Every month we have a meeting with one of our long-term search engine optimization, social media and content marketing clients. We open by casually catching up and discussing what is going on in their world.
Topics may include information such as employee achievements, industry-specific certifications and promotions within their company. During this time, we will also discuss any customer issues they may have experienced that we can assist with.Then, we look ahead on the calendar to identify company events such as yearly gatherings and fundraisers that will require special content production, planning and coordination.
These brainstorming sessions (supplemented with additional interviews and photography whenever possible) will all become part of our content and social media strategy for the next 30 days.
After the introduction and review of the previous month, Principal and Project Manager Nathan Neil, presents the client with a copy of a detailed report of their search engine optimization (SEO) progress for the previous 30 days.
He then proceeds to thoroughly explain its contents and answer any questions that they may have as he moves through the keywords and key phrases by geographic region (this client has multiple offices in two states).
He will say things like:
“This phrase is way up right now.”
And we’ll talk about why that might be.
“This keyword is down compared to last month, but it is up over this time last year.”
And we’ll talk about why that might be (the client’s work is often dictated by seasonal spikes).
The client will then suggest areas that are important to them for us to focus on going forward, and we’ll explain how we plan to achieve that.
And then Nathan will talk about some of the maintenance that he has performed on their website including removing inbound links to their site.
And the first time this came up in a meeting, the client, with eyebrow raised, asked:
“You removed links? Aren’t links good?”
Yes and YES.
Inbound and outbound links are very important to search rank, and as a result of years of our ongoing content strategy to establish the client as an authority in their field, many industry-related companies and organizations now link to them.
These links are very good.
However, of the thousands of websites linking to their pages, some of the ones at the bottom of the list are spammy and potentially malware-infested pages.
These links are very bad.
The client’s customers might not see or ever be aware of these crummy inbound links, but Google does, and Google doesn’t want to send its users to websites that are associated with pages like these.
The search rank will eventually begin to suffer if these matters aren’t manually dealt with.
The question asked by our client – why remove these links? – is great because:
One, it gives Nathan an opportunity to explain the finer points of search engine optimization.
SEO providers should always be able to show their work and explain their process. Even a brain surgeon can give you an idea of how the procedure works and what you can expect. SEO ain’t brain surgery.
Two, it also introduces the subject of quality within an SEO campaign.
SEO tends to be perceived as a cold, sterile field of numbers and formulas leveraged with the intention of manipulating an algorithm.
SEO is really about building the best website possible.
In our blog “7 SEO Lies ‘Digital Marketers’ May Tell You,” we examined a few of the dubious claims and corrected a few of the misconceptions surrounding SEO.
This time around, we thought it might help to provide a positive framework from which we can discuss search engine optimization.
Here are three ideals to keep in mind when discussing search engine optimization that will help business owners navigate their transactions with SEO practitioners. These maxims require minimal technical knowledge, and they are written broadly enough that they should withstand most technological changes.
Most of the “lies” we discussed previously will naturally be avoided if the client and the provider keep these ideals in mind.
1. Search engines want to provide the best possible experience for their users.
We tend to think of search engines as, well…well, we really don’t think about search engines at all. Search engines are like a sound guy at a concert – you only notice them when something goes wrong. A lot of work goes into ensuring that the experience is as seamless as possible.
Not only do search engines want to serve up the information that their users are looking for, but they want to do it with the best possible experience for that user.
- They’re looking for pages that load quickly.
- They’re looking for pages that are secure.
- They’re looking for regularly updated content.
- And they want it to be designed for computers, smartphones and tablets.
At LaunchUX we have an ever-evolving statement that sums it up:
“Businesses, customers and search engines all want the same thing: secure, fast-loading web pages that deliver quality, regularly-updated content whether it as accessed on a computer, a smartphone or a tablet and is connected to an active social media account.”
Since your customers and Google want the same thing, we recommend that you focus on pleasing the customer first and then make additional tweaks from there.
What customers really want is quality.
2. Quality is just as important as quantity in optimization.
People often talk about search engine optimization as if it was a complicated math problem, and while that is part of it, the truth is that without paying careful attention to the quality of your content, you could be spinning your wheels or heading in the wrong direction entirely – not to mention wasting your money.
Approaching SEO as a series of formulas intended to trick or manipulate an algorithm into putting your website ahead of your competitors and in front of your customers will result in a website that sounds as if it is by and for a computer.
For the time being, your customers are humans who wish to be addressed accordingly.
The right number of keywords is critical. Too few and your page won’t get the search engine’s attention. Too many and you will be penalized.
Your site needs to be updated regularly. Quality, original content is good. Duplicated or syndicated content will send you down the search rank list and farther away from your customers.
It’s the same with hyperlinks (both inbound and outbound). Too few and your site will be considered a dead end – the internet is all about interconnectedness and rewards team players. Too many spammy, irrelevant and/or malware-infested links, and, again, you will be penalized.
Those numbers might vary by topic and industry, but the takeaway is that while quantity is always factor, the quality of that quantity is critical.
Even if your website happens to land in the number one spot, it won’t be as effective as it could be if you sacrifice quality for quantity because it won’t have your voice.
You might get more traffic, but if what they’re finding is a generic site that could belong to anyone in your industry, then can you really say that they found you?
Being found is only half of the mission.
The other half is what people are finding when they click through.
It is important to begin with a foundation of quality messaging and optimize the copy from there.
If you try to optimize your page for search engines without a clear understanding of your mission statement, top-line value proposition and the other players in your marketspace (both your competitors and your partners), then your brand will only become hazier and less defined as you throw keywords at the wall and see what sticks.
If you’re pursuing keywords and links that are off-brand, you might end up doing more harm than good by pursuing it.
3. Winning is an ongoing process.
The most insidious lies and misconceptions surrounding search engine optimization suggest that optimization is a one-time thing.
“We’ll optimize your site. You’ll be number one. That’s that.”
Well, as we saw with Nathan hacking away the toxic links attaching themselves to our client’s website, that’s not exactly how it works.
We approach SEO like an athlete in training.
Of course, we want our clients to get the gold – and that is always the goal – but contenders become champions by competing against former versions of themselves. That’s a competition that never ends.
You can’t do all of your life’s exercise in one massive session. It’s not one-and-done. It’s the same with SEO.
The amount and frequency of attention your SEO requires will vary by industry. In some sectors, companies live and die by their SEO ranking. In others, a monthly blog update and periodic tweaks will get them where they want to go.
And what happens once you get the number one spot on Google?
There’s the matter of keeping it, sure, but there’s also the realization that that was only the beginning. You’ve won with one set of keywords, but each keyword is a path to your brand that you need to clear.
What are potential customers who have never heard of you typing into Google? How can you get your website in front of them?
You have to cast an ever-wider net and increase your rank with words and phrases that your customers are likely to use.
Pages within your website should focus on the most important phrases in your industry (after all, it is pages that rank, not sites), but the niche topics can be checked off with optimized blog content.
Blogs are an easy way to inject quality, regularly-updated content into your website that expands your keyword vocabulary (casts a wider net) and establishes your expertise within your industry with a depth and level of attention that would be cumbersome on a static “About” page.
The quality is every bit as important as the quantity here, too. Optimizing every page for the same keyword may seem like a winning strategy, but it’s actually considered poor form and will result in penalties. Likewise with posting recycled content.
To further complicate things, search engines are constantly optimizing their own search criteria as the technology improves. The strategies that got you to the top of the list in the early 90s will send you to the bottom today. Often the adjustments are small and technical, but occasionally, like in 2011, when Google introduced its “Panda” algorithm update, the shift can upend SEO as you know it.
A good SEO provider will stay abreast of these changes and help you manage your digital presence accordingly to make sure that your “state of winning” has as few interruptions as possible.
A state of perpetual optimization
If you navigate your content towards these three ideals, it will be well-received by both customers and search engines (and you’ll feel pretty good about it, too).
Once you realize that customers and search engines both value and respond to quality content, you can put your core messaging front-and-center so that a genuine connection can be made when people come looking for you.
And if you commit to producing quality content for your website on a regular basis, you will consistently out-perform the previous iterations of your digital presence and achieve a state of perpetual optimization.
Many of the “lies” that were examined in the previous blog don’t sound so bad when an SEO provider pitches them to you. When they say that they will add your site to various directories and multiply your inbound links, for example, remember these three ideals and ask if those links are relevant to your industry.
That SEO provider could be selling you the very same links that Nathan removes for his clients each month.
If it isn’t making your page faster, more secure or more interesting to your customers, then it’s probably not helping.
Customers and search engines want the same thing.
Write, design and optimize accordingly.
Learn more about LaunchUX’s search engine optimization services here.