Posted by Bill Ross on Nov 23, 2011
With the vast amount of SEO knowledge, tips and tactics found on the web, it can be difficult for businesses and individuals trying to learn how to do white hat SEO to cut through all the clutter and find sound advice. Below you will find a list of the 12 most valuable pieces of SEO advice that I can give you from the last 8 years of doing SEO for small local business websites, large content websites, and ecommerce websites.
1. Quality links beat quantity of links
Links are still a valuable metric and asset for a website to acquire. Where sites get into trouble is when they think they can take short cuts when building links. They get enticed by the “get 100 backlinks for $9.99″ emails and think there is a quick fix or automated tool for building links. This is exactly the wrong approach to take. Building links is a process that includes creating valuable content and then marketing that content to other blogs, websites, and social networks. Acquiring quality trusted back links is a slow (in most cases), tedious and difficult process, yet is a necessary evil for any new or existing website.
2. Don’t forget the users, balance is key
Many SEOs get so focused on ranking well that they forget that Google and the other search engines are taking into account bounce rate, user metrics, and overall content value when ranking websites. Balance is the key to most things in life, and SEO is no exception. There needs to a balance between designing for the users and building a strong SEO foundation; going to far in one direction will have negative affects overall.
3. Stop talking about or focusing on keyword density
Before Google launched in 1996 the larger search engines operated almost entirely through on-page metrics. One of these on-page metrics that became a factor was how many times a website repeated the targeted keyword on a page. This became known as “keyword density”, and the methodology behind it flowed into how people thought Google and more advanced search engines rank pages. The truth is, there really is no such thing. If you write for the user and include a diverse set of valuable keywords, it becomes about keyword diversity and content depth, and not about how many times you repeat a keyword on a page.
4. Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t need social media
Social media has become more important over the last few years when it comes to SEO. Social media drives user metrics and is a powerful tool for building the quality links we touched on in our first point. At minimum you should have a Twitter and Facebook page for your business. Then understanding where your users hang out online will determine other social networks to become active within.
5. Content is still king
Valuable in-depth content is a key asset to any successful SEO campaign. Strong content gives you the ability to build trusted links, satisfy the users intent when they come to your website, capture mid and long tail keywords, and brand your site as a valuable resource for both the users and the search engines.
6. SEO is a holistic business strategy
SEO is not only about changing title tags or adding keywords. It’s a business strategy inclusive of traffic acquisition, publishing and branding. SEO was recently shown to be the best online channel for increasing sales and leads. It includes tactical planning of a website’s architecture and overall structure to allow internal metrics to flow properly, planning content that satisfies both the users intent and search engines algorithm, technical, content, and structure audits and competitive insights and analysis, and creating an experience that fosters social sharing and link acquisition.
7. Measure everything you can
With the search engines making over 500 tweaks to their algorithm each year, it becomes vitally important that webmasters measure as many data points as they can. Some of these data points might be traffic, traffic by site section, total keywords sending traffic, total URLs receiving traffic, and conversion rate. The more you can measure, the more data points you will be armed with when trying to determine why your rankings dropped, conversions tanked, or traffic was stunted by an algorithm update.
8. Basic SEO should always be done
Even if a website is not planning to embark on an SEO campaign in the near future it is still important that they build a strong SEO base for their website. This includes an optimized site structure, basic keyword research, and some basic link building. Why you ask? because at some point down the road almost all sites wonder why they are not ranking for a keyword or want to drive more traffic from search. Without that strong SEO base it will take more time and resources to rebuild or restructure the website so that the SEO basics are in place to support the additional SEO phases.
9. SEO is not a quick fix
Unlike PPC or even media buys, SEO is not a light switch that you can turn on overnight. The search engines don’t suddenly trust or value a website and give it long lasting rankings at the top of the search results. Sites need to prove they deserve the rankings by building value over time through quality links, good user metrics, valuable social metrics, and building quality content.
10. SEO needs to be included from planning to quality assurance
One of the most frustrating parts of an SEOs job is getting called into a meeting and being told that a new site, which is completed and is launching next week, needs to be SEOed. As outlined in #6 SEO is not just writing title tags or adding keywords. SEO needs to be included in the planning phases through the quality assurance phase of a website for it to be most effective.
11. Optimize a website for where the engines are going, not where they currently are
This was an interesting statement by Matt Cutts (lead spam engineer at Google) and speaks to SEOs who chase the Google Algorithm. What he is saying is that SEOs need to be forward thinkers and understand enough about what the search engine’s end goal is, so that they can build SEO campaigns that are long lasting.
12. Test, test, test
With the amount of information (both good and bad) on the web about SEO tactics, it is important to take it all with a grain of salt. If you read something that might seem like it would be valuable to implement on your website, and it does not violate any of the search engines guidelines, then execute it on a small subset of your website and test the results. It is important to tackle only 1 test at a time or else you will not know which change actually had the affect on rankings, traffic, ROI, or whatever you are using as a KPI.
Learning how to do white hat SEO does not have to be a difficult or frustrating experience. Like with most things, SEO does take time and energy to learn, but once you understand what SEO tactics will give you the most value, it then comes down to staying focused and being persistent with your SEO efforts.