Don't Let SEO Sink Your Site
Matt Cutts (@mattcutts), the head of Google’s Webspam Team, is on record as a believer in SEO’s ability to make the internet a better place. Search engine optimization (SEO) is integral to effective online marketing; without it, getting your message out to a wide audience is extremely difficult, at best. SEO will have a place in internet marketing for the foreseeable future, but do it wrong and there is a price to pay. Google will penalize your website for perceived attempts to manipulate rankings with grey or black hat techniques. The old-school is out, and the new-school is focusing more and more on visitors, less and less on search engines.
There are many different ways to implement SEO strategies. Analyzing and optimizing speed, navigability, ad designs and placements, and of course keywords, will improve page rank and increase revenue. Each of these factors can be assessed, and usually improved with a good SEO strategy. However, Google is developing something akin to an ethics, or site integrity quotient, and implementing SEO favorably (in their eyes) will keep yours safe. Staying with the tried and true is not an option. Changing search engine algorithms are rendering the old-school methods, and the websites that continue to employ them, obsolete.
Today’s best SEO practices focus on value and visitor satisfaction as much as search engine rankings. Optimizing your site for the visitor adds value, increases conversion rates, and social signals. This will generate inbound links and enhance your website’s visibility on Google.
Google uses your website’s speed as one of many factors to determine where you should rank on the SERPs (search engine results page). If your site takes too long to load a visitor will leave before seeing much, or any of your content (known as a bounce). Therefore, speed up your site! This will be appreciated by users and search engines alike. The goal is to captivate your audience quickly by loading engaging content… fast. You can minimize your bounce rate by swiftly placing valuable content in front of your visitor. Google appreciates a fast website, and this can only help your page rank.
If it’s difficult to navigate your site, visitors will get frustrated and leave. This fact makes navigation very important, but again, it also plays a part in page rank. Google’s web-crawler assesses a website’s navigability, and then uses it as another factor when determining where to rank it. Where a user should click to find the desired product or information should be intuitive and straightforward: Avoid potential complexities that might cause confusion or hesitation. Put the navigation bar or menu where users expect it to be, and display it prominently. Make sure they can easily access different pages. Your site should never feel like a complex puzzle.
Ad placement and calls to action
Testing is a key element with CTA (calls to action) as well as ad design and placement. Different industries find different practices effective, but conducting A/B tests (testing design A against design B) can reveal what works best for you and your audience. Ad design and call to action could each fill an entire book, so do your homework, and then test, test, and test. When you’ve totally optimized ads and CTAs… start testing again. This should be an ongoing process.
Keywords and keyword phrases – their use, overuse, and misuse
Most SEO strategies are designed to rank a website at or near the top of the SERP. This is great, but just as important is the rate at which visitors convert into paying customers, subscribers, or commit to taking some other action that you can capture as revenue. user intent and long-tail keywords come into play here. With quality keyword research, you can target customers who are ready to buy. Someone who searches for “where to buy an inexpensive microwave oven” is probably looking to buy, as opposed to users who input “microwave ovens.” The latter may be researching how a microwave heats food, or the history of microwave oven technology, etc. Although keywords are slowly becoming less important, they still help attract your targeted demographic.
Well-chosen keywords and phrases, when carefully placed in titles, articles, and into your website structure will help both your visitors and web crawlers. This is how you tell them both just what the page represents; it allows them to identify your site’s relevance with respect to the query.
There is nothing illicit, or black-hat about keyword research or strategic placement of phrases. This is just another example of how marketing research is performed on the internet. However, Google will now penalize you if it is done carelessly. Don’t try to saturate an article with keywords or anchor text; don’t lace numerous phrases in article bodies, titles, or meta-tags. Google has become adept at detecting manipulative tactics, and those tactics can cause your rank to suffer. Be careful, considerate, and above all, ethically implement your strategy.
Google acknowledges these are legitimate and necessary SEO techniques. Perhaps the one thing to remember, above all, is that today’s SEO should be directed at users first, search engines second. The days of easily ranking with low competition keywords are mostly a thing of the past. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t rank well. It just means you must take a different (many would say better) approach. Don’t take risks when it comes to your rank. Stay focused on the visitor, quality, and on providing relevance and value and your position on the SERP will climb.
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