January 22, 2019 | Sarah Danks
Search Engine Optimization in 2019
Search engine optimization — or SEO — is the application of techniques to attract quality traffic to a website by showing up organically in the search engine results pages (SERPs). These days, you don’t have to be particularly technical to be good at SEO, but “back in the day” it involved a lot of coding. In fact, back then it was all about pleasing the search engines…
…but not anymore. Thankfully, best practices have drastically changed since then, and it’s all about catering to users now.
Today, SEO is less simple and more subtle. It involves a variety of on-page and off-page practices designed to boost your website’s visibility in the search engines by implementing practices that are in the users’ best interest, as well as your own.
In today’s world of Wifi-at-your-fingertips, people head to the Internet to find information — from affiliate marketing jobs to ‘za delivery and all things in between — and they need to be able to find that information quickly, easily, and by putting forth minimal effort.
SEO Best Practices for Today
As with everything on the Internet, search engine optimization has evolved over time (no, it’s not dead). And it’s had a lotta years to mature, that’s sure. If you want to “do SEO” you have a wider net to cast than merely acquiring tons of links.
These days, key aspects of organic search include:
Site architecture, or sometimes “information architecture,” figures prominently in optimization. How the pages on your site are arranged can help or hinder its performance in search engines. If every page on the website is easily accessible it’s the best for users, ipso facto, search engines love it too.
The way your website pages are linked to one another is very important. We go by the motto that “your website should be a mile wide and inch deep; not an inch wide and mile deep.” In other words, make your content easy to find with a minimal amount of navigating (clicks) on the users’ part.
Writing customized, search-optimized content that describes what you offer, but also appeals to users, is the be-all-end-all of content. Why? Because the search engines love content written for people (not just search engine bots).
After all, the whole point of online content is to tell your visitors how you can help them…
…so if it’s useful, relevant, and easy to access, it’s sure to appeal to your users, and Google (and, yes, all the other search engines) loves that.
There’s a reason why everyone’s talking about “good UX” on the web: because it’s important in oh-so-many ways. Not only is an easy-to-use website good for your visitors, but search engines love it. And if the search engines love it, you can bet your chances of showing up organically are much higher.
And these days, it’s not just about looking pretty and being useful; it’s about doing that AND being intuitive no matter the device being used to access the site in the first place, whether that’s a huge iMac desktop or a fits-in-the-palm-of-your-hand smartphone.
The quality of the links pointing to your website from other sites affects your site’s credibility, and thus its visibility in the SERPs. Relevant backlinks provide a sort of “thumbs up” for your website, telling search engines the content is credible.
Good inbound links also contribute to a website’s domain authority, and are part of “off-page” SEO techniques.
Domain Authority is a score outlined by Moz that essentially measures “rankability” of a website. Your domain’s age, popularity, and its link profile are just some of the factors that contribute to this.
Google used to have a visible measurement of this very metric right in the browser window called “Pagerank,” but when Google stopped showing this to everyone, SEO marketers suddenly had no way to “measure” credibility anymore. So, Moz worked out Domain Authority as another way to measure your website’s ability to rank in the SERPs.
By optimizing your online presence for local listings in search engines, Yelp!, CitySearch and other platforms, you can show up for searches done by people looking for your products/services in your immediate area. Plus, having good testimonials on review sites will help boost your visibility.
Social Media Signals
As much as many business owners don’t want to admit it, social media activity — including likes, shares, links, reviews — have become a factor in the search engines’ determination of whether your content is worthy of being shown in their results.
Making it easy for others to share, promote, and interact with your content on social venues such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram can help your optimization efforts.
It sounds cliché, but “meta data” is our junk term for some key aspects of SEO that include descriptive title tags, meta description tags, and other on-page aspects that describe each web page — to users and search engines alike.
There are varying opinions out there about the importance of, say, the title tags on your website. We might be old-school when it comes to optimizing title tags, but we’re on the same page with Google: descriptive, easy-to-read title tags describe what’s on the page to users. It’s what you click on in the SERPs. Boom.
Easy. Write good ones.
Optimization from Yesteryear: Black Hat Tactics
Search optimization techniques have evolved a lot over the years. Black-hat — or naughty — tactics abounded, and it was almost common practice to game the system to show up in organic searches.
Even “best practices” that were once considered standard back in the day can now cause your website to be penalized by the search engines. It’s imperative to stay up-to-date on the latest SEO tactics to keep your site visible to potential clients in the search engines.
Some no-nos to avoid if you don’t want to raise Google’s ire these days would include the following — oftentimes referred to as Black Hat SEO Tactics, even though many of them were widely accepted):
No, this isn’t a place where organic links are raised on the best, most choicest grasses and allowed to wander about in their free-range environment.
Link farming is where people buy massive amounts of incoming links in an attempt to boost their link profile. Other examples of bad linking practices include:
- Link exchanges, or “I’ll link to you if you link to me.” While this is okay where it’s relevant or useful, don’t make a habit out of ONLY acquiring links this way.
- Buying links. Again, there are some times this is okay (wanting to be listed in a good directory, for example), but not on a large scale.
- Automated programs to get as many links as possible.
Ideally, all links pointing to your website would be acquired “holistically” and would be helpful for both your users and search engines.
In general, content has been the bread and butter of the Internet — I mean, people head to a search engine to find an answer, research a product, or learn about something, right?
Stands to reason that providing users with content would be imperative to your success online…
…but some people go to shady lengths to generate said content. They might steal it from someone else (i.e., “scrape” it); they might create a ton of content pages that don’t have a lot of meat to them, but they’re each optimized for a slightly different variation of the same keyword (thin content); or they might use programs to automatically generate content (oftentimes pulling content from other places across the web and “stitching” it together to form a page on your site).
Whichever of these methods are employed, you can guarantee Google’s bloodhound spidey senses will ensure your content doesn’t sit long on the SERP throne.
Doorway pages (or even entire sites) are web pages created solely for the purpose of ranking well in SERPs for one keyword/query.
These used to be all the rage way back in the 90s and even into the 2000s. There are probably still black hats somewhere still trying to do this, but Google has cracked down on this tactic.
The cloaking tactic is where actual users get served a different page than the search engines. Most often, it was a case of showing the search engines an HTML-based, keyword-laden page of content while the users got a fancy Flash page meant to dazzle with design.
This was a prevalent practice years and years ago, but search engines can see through this nowadays, so I can’t imagine anyone gets away with it. It’s one of those evil genius methods that makes you want to slow clap, since it requires some technical chops.
White-on-White Text & Keyword Stuffing
Ah, the good old days of repeating a keyword as many times as you physically could on a page to optimize for that word…
…and, if you run out of ways to say “best SEO agency in Minneapolis” on one web page, never fear! Just create a huge block of white-on-white text at the bottom of the page. You know, where you type the keyword over and over and over again hundreds of times but make it the same color as the background?
Meta Keywords Tag Abuse
To be clear, not only do we not keyword-stuff the meta keywords tag anymore…
…we don’t even use that tag at all! It’s gone by the wayside, thank goodness.
But, back in the day, you might have been confused as to why a Brittany Spears website would pop up in the results when you were searching for “sofa covers” on Google. (True story, this actually happened to me in the early 2000s.)
Well, the reason why that site was showing in the SERPs for my unrelated query was because the keyword meta tag was absolutely BURSTING at the seams with a myriad of crazy content, mostly shopping terms. Fun!
Gone are the days of getting results through keyword stuffing, spammy link-building campaigns, and cloak-and-dagger techniques. Nowadays it’s all about pleasing your users, which of course pleases the search engines.
But, even if you bend over backwards to create something your users AND the search engines should love, there’s something you should know…
The Hard Truth About Search Optimization
…showing up in the SERPs isn’t as easy as 1, 2, 3.
I can’t stress it enough: even if you wear the whitest of hats and do all your SEO correctly, there are no guaranteed results. The amount of factors that affect your site’s visibility are myriad; many of which online marketers have no control over.
That said, be sure to focus on a few key aspects when optimizing your site:
- Create relevant, custom content
- Acquire credible inbound links
- Build a website with solid architecture
- Design something that’s user-friendly
- Write descriptive “meta data”
Writing good content that’s descriptively described with good meta data (title tags, meta description tags, etc.) will help users and search engines alike determine what your site is about and whether it’s relevant to any given search.
Building a website that’s a mile-wide-and-inch-deep, and is also accessible and easy-to-use across devices, will ensure any user can navigate it to access information.
And if you’re doing your due diligence in promoting good, useful content, someone somewhere is going to find it to be the bees’ knees and will link to it to share with others — and you’re on your way to building a strong link profile.
Don’t forget to avoid shady tactics — a great rule of thumb is, if it seems wrong, then it probably is. If you’re still not sure, head over to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to see if whatever it is you’re thinking you should be able to do is okay. If it’s on the list, don’t do it. Ever.
While anyone can become an SEO, it helps to have a background in analytics and puzzle solving. Search engine optimization is a little bit art, a little bit science, and oftentimes it’s sprinkled with a bit of luck and “right place/right time.”
And if that all sounds a bit daunting for you to do yourself, I happen to know a place…