I take time out of every year to study SEO – and every year, SEO is getting harder, more expensive, and more time-consuming.
But does that mean you should throw in the towel and dump all of your resources into paid advertising and on-site SEO?
No, definitely not.
According to Charles Floate, an SEO expert from the UK, it’s definitely getting harder, but it’s not as impossible as some people make it out to be.
However, it should be pretty clear that every business should have an online presence, even small ones … and that means having at least a basic understanding of SEO.
Specific SEO prescriptions vary from situation to situation, but following these basics will keep you on Google’s good side.
1. Don’t be evil.
Google’s not a fan of SERPs manipulation, so if you get caught, expect to get penalized.
There are still plenty of gray-hat marketers out there who are making a killing with SEO, but everyone acknowledges that the game is getting harder. Unless you’re a pro at SEO yourself – in which case you aren’t reading this article anyway – don’t try anything dubious.
Not only is Google getting more savvy and more technically advanced, the gray-hat SEO community has become saturated with firms that are richer, smarter, and extremely competitive.
It’s more necessary than ever that you understand and play by the rules if you want to stay in the search rankings.
Below are “white hat” tactics that I’ve been advocating for years … and I’ll continue to advocate, because they continue to work … and they follow the exact same principles that Google follows.
Here is my philosophy when it comes to SEO:
- Put Google first
- Put users first too
- Use strategies and tactics that will last
That said, here are 9 more tips to help you stay on Google’s good side:
2. Content is King.
Content marketing is huge now and it will only become more important in 2018 and beyond.
Here’s an example that proves content is king:
A client asked me how to beat a competitor for a targeted keyword. When I researched the page in question, I realized why the competitor was #1 … content.
Most pages in the client’s niche topped out at 1,000-3,000 words, which is typical for many industries.
But the competitor’s page had 23,000 words.
It was a well-planned, extra-detailed, uber-useful guide that had all the hallmarks of a winning content-based SEO strategy: useful information, targeted keywords, length, and calls-to-action.
Lots of happy users, lots of time on the page, lots of relevant keywords, and stellar engagement metrics. And I don’t think it was a coincidence that this particular business was spending $0 on Google AdWords.
Not to mention all of the customers that this page was pulling in.
3. Show that your website is a trustworthy, real business.
“Not being evil” is good, but “being good” is better.
Let me explain…
Google wants to see that you are a serious business that’s dedicated to taking care of customers.
To demonstrate this, you need to prove you are a legit business and improve your “trust” score:
- Install SSLs
- Use unique IPs
- Reserve domains for longer than one year
- And avoid doing anything that decreases your trust score
If you know how email anti-spam filters work, then you can imagine how Google’s anti-spam engine works. When anti-spam filters scan your email, they comb it for specific “signals” that could indicate spam – spoofed email addresses, servers with bad reputations, etc. After these signals add up to a certain threshold, or score, the email is categorized as spam.
According to some of the biggest SEO firms, which attempt to emulate Google’s “scores,” a similar type of method is applied to websites.
Combine the various “scores” and you get numbers that indicate trust, authority, and so on.
4. Improve your website’s performance.
Not only do visitors click away from slow-loading websites, Google judges your website based on its performance.
Yes, this is just one score among many, but I’m bringing it up because it’s important – not just for Google, but also for your users.
Everything that Google does is ostensibly to create a great user experience, and studies have shown that users hate slow websites.
Code-heavy websites, slow WordPress themes, bulky images, low-quality hosting, and other factors can all impact your site’s performance.
Make your website into a lean speed machine, so Google and visitors stick around and pay attention.
5. Focus on creating great websites.
Creating great websites goes hand-in-hand with the user-centric, Google-centric approach I’m advocating.
Along with great content, high-performing sites, mobile-readiness, and trust signals, better websites will result in better engagement metrics.
This means adjusting factors that don’t directly impact SEO, such as:
- Making your website mobile-friendly (an absolute must)
- Making your site design modern and user-friendly
- Making the layout easily digestible (e.g., not cluttered or chaotic)
- Good content readability, quality, and usefulness
- Using images (images get more clicks and views than text alone)
As mentioned, Google wants happy users. If it sends searchers to lousy sites, it’s not doing its job.
So make your users happy and you’ll see better engagement metrics such as increased session length and reduced bounce rates.
6. Boost external signals.
Google uses a combination of over 200 “signals” to rank sites, so don’t forget to boost your off-site signals.
Backlinks are the most well-known and the most valuable, but many smaller factors also affect your overall “ranking score.”
Social signals, such as inbound social links and links from social profiles or index sites, indicate trust and overall engagement with your brand, company, or personality.
The more that other sites link to you and talk about you, the more Google will notice you.
7. Use keywords naturally.
Don’t stuff keywords, use them unnaturally, or create cheap content.
I’ve said this many times in SEO articles I’ve written for my sites and my clients’ sites, but it bears repeating.
Natural content and copy is more true in 2018 than it was in 2017 or 2016.
And it will be even more true in 2019.
Every year, the trend remains the same – the user and the user experience are paramount.
When you buy cheap content just for the keywords, your users know and Google knows. I’ve seen thousands of dollars flushed down the toilet because marketers were putting keywords first instead of users and customers.
8. Get links.
Oh, yes, links. We can’t forget backlinks … backlinks are the bread and butter of SEO.
There are many ways to get backlinks. You can use gray-hat tactics – like purchasing PBN links or even creating your own PBNs – or you can combine questionable link-building with legitimate marketing. Or you can do both.
Outreach, in my opinion, is a great way to combine long-term SEO strategy with traditional marketing tactics.
It works like this:
Reach out to writers, media outlets, bloggers, or website owners, then make a deal … exchange a link, mention, or advertisement for money or something else of value. You’ll get a backlink in addition to a native ad or a feature article – again, a way to kill two birds with one stone.
Typically, SEO companies are super spammy with their backlink requests, so make sure your approach is a genuine offer to transact value.
If you ask a blogger to write a featured article about you, or to plug you in their next submission to Huffington Post, then you need to be prepared to offer them something of value. Like cold, hard digital currency.
9. Forget links.
According to one SEO agency owner, link value is declining, and it will eventually reach zero.
Though this would mark the sad end of an interesting era, it also marks the beginning of another one. One where, according to this agency owner, Google measures its signals almost entirely through user engagement.
The SEO of tomorrow, he says, will be employing a new arsenal of SEO manipulation tactics … rather than only cultivating backlinks, this agency owner builds armies of bots and AI that fake human behavior in order to manipulate engagement metrics.
I’m certainly not advocating black hat tactics. But it’s always useful to pay attention to savvy business people, whatever color hat they wear.
This concept is another reason to focus on real marketing, real content, and real users instead of simply backlinks.
10. Get on board with Google.
If you haven’t signed up with Google, get on board.
Create an account and associate that account with your website. Set up:
- Google Analytics on your site
- Use Google Search Console
- Add your business to Google+
- Add your business to Google Maps
- Consider getting GSuite
- Pay for AdWords
- And do anything else you can to signal to Google that you’re trustworthy and real
In the past, some SEOs have suggested that Google will favor your site if you actually pay for AdWords. That assertion may or may not be true, but it’s in line with my fundamental SEO philosophy – give Google what Google wants.
Though the specific tactics may change from week to week, the underlying approach never will … Google rewards businesses that supports its business interests.
This article barely scratches the surface of SEO in 2018 and certainly doesn’t go into any detail about techniques, tactics, or methods. Perhaps in future articles I’ll cover some of these techniques in more detail.
Hopefully, however, it offers a decent introduction to my SEO philosophy: put Google and users first, and use content-based SEO strategies that will last.