Thursday, January 26, 2017

Three Common SEO Concepts That Apply to Real Life

To understand SEO, many believe, one must first adapt to the language, which is replete with words so often dismissed as technobabble. Keyword density. Title tags. Gateway pages. But for many, even the language, as obscure as it might seem, is not as inscrutable as SEO itself. Many website owners see SEO as technocentric, an inscrutable art practiced only by development experts.

Certain parts of the SEO community affirm this perception. For those in the SEO community, Rand Fishkin's "Whiteboard Fridays" are the most astute and legible SEO lessons available; for those outside the community, however, Fishkin's lessons can seem esoteric:
A recent image from Rand Fishkin's "Whiteboard Fridays" for Moz

Taken at face value, we believe Fishkin's lessons are fairly straightforward. However, we often hear from website owners who find writing like Fishkin's and others to be discouraging.

"It's just too complicated," we've heard, again and again.

We don't buy it. SEO is not complicated. We started writing the Organic SEO Blog four years ago, in fact, to combat the perception that SEO is an inscrutable art practiced by experts. As much as possible, we try to write for the laymen, the website owner who may not understand the meaning of terms that seem obvious to the SEO community.

"SERP," for example, stands for "search engine results page." Yet this acronym is only obvious once you know it. Too many SEO articles assume prior knowledge of the relevant terms. We try to define each term in each and every post. Perhaps the SEO experts find this style tedious--we find it helps those who need it most: small to medium-sized website owners.

Beyond the jargon, though, SEO is straightforward, as self-evident as any marketing practice. To emphasize this point, we can draw three connections between common SEO practices and modern day-to-day life.

Optimization

In SEO, obviously, the name of the game is "optimization," "the action of making the best or most effective use of a situation or resource."

Optimization should be familiar to anyone who has studied self improvement of the type promoted by Timothy Ferris, the author of The Four-Hour Work Week, which shows readers "how to live more and work less." On the other hand, optimization will be familiar to anyone who has tried to find a better solution, say, to roasting potatoes or dressing well (or for the ladies).

Our world is obsessed with efficiency. We crave simple solutions--hacks, as they're now called, that can easily optimize our day-to-day routines.

This article, from Lifehack, the "Top 5 Tools To Optimize Your Life," suggests both Evernote, the digital note-taker and organizer, to a crock pot.

This article from Time, "Optimize These Three Areas in Your Life for Highest Productivity," suggests optimizing your environment by clearing distractions and finding your flow time (the time you work best), optimizing your mind by taking breaks, meditating, and treating your body good, and optimizing your process, the way you plan and execute.

Most of us have tried these techniques, to varying success. If you look, you will easily find ideas for optimizing each and every aspect of your life.

The central idea of SEO, then, should be familiar to most people. In the SEO world, optimization is simply about looking at all aspects of a website, from the code to the content, with the goal of making the best or most effective use of the website. To do so, we write unique content, of course, but we also make sure the content is easy to read, easy to find, and clearly tagged for appropriate keywords.

By optimizing websites in this way, we satisfy a search engine's goal to deliver the most relevant results for any given search--which, of course, is also all about optimization.

Keywords

Once the domain of Twitter and Instragram, the hashtag has now gone viral, and nearly everyone understands how to use hashtags to optimize social media posts. In this way, many people practice SEO without even knowing it.

A hashtag is a keyword, and it serves the same purpose on social media as it does for SEO: to attract a specific audience to a specific search.

By using a hashtag like "Instababy" on Instragram, for example, you empower  users to easily discover your pictures of your baby.

In fact, by studying how people use keywords to attract attention on social media networks, one learns the central SEO principle: Relevant keywords attract people to you, your product, and your service.

In SEO, we attempt to optimize any given piece of content by carefully selecting the right keywords and placing them in strategic places, like the title tag and meta description.

Change

The Internet, like life, is "a dynamic space" populated by an ever-evolving community of people and information. Online, as in life, the only constant is change.

To succeed in either realm, one most embrace and master change.

To succeed online, specifically, SEO attempts to keep pace with the speedy nature of the Internet by offering fresh content and refreshed website designs.

How often does your favorite website update its content? How often does your favorite website update its design or layout? The answer to both is likely "often."

Beyond optimization, change is the key to a happy, successful life--and SEO.

By maintaining fresh content and designs, a websites attracts new and returning visitors while impressing search engines. From a search engine's perspective, the goal is to deliver relevant results, and to make sure the user is 100% satisfied with these results. People's preferences change, so search engines tweak their algorithms to keep pace.

"Everything changes and nothing stands still." Heraclitus [Photo Source]

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Matt Cutts' Legacy Proves: Google and SEO are Natural Partners

This Thursday various news outlets, including Search Engine Land, reported that Matt Cutts, Google's former head of webspam (or "head of search quality," per Search Engine Land), has officially resigned from Google. The move was no surprise: Cutts had been on sabbatical for a few years; his position had been replaced; and in May, 2016, he had started working for the US Digital Service.

Cutts will now continue his work with the U.S. Digital Service as acting administrator. The service, Fortune reports, is "a swat team", created by the Obama administration in the wake of the HealthCare.gov IT failures, "that transformed how the federal government uses computers and the Internet." It has been responsible for several innovations, including, as Fortunte notes, "bug bounty programs" and software pilot projects that aim to reduce the issues related to launching complex programs like HealthCare.gov.

It is hard to say if Cutts ties to Google will lead to government-based search innovations. Cutts resignation from Google, however, offers a perfect opportunity to reflect upon his tenure at Google, which was marked by a close relationship with the digital marketing community. As Search Engine Land wrote:

"He was one of the most well-known Googlers within the search marketing industry. He has spoken at many of our conferences and provided invaluable contributions to our industry and to Google."

Cutts' Google legacy, in fact, stands as a shining endorsement of evidence-based digital marketing. As a Googler, his example will continue to highlight a crucial truth about Google and SEO.

Matt Cutts offered much wisdom to the SEO community [Photo Source]

Google and SEO are Natural Partners 

The biggest falsehood about SEO is that the practice and Google are somehow at odds. The opposite is true. SEO and Google are natural partners. The key, of course, is the quality of the optimization, a view that Cutts has endorsed.

Over the years, Cutts quotes have offered much fodder for the digital marketing community, and for many he served as a guide to the complex world of SEO.

In one way, he used his position at Google to create a bond between the search engine and the digital marketing community--especially the SEO community.

As Fortune notes: "Cutts himself is well known in the tech world...for his ability to explain arcane engineering topics in clear language."

Most of Cutts tutelage came in the form of his "webmaster videos," which received a lot of attention. In these videos, he answered very specific questions about Google's views of different SEO-related topics. For example, in the following video Cutts describes the problems with duplicate content--content copied and pasted from others sites without attribution.



As Cutts explains, some duplicate content is benign: "We do understand that lots of different places across the web do need to have various disclaimers, legal information, terms and conditions, that sort of stuff, and so it’s the sort of thing where if we were to not rank that stuff well, then that would probably hurt our overall search quality..."

However, many sites copy and paste product information or chunks of text from other sites without the slightest thought of attribution or originality. Differentiation is key--especially for affiliate sites.

As Cutts explains: "Hopefully you’ve got a different page from all the other affiliates in the world, and hopefully you have some original content – something that distinguishes you from the fly-by-night sites that just say, ‘Okay, here’s a product. I got the feed and I’m gonna put these two paragraphs of text that everybody else has.’ If that’s the only value add you have then you should ask yourself, ‘Why should my site rank higher than all these hundreds of other sites when they have the exact same content as well?'"

The question Cutts asks here speaks to his prime preoccupation: quality content. The Content Marketing Institute has collected "7 Key Pieces of Advice About Web Content Strategy" from Cutts. We suggest reading the article for more insights.

Cutts' question here also highlights the essence of his style--a style echoed in Google's own pages about SEO. The style is partly about advising webmasters, but also about warning webmasters of the dangers of bad SEO. As Google notes:

"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 key for Google, and for any webmaster, is simple: SEO is about quality and integrity. Over the years, Cutts and Google repeatedly noted the distinction between organic SEO and irresponsible SEO.  For Google the only acceptable form of SEO is organic or natural website optimization. Listening to Cutts, ethical webmasters had the opportunity to learn precisely what Google prefers--and to optimize websites to meet those preferences.

Please read "What Makes SEO Organic" or "Google's Algorithm: Why Only Organic Website Optimization Works." 

Cutts' legacy, then, should be an inspiration for the digital marketing community, and especially SEO firms: Organic SEO is Google's true partner. Both work to deliver relevant and high-quality results to browsers. As Cutts' repeatedly suggested: algorithm updates are not meant to stymie SEO. The algorithm changes dissuade Black Hat SEO and encourage organic SEO.

For more information about Google's views on SEO, read any of the following links, suggested by Cutts when he first went on sabbatical:

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Two Key SEO Lessons: Domain Age and Refreshed Content/Data

Domain age can influence the ranking of a website--usually in a positive way, unless the data is "stale," as Matt Cutts, Google's old Webmaster, notes in this YouTube video. In this video, Cutts answers the question: "How does Google determine domain age, and is it important for ranking?"

"The difference between a domain that’s six-months-old versus one year old is really not that big at all," Cutts says.

Of course, this is not the same as saying the difference between a domain that's six-months-old and six-years-old is not that big at allIn terms of SEO, the latter, older domain will have had more time to build page and domain authority as well as backlinks. Yet, even beyond optimization, many SEO experts believe domain age is important.

In his list of 200 Google Ranking Factors, Brian Dean, of Backlinko, cites domain age first, yet he adds the Cutts quote above, and notes, "In other words, they do use domain age…but it’s not very important."

Neil Patel, on the other hand, cites domain age as one of the top reasons sites rank high on Google when they are not optimized:

"Most of the sites that rank high are at least a few years old. Sure, most of these older sites have more backlinks and content as they have been around for longer, but not all of them. What I’ve noticed is that if you take a brand new website, build tons of relevant links, and add high quality content, you still won’t get as much search traffic as older sites will."

Based on our own observations, we agree with Patel's assessment: older sites often rank high, with or without good SEO. The lesson here is simple: Age matters. And this lesson speaks to an adage we often promote on The Organic SEO Blog: SEO takes time.

SEO Takes Time [Photo Source]
Domain Age and SEO: Change is Key

Do you have an older website that ranks high? Perhaps your website is a beneficiary of domain age. Even without on-going optimization, a site can maintain a high ranking in industries with little competition. Of course, it is best to not rest on your laurels. A previous optimization campaign might've boosted you to the first page. Without change, though, your website will appear "stale" to Google. Without change, you essentially create an opening for a new, optimized website to take your place--and perhaps your profits.

So yes, age matters--but age is not enough. If you enjoy a high ranking in a highly competitive industry, you must evolve to face new competition. In the end, content is much more important than age. In this way, it is possible for a relatively new site to beat a site that has benefited from domain age.

For websites old and new, the goal is clear: To maintain a high ranking, you must create dynamic content. For websites both old and new, then, we offer one more SEO adage: Change is key.

In practice, however, change is not merely about creating dynamic content.

Change can also be about refreshing old content and updating your website's data.

We've entered the New Year. Now is the perfect time to think about these two crucial SEO practices.

Refreshing Old Content 

Even older websites with good traffic, which rank high, and have inspired a variety of links, can suffer from a decrease in the factors that had once inspired a high ranking--like great content.

 As Erin Everhart notes at Search Engine Land: "That old content is probably still ranking well, but it’s outdated — technology has changed, new information has been presented, or there’s a better way to accomplish the same task."

The key, then, for any website, is to find pages that rank well, or once ranked well, and refresh the content in a way that increase the page's current relevance.

To do so, we suggest optimizing for new keywords, joining the current cultural conversation, and re-promoting. To learn more about these specific strategies, check out our post: How to Refresh Old Content.

Updating Your Website's Data

As Matt Cutts says, to Google, a "finished" website is a "stale" website.

A fast, appealing site is a great beginning. However, too many small businesses stop at the beginning. Over time, a website that does not update its website data risks losing traffic and rankings.

To meet the demands of today's browser, you must improve your content and your website's underlying structure. A static site will falter. A dynamic site will maintain rankings and increase traffic.

To learn more about website design and structure, check out our post: SEO 101: The Importance of Website Structure.

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