Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Do Not Fear the Code: Is a Tech-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.


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.

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