Clarity for the blurry SEO basics

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Off the top of my head I cannot think of many industries where, like in SEO, the leading expert advice can vary so much and leave those without years of experience questioning what is right and what is wrong. We try to cut through the murky waters and simplify what is what.

It is extremely common now to read differing views and opinions online from experts and digital marketing brands, many speaking from experience, some speaking from specific case studies and some with other agendas, like encouraging the use of their tools…but some of these are simply SEO Myths.

Now this is not to say that there are right or wrong answers for every aspect of search & digital growth. The beauty of search engine optimisation is that outside of the basic best practice, that I will touch on below, it expands into thousands of theories, years of trial and error and different strategies that work for some and not for others. If you are still learning the basics, it may be worth reading our post on what is SEO first. One of the top SEO experts online has even listed out what he believes are the 200 Google ranking factors, giving an idea of the scale of what is required as part of a successful organic digital marketing campaign. As SEO’s we all try to understand, and stay on top of, everything that can and will effect the sites we look after, which requires constant research, learning and testing. Below I cover some of the important search basics that have been dismissed online, or misinterpreted, that should be ignored at your peril.

Meta tags don’t matter

Understanding what this actually means is going to be the difference between a healthy site and a poorly optimised one. Anyone who says meta tags are no longer valuable as part of an SEO campaign are wrong, but it’s unlikely they mean it quite like that and as I said above, their advice has simply been ‘misinterpreted’. Meta Keywords are dead, this is a fact. Due to the spammy nature and use of meta keywords over the life of Google search, they no longer use this meta data as a ranking factor and haven’t done so for many years. But that is a specific type of meta tag, the others, Meta Description and Meta Title are important and if anything, have greater significance on click through rates and engagement than ever before.

 

 

We can see from from the branded search above that the title is clear, brand focused and not truncated (cut short) with a description that describes the website and is between the 140 – 156 character guide length of a meta description. The goal for these two meta tags is to answer the searcher intent (great article on Moz) by being the most relevant site for their search query and clearly explaining to them what they will find on the site. The meta description can be optimised further by encouraging a click and using relevant keywords like the below example.

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In the above example we can see the bold keywords from the search term “car wrap quote” highlighting that Google has identified the term within our meta description. So without being a ‘ranking factor’ the meta tags are certainly an ‘engagement factor‘ and if you are looking to grow your site organically in Search, then do not ignore the most basic SEO technique there is and get your meta tags updated.

You need to be #1 for your top keyword

This is something that we often see with start ups where some quick Google searches has lead them to targeting the holy grail #1 spot for their chosen keyword. ‘I upholster cinema seats’ they say, whilst following it up with ‘I want to be #1 on Google for Upholstery London.’ Any digital marketer is going to find more value in 10 minutes, for more relevant terms and more achievable ones, especially for a new or poorly optimised site. Now to avoid being misinterpreted myself, it is important to stress that high value keywords, when highly targeted to your business, are indeed like a holy grail and any SEO who cares about your business will be looking to achieve great things with them for the long term, but we have a more important term than any of your chosen keywords – Visibility.

When we understand how search engines work, it soon becomes clear that we should broaden our targets rather than target broad terms and give Google what it wants to see at the same time. Visibility is simply providing quality content across a wide range of highly targeted terms. In order to identify these keywords, extensive keyword research must be carried out by skilled professionals…this is essential and if there is one area of search optimisation you should invest in, it is this. You may be left with terms Upholstery, Upholstery London or Cinema Seat Upholstery London.

Upholstery – this is a high traffic term, but it is broad and generic, which will:

  • have more competition and be harder to rank for.
  • bring in less targeted traffic who are further from the buying phase.
  • Result in poorer user experience as bounce rates increase, time on site decreases and ranks drop.

Upholstery London – Still quite broad, but this is a local search and competition will be less, but:

  • There will still be searchers not at a buying phase of your exact service.

Cinema Seat Upholstery London – Compared to the above, it is clear this is a targeted keyword and we can provide exactly what Google is looking for for this term.

  • Any user ending on your site from this term is likely to at least make an inquiry, if the site fulfills their expectations.
  • Time on site and bounce rate for this term will no doubt be better than the previous terms as the users explore the services available to them.

Over time this approach to visibility will increase your traffic and improve your conversions as your content marketing efforts pay off by bringing customers, that are ready to buy based on their search terms, right to your door primed to convert. SEO Visibility can be measured by tracking as many of the keywords that your site should be ranking for as possible and identifying where they rank, whilst using the estimated traffic for those terms can be used to give a visibility %, especially useful to compare against competitors. This is complex but luckily there are tools out there that do this for us.

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The above charts show the visibility of a client site, where we are tracking 1000 keywords, that’s right 1000 different terms that we have assessed and identified as relevant for that business! The most exciting figure above, which compares the week commencing 30/01/2017 to 06/02/2017, is that 50% of our targets are in the top 10 of Google. For this particular site, the ‘holy grail’ keyword, has 12,000 searches per month, but this site is still on page 2 for that term and we consider it a ‘bling’ term, it’s not needed but it would look good. Does that mean the SEO hasn’t been effective? 

 

 

Not at all. In fact this site not only generates over 1000 visits a day in a very niche industry, but it also provides 100 leads per day! The traffic we have worked for is targeted. Each of those 500 terms on the front page are there for a specific reason, going to content that fulfills the users search query. The user is happy, Google is happy and we are then happy with our ranks.

Links are no longer important

This is a debate that rages on and is one that is definitely misunderstood when influencers come out and say links do not matter in seo. The problem here is they are influencers, they have a powerful voice and they more often than not cloud this area and breed uncertainty, potentially for their own benefit but more than likely to be favoured by Google, who categorically want us to think that links don’t work so everyone spends on Adwords. They wouldn’t…would they?

So who are we to say that this is not true? A simple Google search, funnily enough, gives some valuable answers and the meta titles alone highlight the approach powerful sites are taking. Moz have gone conservative and they can be considered an influential source who have at times suggested links are not to be focused on, while The Next Web have gone straight in hard with ‘this is bullshit’. Nice.

 

Just look at the DA (Domain authority) of the sites in that list…How did they get so powerful? Backlinks and the ‘link juice‘ from other powerful sites that link to their content, which has propelled them to page #1 for massive search terms. You can see I have done the same in this post, as an effective technique but as an even more effective example. Throughout my content I have linked out to high authority sites who are providing more information on certain terms than I have given here. I am giving you (the reader) added value from my post. These links give fantastic information on the topics I am only briefly covering and that, is White Hat link building.

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Backlinks have a bad name from ‘Black Hat SEO‘ techniques. People have become scared of them and influencers have become very careful how they discuss the topic of ‘Link Building’ as a campaign strategy. Links are still vital to digital growth and will be for a long time to come – FACT. It just needs to be done for the right reasons, in the right way and provide value to users and sites, that’s what Google wants.

Unique content value worth more than keywords

Again, it’s murky waters that need clearing up in order to understand. 1.) Yes high value content is great for the growth of your site but 2.) Keywords are still, and will be for the foreseeable future, and essential part of that, or any other content, that you feature on your site. Let’s think about it logically:

  1. Googles algorithm is just that, an algorithm.
  2. Google bots are just that, bots. Computers.

So if keywords are not as important as the content, then you could write about upholstery, without using the word, and still have a high rank for it. This would be rare but it would also be extremely difficult for the Google bots to identify AND counter intuitive – if the content is about Upholstery why not use that term?

Where and how has this got so confusing?

It’s because top influencers are suggesting that rather than focus on the keywords and coming across as spammy through over use of certain terms, simply create amazing content and Google will do the rest. Will it? 

This is a rough example, but relevant all the same. Just look at the meta titles, meta descriptions and urls of these pages following a Google search for ‘Upholstery’. They all contain the keyword.

It does come across as a little irresponsible to be saying such things when you come from a position of influence, without being clear on exactly what you mean.

  1. Create great content and target your chosen keywords BUT use them organically, use them how they should be used and don’t affect the way it is going to be read.
  2. Use the keyword in titles, of course, BUT also use synonyms and explore the use of broader terms through the piece. Break up longer articles with well targeted titles.
  3. Use the keyword in the url if you can, this is NOT going to have a negative effect on user experience. Why would it? It will improve it.
  4. And do what the infuencers have been getting at. DON’T WRITE FOR GOOGLE, WRITE GREAT CONTENT FOR THE USER, BUT DON’T IGNORE THE FACT THAT KEYWORDS WORK AND ARE IMPORTANT TO INCLUDE AS PART OF THAT CONTENT & ITS OPTMISATION.

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