Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Once Again: SEO is NOT Dead

Masha Maksimava recently published a helpful article for those who would like to learn more about SEO basics. In "5 Big SEO Lies Google Wants You to Believe," Maksimava offers detailed steps for examining the link profiles and keyword anchors of your competitors, optimizing your Google snippets, and researching keywords and social media metrics.

In offering these tips, Maksimava's point is to expose the contradictory nature of Google's own advice. Despite Google's suggestions to the contrary, many SEO standbys, like link-building, still work:

"Whether Goolge will admit it or not," Maksimava writes, "link building continues to be the most important part of any SEO strategy. If you choose not to build links, you'll probably end up far behind your competitors who almost certainly are."

Maksimava's article is a site for sore SEO eyes, yet she begins with an ominous note: "It's 2016, and SEO is the farthest from a bed of roses it's ever been. In fact, most of it has turned into a bed of itchy, sharp, potentially lethal thorns."

Tortured metaphors aside, this sentiment echoes Dan Blacharski's, the "thought leader, advisor, industry observer," who recently asked "is Google Trying to Kill SEO?"

No, we argued last week, Google is not trying to kill SEO. Nothing can kill SEO. As long as search engines exist, SEO will exist.

Yet we continue to hear the refrain: SEO is dead.

SEO is Dead--According to Some [Source]

Last year, Tim Bird, writing for Entrepreneur, offered "The Top 4 Reasons SEO is Dead" (none entirely convincing). And you only need to Google the phrase "SEO is dead" to find similar articles.

Most of these articles miss the point--and this, in part, is the "lie" Maksimava is trying to expose: that certain so-called SEO techniques no longer work.

In fact, they do work. For example, Maksimava cites a series of fascinating tests by Rand Fishkin that revealed the impressive power of clicks to sway ranking:

"Most of the tests were the same in nature," Maksimava writes. "Rand reached out to his Twitter followers and asked them to run a Google search for a specified term, click on result #1 and bounce back, and then click on another result and stay on that page for a while."

In one test cited by Maksimava, clicks that stayed on a certain page moved the fourth result to the first in a manner of seventy minutes.

So empirically speaking, common SEO techniques still work. These are often the techniques the doomsayers cite when pronouncing the end of SEO. But these techniques are not SEO.

The real problem with any "SEO is Dead" pronouncement is a limited definition of SEO. In fact, any single "SEO is Dead" article exposes the most common misconception about SEO: that SEO is any single thing.

Now, we admit, the term SEO conjures certain associations--like link-building and keywords--for a reason: For years, SEO has built its foundation on certain steadfast principles. Yet in recent years, the SEO community has come to recognize the fact that SEO can and should not be defined by any specific practice.

SEO is fluid. As the algorithms change, SEO changes. We let go of outdated practices and try new techniques. Like Google's algorithm, search engine optimization is an evolutionary practice that adapts to change. Equating SEO to certain techniques disregards the fact that, at its root, optimization is marketing.

No one's saying marketing is dead. So why is SEO dead?

A few years ago, Jayson DeMers spoke to Sam McRoberts, an SEO expert, for an article that asked, "Is SEO Dead?"

"Honestly," McRoberts said, "the answer really depends on how you define SEO. If, when you say SEO, what you really mean is manipulating search engines to place sites that don’t really deserve to rank well at the top of the SERPs…then yes, I’d say that’s dead (or dying at least, as some manipulative tactics still work quite well)...

"Because we so often use the SEO acronym, we forget sometimes that it stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO, at its heart, is the process of making websites more accessible and understandable to search engines. It shouldn’t be, and really doesn’t need to be, manipulative."

Accessibility is the key. By creating quality content, we hope to make a website accessible. By adding precisely-targeted keywords, we hope to attract a specific audience--the audience that wants/needs our products or services. You could call this "SEO." But this is simply 21st century marketing.

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If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective online marketing campaigns.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Google is Not Trying to Kill SEO

Writing for Entrepreneur this week, Dan Blacharski, "a thought leader, advisor, industry observer," asks "Is Google Trying to Kill SEO?"

Blacharski is referring to a lawsuit, filed in May by e-Ventures Worldwide, that accused the search engine of de-indexing e-Ventures websites for subjective reasons--and not according to Google's own algorithmic principles.

As Blacharski writes: "Google summarily de-indexed hundreds of the plaintiff’s websites without review or redress. The de-indexing was not based on algorithmic rules or webmaster guidelines, but rather, subjectively applied based on an anonymous tip from an unnamed third party."

According to Google, e-Ventures was engaging in "bad behavior" by attempting "search engine manipulation" tactics. Google called the offending websites--all 213--"pure spam."

The CEO of e-Ventures, Jeev Trika, believes that he was "personally targeted by Google," a claim that strikes at Google's first amendment rights, which have been affirmed in US courts countless times before. Under first amendment protections, the search engine can essentially do whatever it pleases, ranking and penalizing sites without reason. It can--in reality, though, no company has ever proven that Google has ranks or penalized sites without reason.

In the lawsuit, e-Ventures claims that Google penalizes sites that use SEO in favor of AdWords. In the brief, Trika's lawyer, Alexis Arena, alleges "the SEO services [e-Ventures] provides and advertises on its website reduce Google's revenues because if companies are successful in achieving website prominence on Google's unpaid search listing, then there is less of a desire for them to purchase Google's AdWords advertising services."

The brief also equates "search engine manipulation" (Google's term) with SEO: “Under Google’s definition, any website owner that attempts to cause its website to rank higher, in any manner, could be guilty of ‘pure spam’ and blocked from Google’s search results, without explanation or redress.”

Is Google arbitrarily penalizing sites for using SEO? [Image Source: Search Engine Land]
Both of these claims are nonsense--and contrary to Google's best interests. Despite recent changes to the SERP, Google knows no browser wants a results page full of AdWords. To satisfy users, the search engine must provide organic listings. In fact, comprehensive research cited by Econsultancy in 2011, revealed that most browsers prefer organic listings:

"Paid search only accounts for 6% of total clicks from search engines versus natural search at 94% of clicks, according to research from GroupM UK carried out with Nielsen."

Why would Google attempt to alienate 94% of its clicks?

The second claim, equating Google's phrase "search engine manipulation" with SEO, makes little sense. Yet the brief claims: “Under Google’s definition, any website owner that attempts to cause its website to rank higher, in any manner, could be guilty of ‘pure spam’ and blocked from Google’s search results, without explanation or redress.”

This is technically true--yet as we noted above, no company has proven that Google penalizes without reason. In fact, Google offers its own Search Engine Optimization Guide. We believe Google and organic SEO are dynamic partners.

Google endorses ethical SEO: "Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time, but you can also risk damage to your site and reputation. Make sure to research the potential advantages as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site."

The operative word here is "ethical": SEO must be practiced with integrity.

Perhaps there is merit to e-Ventures claims, yet Blacharski's article gives us absolutely no information about e-Venture's SEO practices.

If Google fears SEO, why is the SEO community thriving online? Why haven't other SEO firms been penalized? Why haven't other successful businesses who use SEO--basically all successful online businesses--been penalized?

One can only believe that e-Ventures engaged in some sort of Black Hat SEO--and Google pounced accordingly. After all,

Contrary to Blacharski's false claim that Google is trying to kill SEO, the true concern here may very well be Google's first amendment rights. In May, Eric Goldman, a legal tech writer, wrote about the lawsuit for Forbes:

"If Google can’t freely decide to downgrade or de-index what it considers to be “pure spam,” then Google faces liability pretty much any time it automatically or manually rejiggers its index (which always creates some winners and some potentially-litigious losers). It seems hard to believe that this case will be the one to break Google, especially given all of the prior attempts from more sympathetic plaintiffs, but that’s what makes this court’s initial ruling so disquieting."

Read: "Google Must Answer Lawsuit for Manually Removing Websites From Its Search Index"

Disquieting, indeed, for firms that practice SEO with integrity.

If any loser can sue Google, what happens to the integrity of the SERP--the foundation of Google and SEO?

By misunderstanding Google's proven integrity, the "thought leader" Blacharski misses the point. Google is not trying to kill SEO. Google is trying to kill spammy SEO. And by doing so, Google is trying to satisfy users.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Do Not Fear the Code: Is a Techno-Centric View of SEO Holding You Back?

Do you fear SEO? Why? Last year, we posted a quote from Paul Boag, who wrote an article for Smashing Magazine about SEO called "The Inconvenient Truth." In his article, Boag described the sort of fear we confront all too often in our day-to-day SEO practice:

"Most website owners perceive SEO as a dark art, shrouded in mystery. They have heard phrases like 'gateway pages' and 'keyword density' or have been bamboozled by technobabble about the way websites should be built. All of this has left them feeling that SEO is the purview of experts. This is a misconception reinforced by certain segments of the SEO community."

Though we see the error of this fear, we can't help but agree with Boag's premise. From developers to content marketers, the SEO community represents a diversity of backgrounds. However, for those outside of the SEO community, the practice is often shrouded in the mysteries of coding. For many, SEO is a tech-centric practice.

In one sense, this is true. A knowledge of programming language can certainly make the practice of SEO simpler. When you work with a website's source code, you speak in the only language the search engines understand.

Source Code [Source]

Source Code

Working with source code, in fact, is the crucial aspect of SEO. Your source code, for example, includes title tags and meta descriptions, the two most important components of any page's listing on a search engine.

A title tag describes the content of a page. Your title tag might be a traditional title or a straightforward description. Both work (as seen below).

You can find the title tag of any given page by hitting "Control + U," which will take you to a page's source code. On a page of code, you can find the title by hitting "Control + F" and searching for "title." The title tag will be bounded by two <title> tags.

On a a SERP (search engine results page)  the title tag is displayed first for any result.

In the image below, the first result's title tag is Title Tag - Learn SEO - Moz.  Note: the title does not read as a traditional title, per say, but as a description of the page contents. The second title, however, How to Write Title Tags For Search Engine Optimization, does read like a traditional title. Again, both can work.

Title Tag Examples from Google

In the above image, the meta description is the text that falls below the title. Again, to find the meta description of any page hit "Control + U" to take you to the page's source code. Then search for <meta name = "description">.

In addition to title tags and meta descriptions, your source code includes the H1 heading tag, the heading for the actual page of content. In the source code, the "header tag," as it's often called, can be found by searching for <h1>.

If you're lucky enough to attract a click from the search engine, your H1 header will likely be the first bit of content your visitor sees. To optimize this content, make sure you write a header that entices your visitor to read more.

Other tags, like those that represent internal links and anchor text, represent crucial aspects of the source code, yet for SEO purposes the most important tags are the title, meta, and H1 tags. What makes these tags important, however, is not the code itself. The code is incidental. What makes or breaks any tag is the content within the tag.

Content

In this sense, SEO is not tech-centric. SEO is about content. Anyone can write words between tags. If you have access to your website's source code, you have access to all the pages on your site--and for each page, you can easily perform a "Control + F" search, as we noted above, for your title, meta, and H1 tags.

In its Webmaster Tools,  Google offers the following advice:

"Provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. This is the single most important thing to do. If your pages contain useful information, their content will attract many visitors and entice webmasters to link to your site. In creating a helpful, information-rich site, write pages that clearly and accurately describe your topic. Think about the words users would type to find your pages and include those words on your site."

Here Google is telling you to be precise about your keywords. The websites at the top of the SERP have utilized this advice to great success. Do you use this advice?

Do Not Fear SEO

Do not fear the code. And do not fear SEO. Far more fearsome is your competition--how the top sites use content to craft exquisite, attractive titles, descriptions, and headers that attract audiences.

Beyond this content, of course, is the content of your page--not necessarily more important, but equally important.

When you fear the technical aspects of SEO, you distract yourself from the true work of optimization: crafting precise content. All else is techno-babble.

If you think of SEO as  the "purview of experts," we invite you to read the Organic SEO Blog. This blog is not written by experts. Our writers aim to learn and to share this learning in an accessible way. Once you get past the misconceptions, you discover the simple truths of SEO.

Internet Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively build and promote websites, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398. Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective content marketing campaigns.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

SEO Comment: The Difference Between Good Writing and Good SEO Writing

What is the difference between good writing and good SEO writing? In a word, keywords. Unfortunately, many writers neglect this simple fact--especially so-called "serious" writers. Yet the fact remains: To attract organic attention, a good piece of writing must include keywords.

Not merely keywords, but the right keywords.

I'm reminded of the famous quote of Raymond Carver (quoted before on this blog):

"That's all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say."

Adapted for online content, this famous writing advice is the key to SEO. To attract organic attention, all you have, finally, are keywords--used judiciously, "in the right places so that they can best say what they're meant to say."

Now, to writers of the MFA ilk this appropriation of Carver might read as hearsay. I've spoken to fellow graduates of my own MFA program about SEO; some call the practice, especially the use of keywords, "manipulative." Their reasoning, I gather, is that the use of keywords is, by nature, contrary to Carver's appeal to use "the right" words.

What if, the reasoning goes, a keyword turns out to be the "wrong word" for the sentence? By the mandate of SEO, the keyword must be included. They keyword is then arbitrary--not at all the "right word."

In practice, this thinking is nonsense. SEO writing is a new "form" of writing--a form delimited by its emphasis on keywords. From poetry to sculpture, "form"--"the more or less established structure, pattern, or scheme followed in shaping an artistic work"--classifies art.

Form structures the creative imagination. In art, form is necessary, especially for young artists.
In his poem "First You Must," Dean Young writes:

First you must build a cathedral of toothpicks.
Write nothing but sonnets for a year.

Young's implication is that art is learned--and sustained--through form. The tedium of a toothpick cathedral, a year of sonnets--this is art's apprenticeship, and practice.

A toothpick cathedral [Source: Toothpick World]

The tedium of keywords--this is the practice of good SEO writing.

What separates good writing from good SEO writing, then, is not an arbitrary emphasis on keywords. In fact, the pursuit of the "right keyword," however tedious, is a form of art.

When researching the right keyword, you clarify your purpose. You ask yourself: "Who is my audience?" Good writing might attract an audience. But good SEO writing will attract the right type of audience.

As Moz writes in its keyword research guide: "It's not always about getting visitors to your site, but about getting the right kind of visitors." [Emphasis ours].

Now, Moz does continue from here to describe keyword research in explicitly market-driven terms:

"The usefulness of this intelligence cannot be overstated; with keyword research you can predict shifts in demand, respond to changing market conditions, and produce the products, services, and content that web searchers are actively seeking. In the history of marketing, there has never been such a low barrier to entry in understanding the motivations of consumers in virtually any niche."

This is the sort of SEO speak that turns many writers away from the enterprise. Yet this turning away is a knee-jerk reaction that has little to do with the implicit goal of any writer: to be read, widely.

Yes, no matter how "serious" a writer assumes himself to be, what he really craves is readership. After all, without readers what is the use of any piece of writing (beyond an exercise in solipsism)?

Of course, keywords are only as effective as the writing that surrounds them. As we've noted before:

"Without a backbone of good writing, no piece of content--no matter how it is optimized with keywords--will perform well in the rankings. Of course, once you have created a good piece of content, optimization can only help. The key, however, is to focus on the quality of your writing before you worry too much about optimization."

This advice runs counter to Moz's advice to research keywords before writing. 

However, we believe the initial act of writing can--and often should--be performed without any thought of keywords. In this way, you write to your point--and not to your keywords. After you have written your first draft, then perform your keywords research. In revision, you can go back, clarify, and revise certain words or phrases to match your keyword research. You can create your form.

In the end, there only implicit difference between good writing and good SEO is this extra bit of work. Are you willing to perform this extra work to reach more readers? If not, you're wasting the effort you put into your writing, no matter how good it may be.

For more information of keywords, please read: SEO 101: Keywords.

Organic SEO with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with carefully chosen keywords, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective content marketing campaigns.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Mid-Year Trends: The Rise of Google's Rich Answers

We're suckers for a good list--especially New Year's predictions. We've even taken a stab at our own predictions. Early this year, we predicted the top SEO trend of 2016: Mobile App Optimization. A year before, we predicted the top SEO trend of 2015: Diverse Content.

In the latter post, we noted, "Identifying and taking advantage of trends is a part of the SEO specialist's job."

Even then, while noting the word "trend" might be the trendiest word of 2015, we also observed that SEO writers use the word "trend" in the wrong way:

"Trend can mean 'a general direction in which something is developing or changing.' Yet the word also denotes a lack of permanency: a trend can be seen as a fashion. Many writers use the word trend, to describe 'developing or changing' without paying heed to the transitory nature of the word itself."

An understanding of the evolutionary nature of search is crucial to SEO success; yet in studying trends, we must learn to separate transitory change from durable change. Following trends will take you nowhere; identifying true change, though, will help you wallop your competition.

Pow! Learn to separate transitory change from durable change and
you will wallop the competition.

In the spirit of lists, we were happy to see a list of mid-year SEO predictions by one of our favorite SEO writers, Jayson DeMers: 7 SEO Predictions for the Rest of 2016.

One of DeMers' predictions mirrors our prediction from earlier this year: "App SEO will take a big step forward."

"App developers may start developing more kinds of search-friendly content exclusively in-app," DeMers writes, "and Google may start boosting certain types of apps to start phasing out website-based content."

DeMers also writes about the potential for Google to lose search share, and the rise of digital assistants and "machine learning," which we reported on last year. At the time, we noted an intriguing quote from Google's CEO, Sundar Pichai:

“Machine learning is a core transformative way by which we are rethinking everything we are doing."

Please Read: RankBrain and the Future of SEO

All of these changes point to a more seamless search experience, one captured by DeMers' first prediction: "We’ll see the rise of rich answers."

You might've noticed "rich answers" in any number of your recent searches. Ask Google a specific, answerable question and get an immediate answer. For this post, we had to remind ourselves of a simple grammar lesson:

Google's "rich answer"

DeMers notes that there is evidence that rich answers "are on a sharp upward trajectory." He cites an analysis by Stone Temple Consulting (from last July) that showed an increase of "nearly 40% percent" in six months.

Your own anecdotal reports may concur. Rich answers are increasingly ubiquitous. Google is now answering many questions with simple, immediate answers.

So we've identified this trend. How do you take advantage?

It is clear that Google prefers content that answers questions. The Hummingbird algorithm, which was made to accommodate longer, more complex questions, is a testament to this preference. Even if you're not aiming to be the selected "rich answer," it is clear that your content must seek to provide a rich answer.

The quest will not be easy. As DeMers notes in another prediction: "The gap between good and exceptional content will widen."

"Countless studies have shown that only the 'best of the best' content is worth anything," DeMers writes."The vast majority of all online content never generates any inbound links, shares, or other meaningful forms of interaction; in other words, it’s a complete waste of time and effort."

Do you feel like you're wasting your time and effort generating new content that no one reads? Inspired by Google's evolving preferences, we have Two Simple Questions to Inspire New Content:

1. What question am I answering?

2. What am I adding to the conversation?

With these questions in mind, you're off to a running start. Will you succeed? The answer lies in your content. Is it exceptional? Does it count?


Online Marketing with Stepman's PC

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands the nuances of the algorithms as well as traditional marketing, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398

Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective online marketing campaigns.