for. Make sure all content related to each topic is interconnected. One approach is to create a main page to serve as the hub for each topic. These are generally longer, keyword rich pages that are informational as well as a gateway to additional relevant pages and resources.
While the exact search rank formulas are guarded secrets, these basics help search bots and site visitors to understand your content.
The page headline or title needs to reflect the main message of the page.
Structure the page with subheads using heading tags (H1, H2, etc).
Subheadings need to provide meaningful information. The key content of the page should be summarized in the headline and subheadings.
Image alt tags need to have meaningful content.
Total page content must be at least 300 words.
Populate the meta title and description fields.
All links work and are meaningful to the page content. Avoid links to home pages in favor of links to highly relevant content.
Use Google Webmaster Tools
Some factors in search ranking are hard to detect. Google webmaster tools provides a dashboard to get alerts, run diagnostics, and provide guidance on fixes. This is often the first place where changes in SEO factors become apparent.
SEO Factors Beyond the Website
Search engines have evolved to consider more than websites. Just about any search will include results from Facebook pages and posts and other social media, directory listings from places like Yelp, Google business listings, and more. Often, the “top” website result doesn’t even show on the first page.
The overall digital presence is very important to how well a business ranks in search. What you say is only one factor. What everyone is saying about you online matters, too.
An otherwise excellent website will be downgraded if reviews on Yelp, Google, and other sites are poor. A business that is not included in a key directory for an industry will likewise be downgraded.
Use your insights into what matters to your target audience to be in the right places online. Make sure every profile is optimized with the same words and phrases used at your website. Provide clear, accurate information everywhere you are online and the search engines will love you!